September 05, 2012

30 and under

Still Accelerating

Designed to serve as a launch pad for student enterprises, college and university business incubator or accelerator programs guide student enterprises through different stages in their planning and life cycles, giving young entrepreneurs both the theoretical know-how and practical experience to succeed in the real world.

The John Gokongwei School of Management Business Accelerator Program (JG-SOMBA) at the Ateneo de Manila University was first launched in 2003 and serves as a more extensive thesis option for students looking for a challenging, hands-on learning experience. Composed of 18 units, JG-SOMBA begins the summer before senior year and continues throughout the first and second semesters.

JG-SOMBA students must first apply with a proposal and prototype and then, once accepted, establish their company and product legally before implementing their detailed business plans. Students who complete the program also earn themselves a minor in Enterprise Development.

While many businesses end after the grades have been turned in, a few have gone on to thrive in the real world, sans the training wheels of their accelerator programs.

For JG-SOMBA 2010-2011, in mentor Hector Guballa's social enterprise class, Martina Manas, Enzo Banson, Katrina Tecson, and Ezra Capuchon developed Papelle, a line of fashionable, modern bags made from recycled woven paper, leather, and other materials. The business, The Twillery, Inc., also provides income to poor mothers in Natipuan Village, Batangas who are responsible for weaving the recycled paper.

The woven sheets are then sent to Marikina, where they are sewn and turned into bags, before being laminated for strength and durability.

According to Ms. Manas, the mentorship of Mr. Guballa was crucial to the success of their business, especially in its early stages. The faculty member's support did much to propel their business forward and helped The Twillery place third in the HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards 2011. The group also qualified as finalists of the PBSP-Citibank Business in Development Challenge Philippines 2010.

Ms. Manas shared that the group's professors would hold mock defense sessions to prepare them for competitions and would also organize informative talks which SOMBA students could attend.

Although no longer as active as they were during the program, The Twillery still supplies Echo Store with Papelle bags and are planning to expand and export in the near future.

Mr. Banson said, "If we close down, the mothers are really affected. I guess that's also what keeps us going."

Another set of JG-SOMBA alumni, Jammy Cabochan, Jerht Santos, and Paulo Rabanal, developed a homemade wagyu burger product under the brand The Wagyu Stack. According to Mr. Cabochan, their mentors David Puen and Mel Lopez offered them practical advice and close guidance that helped the team bag the program's Group Most Likely to Succeed Award, and Mr. Cabochan, the Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The three also achieved the highest return on investment in their batch.

"It develops your discipline in actually going to the government offices and registering the business," Mr. Cabochan said of the program, which requires students to register their companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He shared that the hands-on experience of selling their products and interacting with customers also honed their skills as entrepreneurs and could not have been learned in any classroom. "When you're an entrepreneur, work never stops," he said.

The three learned to balance school and business, as they made the burgers from scratch themselves. All the work, from shaping the patties to delivering and selling the products, was divided among them.

Mr. Cabochan also sees JG-SOMBA as a venue to make and learn from your mistakes. "Otherwise, we might be making them now, outside school," he said.

After a short break, the Wagyu Stack team is working to relaunch the brand under a different name, All-In Burgh: Burgers and Steaks. It has also added new member Jef Lim, a culinary school graduate, to be in charge of the culinary aspect of the business.

No longer limited to bazaars, the team plans to relaunch in the next few months with an expanded menu, and are set to open their first store along either Tomas Morato Ave. or Marcos Highway.

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