For the third cohort of the ISKO Incubation Program, startup graduates include an artificial intelligence-powered profit management platform for construction projects, a training school that teaches digital skills for PWDs and other marginalized sectors, and a software-as-a-service (SAAS) technology that improves accuracy of pinning locations.
The UP Growing and Developing Enterprises (UPGRADE), the technology business incubator (TBI) of the University of the Philippines Mindanao, recently launched three new startups from its incubation program Innovative Startup Knowledge Optimizer (ISKO) in its third run.
Founders of the ISKO Cohort 3 startups Virtualahan, Geopik, and Artificial Intelligence Meets Human Intelligence (AIMHI) received their plaques in a graduation ceremony on October 28, 2022 at the Acacia Hotel, Davao City. They also delivered their final pitch to the audience as part of their update to their partners and stakeholders as well as an informal networking opportunity.
AIMHI software is the first Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven project management innovation for the construction industry to hail from the Philippines. It aids companies to optimize their cost, minimize risk and increase about five to 10 percent profit in their business.
Virtulahan is an online training school catering specifically to Persons with Disabilities (PWD) solo parents, out-of-school youth, recovering addicts, indigenous people and other marginalized groups. They offered training on skills for online work, empowering these excluded communities and making them more employable.
GeoPik Technologies Inc is a software as a service (SAAS) tech startup that creates a digital address equivalent on each of the addresses in the Philippines. With the use of location-based data, they improve the accuracy of pinning locations.
The startup founders expressed their gratitude to the ISKO Incubation Program for strengthening the foundation of their ventures.
AIMHI co-founder Cherryanne Lee Angoy said the incubation program has helped her shape her idea into a tangible product that could be the answer to the long-standing problems in the construction industry such as delayed project completion, overbudgetting, and falling below the projected profit margins.
She added she has learned so much beyond what she expected such as learning about AI.
She also emphasized the networking opportunities that UPGRADE provided to them while under the ISKO program especially during the Davao-Israel Innovation Night where they pitched their startup to an audience of high profile personalities, business people, potential funders, and influential government officials.
While under the ISKO program, AIMHI was able to get a Php 2 million funding from Accenture, an information technology service and consulting company based in Dublin, Ireland, and a mentoring from University of the Philippines Diliman Engineering Research and Development Foundation, Inc. (UPERDFI). They also secured a Php 3 million equity-free grant from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD).
“We launched back in July and we did not even think we were going to launch that early. Without UPGRADE’s help and support, we would not have been able to launch in the market. We already have a handful of customers from the Mindanao area,” said Angoy.
Meanwhile, Virtualahan chief marketing officer Alfred Gersava realized the gaps in their sustainability after joining the incubation program. He said it was one of the things that is holding them back in their pursuit to scale up and franchise their social enterprise, despite operating for about three years already.
“Before joining UPGRADE, we do not have a clear understanding of our cash flow, we experienced almost running out of budget for our staff to the point of pausing the project for a few months,” he said.
“UPGRADE gave us the clarity on our unit economics and helped us on positioning our product to our sponsors. It made us confident to project the growth of our organization not just for a year or two but up to five to 10 years,” Gersava added.
He said the incubation program mentors also taught them valuable strategies on how to franchise outside the Philippines, build an ecosystem, and become a thought leader in their space.
“It took us a few years to reach Step 1. But with the empowerment from UPGRADE, we can say that in 35 years, we can reach Step 5, Step 7, and Step 10,” he said.
Through the program, Virtualahan was able to get a Php 4.1 million of equity grant from the DOST-PCIEERD intended to help build an accessible learning management platform where persons with disability can learn skills that could land them in better-compensating employment.
“Right now, we are graduating about 200 students in a month. But with our accessible LMS (learning management system), we can graduate about 500 in a month,” said Gersava.
UPGRADE also facilitated the application of Virtualahan to the ISIP Impact Accelerator Program where they got Php 140,000 in funding and a free acceleration program.
For GeoPik Technologies Inc. chief executive officer John Ryan Loyloy, undergoing the program not only fortified the development of their core product but also connected them to a network of government agencies crucial in scaling up their startup.
“As we progressed with the development of our projects and core product and onboarding of clients, we thought we cannot do this alone. We need support from government agencies or local government units (LGUs) since we are handling data and that they are also our prospective clients,” said Loyloy.
He said apart from location data, they aim to manage different types of data. They targeted to capture 1 billion data points in 10 years.
Just this year, GeoPik was commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry Davao Region (DTI Davao) to create its Data Management and Analytics System
They have also deployed a digital addressing system to at least 10,000.00 Households in Valencia City, Bukidnon.
“UPGRADE has served as our bridge to our potential clients and investors. Being in the incubation program puts the startups to another level,” he said.
“With the current arsenal that we have, I guess we are prepared for the challenges that lie after graduation,” Loyloy added.
The ISKO Program is a nine-month incubation program that prepares early-stage startups to build, launch, and accelerate their business. It features workshops and tailored mentoring on preliminary marketing, grant proposal writing, go-to-market strategy, branding and design, prototyping, team formation, IP & startup legal, incorporation, customer scale, and fundraising. The program also assists teams in testing their product and deploying it to identified early adopters.
“They have allotted the time to attend the ISKO learning sessions despite their busy schedules. I can say that their hard work, patience, persistence, determination, and passion for their startups, their solutions to the problems in the community are what really pushed them to where they are today,” said UPGRADE Incubation Lead Trisha Mie Cirujales.
UPGRADE center manager Richard R. Day wished the best for the Cohort 3 graduates and encouraged them to hopefully share opportunities to those following their trail in the program.
“In the near future, we expect you to build more positive impacts and pay it forward to the entrepreneurs that are on their way to where you started- at the doorsteps of UPGRADE Innolab,” Day said in a statement.
The graduation rite was witnessed by representatives from the University of the Philippines (UP) Mindanao Chancellor’s Office, Department of Science and Technology Davao Region (DOST-XI), Department of Trade and Industry Davao Region (DTI-XI), Department of Information and Communications Technology Davao Region (DICT XI), National Economic Development Authority-National Innovation Council (NEDA-NIC), European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao Business Council (ECCP-SMBC), ISKO alumni, ISKO mentors, industry and community partners, and other technology business incubators.
This is a welcome addition to the six startups in UPGRADE’s portfolio since it started its incubation program in 2019.