An Open Letter to Philippine University Deans and Leaders

(My friend, please read through this. If you agree with its content and find it important, stop being passive – don’t hesitate and SPREAD where you feel is necessary. Post it on your Facebook account, Tweet it, comment on it – agreeing or disagreeing, email it to directly to University Leaders in your network, or print it out and send it to their office, then perhaps tell them what you think about it. Let’s not wait for other people to do it, nor think that “this isn’t my problem,” because in some way, it is  –  peter)

Dear University Deans, Leaders, and Administrators,

If a young, impressionable Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg were studying in your institution right now, would he be in an environment that would allow him to fulfill his potentials?

Leaders, there is an urgent need for you to help in spurring startup activity in the country

Let me explain.

Fueled by the internet economy and inspired by the likes of startups Google and Facebook, there has been a global upsurge in the formation and development of startups.

In fact, startup incubators have sprouted left and right. Incubators such as Techstars, Startup Weekend, and Y-combinator have created successful company after successful company. Young people, fresh grads – the best of the best – now see startups as a real, exciting alternative to the corporate grind. Startups are being formed at a rate unseen in human history. It’s already cliché to say “now is the best time to be an entrepreneur versus any other time in the history of the world.”

And it isn’t just happening in the US.

Google “India Startups” or “Indonesia Startups” or “Singapore Startups.” Exciting isn’t it? Lots of activity. Lots of firms.

Now, Google “Philippine Startups.”

As a country, we are missing out. Badly.

For the last 7 years I’ve been busy recruiting hundreds of young people, both as employees and/or partners to some of the startups I’ve been associated with.

I thought it would be easy for me to convince them to take a leap by offering good pay, equity, the chance to be the captain of their ships, and the chance to work on something meaningful.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Automatically, most young people would explain to me their perceived  singular path to success: a few years climbing the corporate ladder, then an MBA, hopefully abroad, then back to that ladder again.

And they toil away in corporations, working for just their paychecks, a good number devoid of any passion for what they do. Worse, they think it’s as good as it gets. They end up wasting talent – Filipino talent being highly lauded as some of the best in the world – doing cookie cutter work that is beneath them. There are a lot of these people.

This is a perception tragedy of the highest magnitude.

The world has become flat. There is no reason anymore why a few bright kids in your school can’t create the next Google, or Facebook, or Zoho.com (a huge global Indian startup).

There are a number of valiant entrepreneurs out there who are making a difference, like ProudCloud’s Jay Fajardo or Brain Gain’s Paco Sandejas, but they are few and far in-between. There needs to be a grassroots-level effort in spurring interest in startup development.

Leaders, this HAS to begin in our schools.

We have to ingrain in our students that creating startups is not only possible, but it is the highest form of work, because it involves creating a company around what they are passionate about. We all know what happens when we work on our passions – GREAT WORK happens. GREAT IDEAS ARE ENFLESHED and become real. Startup work is hard, yes, but it is also extremely fulfilling, liberating, and a big part of nation building. Startups spur economies.

It is already too late to target people when they graduate. Observe what your graduates do upon getting their diploma. They create cookie-cutter resumes and send them en masse, hoping to get calls from whoever firm  finds their resumes attractive. A good number of your graduates even go for the “first company to call,” blatantly ignoring their natural God-given inclinations and talent.

They only would need to look around a bit to see that some of the best startups in the world were founded by young, inexperienced people. In fact, these startups work precisely because they were founded by young, inexperienced people.

Why not young, inexperienced Filipino professionals? There is no reason. None. In fact, with the sheer talent and ingenuity of Filipinos, we should be natural startup founders. Sadly, most young people do not realize this. Most of them have never even heard of Filipino startups.

This is a serious problem you can do something about.

Leaders, you have to do your part in making them fall in love with this idea. It is in your hands. Convince them that they CAN go after what they love to do. They do not have to compromise. We have to target them on the undergraduate level because this where dreams are created. This is where they fall in love.

I do have some humble practical suggestions, which I hope you can consider:

1) Emphasize Technology Startups

This is where the world is headed. This is how our country can be recognized – if we create a great tech startup. Or two. Or three. This is where costs have fallen so dramatically that geography is almost negligible. We can compete.

When I talk annually to management graduates who go through business simulations, I always get disappointed because 99% of the ideas pursued would be retail. It is SO hard to get noticed in retail. So hard to go against P&G, URC, or Unilever. It also costs a ton of money to produce inventory. Huge risk. On the other hand, the original code used for Google and Facebook were essentially created with no cost of goods sold – by students. There is now even a science emerging behind creating web startups which you can include in your curriculum: The Lean Startup Methodology.

Next suggestion is related.

2) Multidisciplinary Projects

This is how I basically build startups: I get a business domain guy, a programmer, and sometimes a design guy together and sell all of them on an idea. Then I let them work.

Actually, this is how most startups are built – complementary pieces. During the last Startup Weekend in Fort, people were grouped exactly this way.

Why can’t we do this in the University? Get a computer science student, a management student, a psychology student, and a design student together – then ask them to build something. These people all end up working for corporations anyway – so it doesn’t make sense that only business students are required to participate in simulations.

Can you imagine a business simulation activity where your best tech people are coupled with your best business people and your best design people?  Isn’t this exciting? Wouldn’t they produce great ideas and great work?

Under this lens, it’s a bit easier to envision to imagine lasting startups coming from your incubator programs.

3) Hire entrepreneurs

At some point, there needs to be a limit as to getting corporate people to teach business classes. Get people whom you would normally NOT get: the misfits, the square pegs, the heretics. These are the best entrepreneurs. Give the misfit, the square-peg, and heretic students in your school a hero they can learn from and relate to. They will be the best entrepreneurs. Under no circumstances can you allow your part-time teachers from corporations brainwash them into thinking that the only way is the corporate way.

And, since these entrepreneurs are few and far in between, you may have to go after them, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

4) Give startups a chance in your job fairs

If you think about it, the whole system is stacked for the big corporations, who are the biggest advertisers, and therefore are treated like superstars during the whole senior recruitment process. You can do something about this. Hold a “startup day.” Invite Philippine startups to recruitment events and don’t charge them large fees. At the very least, you can level the playing field. The big corporations may complain, but you can chalk it up to “supporting the national movement for entrepreneurship.”

These are but some ways you can spur your student population to fall in love with startups and entrepreneurship. I am sure you have even better ideas which are brewing right now.

Bottom-line is, something needs to change. The status quo isn’t cutting it. We are being left behind.

Leaders, I have faith in your ability to really listen, make the needed changes, and commit. We need you to. The country needs you to.

That great potential entrepreneur studying in your school right now needs you to.

Comments

  1. Princess Dela Paz says:

    Hi Mr. Paul!

    This is definitely a great read. I agree with all your thoughts. I am also from UP Diliman (although I haven’t graduated yet because I stopped) and I don’t really agree with how college institutions educate their students. Most of the time, professors feed students with the idea of being successful if they’ve climbed up the corporate ladder rather than encouraging them to build a business of their own. Start-ups are definitely discouraged in UP as I’ve once asked for a permit to sell in one stall in the campus, but the officer said it is a requirement that the business already exists for 5 years. :( I just feel sad that those who have the power to enhance the skills and social responsibility of young leaders just train them to be corporate slaves for capitalist companies.

    I’ll be writing you more about my thoughts next time.

    By the way, do you have initiatives that bring this message personally to educational institutions? Is there any way I can help? :)

    If it’s okay, I’d also love to know more about your start-ups too so that I can learn from it. I have business ideas every now and then, but just like most people, I don’t know where to start or rather I am afraid to do so because of the risks. :(

    • Hi Princess!

      Thanks for reading and the thoughtful reply!

      Grabe naman yung 5 years :)

      I do think there needs to be a stronger program across our universities as far as startup education is concerned. Let’s just be careful with stereotyping large corporations being the big baddie – they’re not. Actually, a number startups dream of becoming like them (although a number prefer being small but scalable). The problem is though, is that work for large companies oftentimes become repetitive and passion-sucking. Reality is, most people though will still go that route. My problem is when natural entrepreneurs don’t reach their full potential because they never realized there was an alternative.

      Oh, thank you for the offer to help! I have sent this to two deans in my network. For the rest, I’m relying on the power of the internet used by people like you :)

      My quick suggestion on your last paragraph: make the effort real. Schedule a time of day when you work on your startup. even for just 30 minutes a day, but keep this time sacred. Jot down your ideas in your smartphone or a handy notebook – sometimes our best ideas just fade because of failure to document. Talk about it with friends, perhaps over coffee.

      Do subscribe so I can invite you to a forum I’ll be launching.

      Hope this helps. Thanks again for reading. Spread the word.

  2. Hey Peter,

    I too like you have had that itch for years. I’ve been a struggling entrepreneur since my highschool days, from selling DIY greeting cards, basketball cards, car parts, you name it. I even started a website in college as a hobby which turned out profitable at the time. But somewhere along the way, (especially when Chikka came :P), I have succumbed to the grind of having to get that job to pay for those bills. Especially now that I’m married and starting a family. I still have those dreams of starting something that is more inclined to what I want to do, my passions. I just never know how to start. I have had so much ideas, ideas which my college professors all laughed at me at the time, which then became legitimate and big businesses in the next 5 years.

    I guess what I want to say is I need help in getting started, in getting motivated to take that next step, and to keep the momentum. Let me know if there are any groups, events, or opportunities that can help bring back the strength of that flame, because right now it’s mostly just an ember. I love these posts of yours. These keep me inspired and keep thinking that one day, it will happen. :)

    • I have had so much ideas, ideas which my college professors all laughed at me at the time, which then became legitimate and big businesses in the next 5 years.

      I love this line dude.

      Thanks for reading, and your thoughtful reply bro.

      I’m planning a meetup soon with some of the interested readers. Hopefully sometime this month. I’ll let you know about it dude. Do subscribe so I can invite you to the forum.

      And you know what, for what its worth, I’d love to be involved in whatever it is you’re thinking of :)

      Peter

    • I “second” his motion. Agree and support. Sandy Gilles

  3. I think that apart from the university, the mindset would have to begin at home as well. It is more disheartening for students to be laughed at by their parents than by their teachers when they come up with a “weird” business idea. The entrepreneurial mindset would, I believe and feel, have to begin at home, where your self-image (or better yet, your neural connections) is founded.

    And that’s the reason why I am already coming up with a plan, while he’s little, on how to train my kid to become an entrepreneur to break the cycle.

    And that’s also the reason why I am pressured to come up with a start-up!

  4. What’s sorely missing in the system is a strong mentoring system for the start ups. I remember speaking to a CEO and he said that we can demand from our institutions these ideals but they cannot give what they do not have. There is a need to have a level of professional and structured learning so one can execute well and while I agree that experience is a great teacher it would be so much easier to learn from other people’s lessons and mistakes.

  5. Teresita G Moneza says:

    Hi Peter,

    It’s really hard to change the mindset of students from employment mindset to entrepreneurship.. Though i believe in due time, Filipinos will shine.

    Tess

  6. Hi.

    This is a great blog and a nice article!

    By the way, I am a Technology Transfer Officer working under the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Development, UP Diliman. We are having efforts to really tap students,faculty and researchers to really start building their own start-ups, in fact we have incubation program in UP called, the UP Enterprise which is being handled by our Former Vice-Chancellor for R&D Dr. Luis Sison and they are really aggressive in the advocacy of forming Start-Ups, in fact OVCRD together w/ Enterprise and Ideaspace recently held a boot camp for students last July and this coming September OVCRD w/ Enterprise will hold a boot camp for Faculty and Researchers to really encourage them to form Start-ups.

    With your permission, can I share your article to my colleagues? So we can have insights to really improve the R&D efforts of UP Diliman.

    Thank you sir!

    • Be my guest Ace :) There are a number of other articles which might be interesting to your audience. Feel free to share them any and all of them :)

      Thanks so much!

      Peter

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