On May 16, the University of the Philippines Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP ISSI) hosted over 150 guests for its First Distinguished Entrepreneurship Leadership Forum.
Titled "Accelerating ‘Enterprising Philippines,'" the event featured Myrna Bituin of Pampanga-based furniture manufacturer Betis Crafts, Inc. and Cynthia Villar, founder and managing director of Villar Foundation and former Las Piñas congresswoman. Both entrepreneurs started small but turned opportunities into successful ventures and used their success to help others.
Ms. Bituin, the first speaker, began by saying that her story is still in progress. She shared with the audience how Betis Crafts started out in the small town of Betis, Guagua, with P10,000 borrowed capital from the National Cottage Industries Development Authority. Betis Crafts ended up finding its niche in the high-end international market.
The entrepreneur emphasized the importance of constant innovation in staying internationally competitive. While, according to her, almost 50% of big furniture exporters in the Philippines have closed operations, Betis Crafts has flourished because it used its capabilities and invested in labor skills to come up with products that can compete with those from China and Vietnam.
"That's why we cannot stop, if we are entrepreneurs," Ms. Bituin said in Filipino.
Building a culture of entrepreneurship in her children is also paramount for Ms. Bituin, and they have embraced entrepreneurship beyond profit. "They have been working hard to improve the quality of life of [Betis Crafts'] workers," she said.
Now, Ms. Bituin's children manage different companies in the Betis Crafts group, covering different aspects of furniture-making and day-to-day operations. This has allowed the entrepreneur to focus on philanthropy, with projects in environmental protection and advocacy for the differently abled, among other causes.
While she acknowledged that returns from these projects may not be immediate, she said that they would benefit communities and individuals with limited access to economic opportunities and basic social services.
"I may not live long enough to see the fruits of the seeds that I am sowing, but there will always be the next generation to think of and to prepare the future for," she said.
Ms. Villar, meanwhile, described how she and husband Senator Manuel Villar started a gravel and sand dealership with P10,000 borrowed capital from the Industrial Guarantee and Loan Fund in 1975. "It's important to find good financing," she told would-be entrepreneurs in the audience. She also encouraged entrepreneurs to study business and streamline their operations to increase efficiency and save money.
Within 20 years, the Villars' business grew large enough to list on the stock exchange, which it did in 1995, upon the advice of an investment banker. The IPO raised $225 million, which grew the company exponentially. And, over the next ten years, the business turned into a $1-billion enterprise.
According to Ms. Villar, access to technology is important for budding entrepreneurs; she herself tapped the technological expertise of UP Los Baños to help her company.
The former Congresswoman then encouraged the audience to look into social enterprise once their businesses have grown. "The goal of entrepreneurship is to improve lives, not just to make money," she said.
She cited her own projects, such as her pioneer program in which local Las Piñas women weave water lily stalks into baskets and other goods, which in turn not only provides locals with a livelihood but also helps decongest the Las Piñas-Zapote River.- Eush Tayco
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