Q&A with IdeaSpace President Earl Valencia on Incubating Innovation

Q1: What is IdeaSpace? Why was it set up? What is its vision? 

A: IdeaSpace is aimed to help grow a Philippine economy through science and technology.  We were set-up by the First Pacific Group of Companies to foster a spirit of technopreneurship in the country and encourage more young people to consider becoming entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists.  The goal is for anyone in the world to think of the Philippines and talk about the innovations that changed lives.

Q2: You have a Stanford MBA and then worked at Cisco’s Emerging Technologies Group at the Silicon Valley Global Headquarters in the US. What convinced you to come back to the Philippines? 

A: Coming back to the Philippines was not an easy decision.  I myself had what most people called a “dream job.”  I was in the global HQ of a Fortune 50 tech company and my mandate was to incubate the future of networking.  What drew me back is a conversation with my current boss, Manny Pangilinan.  He just asked me “why wait until your 60 before your fulfill your dream of using your talents to help the country?”  Six months after that conversation, I was in a plane with my wife and 2 kids, betting what was a good life in America to try to at least make a small difference in the Philippines through what I know best – technology.

Q3: As an early stage incubator, who are you targeting? Where do you find them? How much funding has been committed to the incubator program?

A: With a 5 year commitment of half a billion pesos, IdeaSpace looks for start-ups all over the Philippines – from North Luzon to Mindanao – in fact we have applicants from almost every region in the Philippines.  We run an annual competition to find the top 10 best commercializable science and technology ideas to fund each year and in 2015, we received over 1000 teams to apply to our incubator mostly from the Philippines but also from over 10 countries.

Q4: How many startup companies have you incubated and funded? In what industries are these? How many years do you expect to get your first profit and ROI?

A: We have funded about 28 companies, and we expect to fund 10-12 more in 2015.  We have deployed capital in a variety of companies – from water, social technology, clean energy, mobile apps, business to business technologies and more.  We try to think of what can be started here and scaled to the world.  Investing in early stage is a long game, we will have gains and losses, but we hope that in 5-7 years we would have bet on the winners.

Q5: You have a point of entry strategy with students. Tell us about your “Geeks on a Beach” and “Geeks on a Plane” programs?

A: We host a lot of events to make people aware about start-ups in the Philippines.  We have founded and sponsored the Geeks on a Beach conference, which is the country’s annual start-ups conference alongside a beach, first in Boracay, then Cebu and this year it might be in Palawan. This highlights to the world, especially foreign investors that the country’s innovations are worth taking a look at.  Geeks on a Plane is where we hosted  30 foreign investors to visit our ecosystem here in Manila and hope to form connections with top Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and VCs.

Q6: You have a dual appointment as VP for Corporate Development and Innovation of Smart Communications. What innovation are you proudest of to date?

A: In the end, my proudest Innovation is the formation of IdeaSpace – a platform born from an idea at which we help catalyze the innovation ecosystem in the Philippines.  We can talk about innovations, but if you cannot create an enabling ecosystem to support them, then it will not be sustainable.  I am also proud of all the people who take a chance to make their ideas come to reality, the 2500 applicants and the 28 companies we have invested in over the past 25 years.

Q7: Your job requires you to enable many collaborations. Which collaborations are you most excited about ? 

A: I was lucky to build collaborations with many top companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Netsuite, government agencies like the DOST and IPOPhil and universities such as AIM, Harvard, MIT and Stanford.  I cant say I am most excited about anything but I love that we built a bridge between top business schools in the world and get MBA students to help out our cause.  Maybe one day, they will come back to the Philippines and help our economy as well.

Q8: In your experience, what are keys to success of collaborations and alliances?

A: Always think first of what you can do to help your partner before you think of how they can help you.  You give first before you get.

Q9: Your work has been in the intersection of business, technology and economic development. You were awarded the 2014 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and recently, as the first innovation awardee of the 2015 Mansmith Young Market Masters Awards (YMMA). What do these recognitions mean to you?

A: Awards I hope are a result of the impact you and the many people in the organization built over time.  I got these awards but its the people who work with me in my team, the start-ups and our ecosystem should share the award with me.  One day, innovation wont be a special award, but something as something mainstream in our culture.


Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. He is also the co-founder, alongside Chiqui Escareal-Go, of the Mansmith Young Market Masters Awards (YMMA) since 2006. The search for the 19th Mansmith YMMA is currently ongoing. For more information, visit www.youngmarketmasters.com.

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Josiah Go features the movers and shakers of the business world and writes about marketing, strategy, innovation, execution and entrepreneurship


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