Journey of a start-up

September 19, 2012 11:22 am

Taking crowdfunding to the Philippines

Justin Garrido

Justin Garrido receiving his community service award

When Melbourne University invited students to submit business plans for their annual entrepreneurship challenge (MUEC) in May, Justin Garrido, an MBA student studying at Melbourne Business School, felt confident about his entry – Social Project PH.

Since studying on an exchange programme at the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines last year, he had been working on a business plan to help alleviate poverty in the Philippines – where his parents were born.

His aim was to create a crowdfunding platform to raise funds and offer marketing and brand management services to social enterprises in the region.

According to Mr Garrido’s research, approximately 26.5 per cent of the population of the Philippines lives in poverty. But with more than 9m Filipinos living overseas with remittances to the country adding up to more than $20bn last year, Mr Garrido believes a significant amount could be engaged through crowdfunding – encouraging ex-pats to support their country.

Mr Garrido says he welcomed appearing before the judges at the entrepreneurship challenge. “I was looking forward to the questions [about the business plan]” he says, “I wanted to see what, if anything, I’d missed up to that point, based on [the judges] expertise.”

It would appear he had missed very little as he won the challenge. “It gave me instant credibility” he says, reflecting on his success. Cold calling executives for investment and support, for example he adds, was fundamentally easier once he could include information detailing his win.

Mr Garrido’s only disappointment was that – for the first time since it started in 1998 – MUEC did not include a cash prize. But fortunately, his peer network was already paying dividends. In March, he was able to convince a childhood friend and venture capitalist to cover his start-up costs for a small amount of equity.

“He was going to buy a Porsche! But I said, why not invest in us instead?” Mr Garrido explains.

Mr Garrido’s fortunes received a further boost at his graduation ceremony in June when he was awarded the Allen Consulting Group Prize for Community Service by his classmates – which included a cash prize of A$2,500.

The same classmates have also been instrumental in Mr Garrido’s market research for his company. “I recently interviewed 60 classmates for feedback about some logo designs” he says, emphasising how valuable this kind of opportunity is: “I have a resource of experts in different fields that I can refer to.”

Such funding and support have now enabled Mr Garrido to move to Manila, where he has partnered with fellow MBA student and MBS alumnus, Julia Sevilla. The pair are working full time on implementing the business plan and hope to launch their website by the end of the year.

“We want to do our part to support the current ecosystem,” Mr Garrido explains, “There are a lot of non-profits doing well; we want to find a way to support them.” He is particularly inspired by Kiva, a crowdfunding platform based in the US, which has raised more than $339m since it was founded in 2005, providing over 455,000 micro loans.

Mr Garrido is also interested in Kickstarter, a similar company, founded in 2009, which has raised more than $250m to date – funding more than 27,000 projects.

“[These enterprises] make you see challenges halfway across the world, in countries you’ve never been too, [which creates] a social impact,” he says.

Keen to differentiate his enterprise from others, Mr Garrido aims to be more engaging and transparent in his business, as well as including brand management and marketing support, something he became aware was lacking in many Asian NGOs through his classes at AIM, taught by Manny de Vera.

“We feel we are creating a product that is niche: making money as well as tailoring to the needs of the Philippines,” he says. In particular, Mr Garrido plans to focus on the fun side of crowdfunding and will try to create innovative incentives. By donating $50 for example a donor’s name could be written on the side of a school or given a name check in a political speech.

Classes at MBS have also played a key role in the development of Mr Garrido’s business plan. “My leadership for social impact class showed me different social entrepreneurship models,” he says, while corporate strategy taught him how to apply business models and analyse the challenges and risks.

Mr Garrido met Ms Sevilla in his brand management class.

“Julia has the design and website development skills while I’m good with strategy and operations,” he says. The two initially worked together on a marketing project with Mark Ritson, who Mr Garrido says also had a big influence.

“I probably wouldn’t have come up with this idea if I didn’t do an MBA” says Mr Garrido. The next challenge is securing more investors and collaborating with business incubator programmes. But he remains clear about their ultimate goal: “We are doing this to alleviate poverty. That is our driving force.”

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Over the coming year we will track the development of the pair’s crowdfunding business plan as it attempts to lift its profile and raise money.

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This article has been amended since initial publication.

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