Within the walls of co-working space Common Ground, investors and entrepreneurs begin the niceties of introduction. The air bristles with a very specific energy, the kind that fills a boardroom just before an extremely important presentation in which everybody is prepared, full metal. The pre-event lull of social hesitation does not exist, not now, and it shouldn't. In what is essentially a soiree for investors and entrepreneurs, bawal torpe—you're supposed to talk.
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The event is called MatchCAP, a sort of "speed dating" event in which investors and entrepreneurs get to know each other and find their perfect matches. Such a congregation aims to close the divides that otherwise characterize the coliseum of entrepreneurship—let's cut the BS and get everybody in the same room. After all, entrepreneurs need access to capital when scaling a business, and investors need innovative projects to place their faith in. That's especially true when the entrepreneurs in question are presenting ideas so life-changing they could spell a future of intense economic development on a national scale.
So, yeah, this speed-dating event is pretty high stakes compared to your average get-together, and Manny Ayala, the managing director of Endeavor Philippines, is here to double as everyone's matchmaker. Before the event begins, he glides his way through the room in unscuffed suede-looking brogues, shaking hands, putting everyone at a kind of ease that will set the tone for the rest of MatchCAP, and determine who ends up with whom.
Manny Ayala speaks with an easygoing confidence. Most men in his position might demand authority with an iron-grip handshake, or by adding a smidge of rumble to their baritone, but Manny is more casual with his approach. He prefers to make people feel comfortable. (I kept calling him "sir" over the course of his interview until he told me, "No need to call me 'sir,' I've never been knighted.")
You could say Ayala makes people comfortable for a living. After all, he holds a position of leadership in Endeavor, a non-profit organization that aims to help high-impact entrepreneurs gain access to smart capital. That's a lot of jargon, but we can break it down.
By helping scale up small players with genuinely good ideas and leading them to solid investors, supportive mentors, and thriving communities, Endeavor basically gives such entrepreneurs and businesses the necessary equipment to play with the big boys. The big objective is that by giving promising rookies in the business world a leg-up, we get more good ideas, more innovation, and those things accelerate development on a national level. The loftier, unquantifiable goal is to foster a culture of healthy competition among different businesses, even among titanic incumbents.
And while such business practices aren't necessarily the be-all, end-all panacea for all social ills (smart policies, grassroots activism, good ol' charity—you gotta respect the classics), it is refreshing to see a mode of entrepreneurship and investorship that deviates from the caricature of corporate greed—a thing that consumes, devours, squashes the weak. "We see great entrepreneurs see their visions to maturity, rather than being cut off at the knees before they've had the chance to grow," Ayala says. "Most of the great ideas are going to come from outside the great companies. Imagine if, every time there was a great idea, somebody came and stomped on it. The ideas let these flowers bloom, and then you have a beautiful garden."
Why can't innovation come from the gigantic incumbents that have been around the longest? Well, as Ayala and any other steward of progress will tell you, the most impactful ideas will come from the people who aren't looking down from penthouses on skyscrapers, but the ones on the ground, who aren't sticking to tried and tested formulas, but taking risks. "I think it's commonly understood that the best innovations, the best disruptions are not going to come from the inside of a large company, that has its own momentum." Ayala says.
He refers to the challenge such large companies face as the innovator's technology. They've got their own thing going on; what happens when they try to do something else? "It's like trying to change your tires when you're going 120 miles an hour."
So what should big companies do? Don't eat the small fish. Let big companies or big investors lend a helping hand to smaller players. Like, don't even acquire them. That way they also gain a close eye on emerging technologies, new techniques, while smaller, competing business get a free stat boost. Conquest is overrated. We're all here helping each other to help ourselves at the same time.
That sort of idealism might not appeal to more Machiavellian operators, so let’s look at the companies that Endeavor has inducted. Kennemer Foods, which is run by Simon Baker, is an agribusiness firm that has helped provide over 10,000 Filipino cacao farmers with farming materials and financing. STORM Technologies, led by Peter Cauton, is an HR Tech Startup dedicated to helping other business deal flexible employee incentives and benefits. Even Kenneth Cobonpue is in Endeavor’s roster, serving as a mentor for emerging designers. Not an exhaustive list in any way, but enough to explain what Ayala means when he says “high impact.” Businesses that make a difference, by lifting up, instead of tearing down.
Ayala tells me all this as the speed-dating part of the MatchCAP program commences. Beyond the walls of our meeting room, ambitious chatter chills the air and buzzers signal parties to move to different chairs. It’s lively. It’s busy. No hostile takeovers, just aspiring entrepreneurs blueprinting dreams in real time. Manny will tell you that no matches will be made like, right there on the day—like actual dating, investors and entrepreneurs can only build a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship over a period of time. But still, I can’t help but feel that MatchCAP looks like a small-scale model of the ecosystem Endeavor is trying to cultivate. Big fish, small fish, enough water to go around.
For more on Endeavor Philippines, visit their Facebook page.