MAPping the Future

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The Agri-Aqua Innovation Challenge

written by Ms. Jade Divinagracia - October 31, 2022

Despite the country’s fertile lands and waters and huge exclusive economic zones, the Philippines is behind its neighbors in farm productivity, crop diversification, and agri- and sea-based export production.  Our farmers and fisher folk comprise two-thirds of the poor in the country.  Such is the irony that they themselves are not that keen on their children following in their footsteps.  The result is a declining enrollment in courses and erosion of workforce in the agriculture and aquaculture sectors.  As the average age of farmers increases past 58 years old, this setup threatens the food security of the Philippines.


In this context, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) set up the Agri-Aqua Innovation Challenge.  By leveraging science and technology, the Innovation Challenge aims to inspire and engage the next generation of Filipinos in shaping a modern, progressive, and more relevant agriculture and aquaculture sectors.


The Innovation Challenge is an annual competition open to student teams and registered startups.  It aims to provide a platform where research and development occuring in universities can be translated to actual products and services used by Filipinos.  Research by Ph.D., masteral, or undergraduate students should not only be “bound” as publications but also as an intellectual property in products, resources in companies, and foundations of industries. It encourages entrepreneurs to take advantage of science and technology in their products and services and in their businesses.


The Innovation Challenge highlights the role universities play in our innovation ecosystem and national development.  Aside from transmitting knowledge, skills, and attitudes to students, universities are catalysts of economic development.  For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a small university of 13,000 people, reported its entrepreneurial impact in 2015.   Alumni have founded more than 30,000 companies, employed almost 5 million people, and generated $2 trillion in annual revenues which is about six times the GDP of the Philippines.


The Philippine Startup Ecosystem 2020 Report, on the other hand, counted 400+ startups in the country. How many of them from our universities and received venture funding is not known.  Even if all are from our universities or they received funding, the Philippines, a country of 100 million people, has an output no different than that of the University of Virginia. Yes, Virginia. This is according to Pitchbook’s global ranking of schools in terms of number of startups from 2006 to 2020. Stanford ranked first with 1,258 startups followed by UC Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard.


But change is coming.  Policies with provisions to strengthen, promote, and develop an innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem and culture in the country are being put into place. The Innovative Startup Act (RA 11337), the Youth Entrepreneurship Act (RA 10679) and revisions in the Corporation Code all point toward the right direction.


The Agri-Aqua Innovation Challenge builds on these developments.  Funding from the DOST allows the Innovation Challenge to grant a total of almost ₱6 million to the teams for their innovation journeys.  The winning startup receives ₱1 million while the winning student team receives ₱400,000. Additional funds are given for them to do market validation and product iteration. All the finalists receive at least ₱100,000 to encourage them for the road ahead.


But it’s not just monetary support.  By bringing in the academe and industry, the Innovation Challenge is not just an event to award winners, but a platform to nurture innovators.  Professors from the AIM and CEOs and managers of agri-aqua companies of the MAP together to mentor the teams. They provide frameworks and best practices appropriate to their context in their innovation journey.


Unfortunately, these efforts may not be enough to nurture successful startups. Statistics would place their failure at about 90%. Then why bother?  Moreso encourage and promote?  There are as many reasons as there are entrepreneurs.  But let me offer two.


First, one of these startups may have the solution to one of our problems.  Like the startup pharmaceutical companies protecting us from COVID-19, Aquagentech of UST may be able to help shrimp farmers evade the white spot syndrome virus through their patented rapid detection kit.  Or UPLB’s HormoGroe might reduce the cost and improve the yield of our farmers’ crops and insulate them from the skyrocketing cost of synthetic fertilizers.


The second is more profound.  Going through the innovation process makes them better persons, students and Filipinos. Innovation requires empathizing with the customer, understanding another Filipino’s problem, helping them with creative ideas, implementing a solution as a product or a service,  and organizing people to address a cause larger than his own.  Early on, innovators become aware of concepts they have to learn, risks they need to mitigate, and actions they have to take. This makes their education purposive.  They prepare for the career they define for themselves.


They can fall short at any part in the process – missed customer insights, failure of product features, or dysfunction in the organization.  But it’s an iterative process.  This engenders humility and grit.  As Edison puts it – “I have not failed. I just found a thousand ways that won’t work”.  From the failures, they have a better understanding of what it would take to succeed. How should they communicate? Who should they work with? Instead of just complaining about our problems – they try to find solutions. This makes them better Filipinos.


On November 9, 2022, the first batch of Filipino agri-aqua innovators will be pitching their solutions at the AIM from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Prospective customers, partners, and investors are welcome to visit. They have booths to showcase their products and services. The public is encouraged to examine these solutions and meet the teams behind them at The Demo Day will be broadcasted live on this site.


(The author is Co-Chair of the MAP Human and Development Committee for Higher Education, CEO of conceptblocks and Adjunct Professor at AIM. Feedback at <> and <>.)


Winning with customer experience


Digital transformation should be centered on customer experience. Companies that manage to digitally transform themselves to meet the needs of customers are leading the market. Since the pandemic dramatically shifted customer expectations, winning companies use data analytics to better understand customer patterns and behaviors, and adapt their services to meet their ever-changing needs.


In a country where consumer spending is a major economic growth driver, getting the customer experience right is everything. PwC found in a recent study that customers are willing to pay more for a great experience. When customers’ expectations are met or exceeded, companies gain measurable business benefits — including the chance to get a larger share of the customers’ wallet.


The CEO survey also found that most CEOs will continue to invest in data platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) and contactless payment systems. As much as 3D printing, drones and VR/AR are exciting developments, companies need to invest in digitalization where it matters — in improving customer experience. Data platforms and AI can help enhance customer profiles and develop more personalized marketing campaigns. Electronic payment and billing solutions can also provide an easier, quicker and safer checkout experience to customers.


Retaining and upskilling talent


As companies continue to adopt new technologies, they must also ensure that their workforce can complement and leverage on the value of these investments. About 37 percent of CEOs identified labor constraints as one of the factors that will continue to affect their businesses.


Employees must be equipped with the right skills and competencies to match evolving business needs. Business leaders must foster a culture of learning in their organizations and empower their people to develop their capabilities through virtual upskilling and training programs. The government and educational institutions must also work together to ensure that the national curriculum is updated to prepare our students for the future.


Aside from gaps in digital skills, the pandemic has also exacerbated issues on talent retention. According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, one in five employees are likely to switch to a new employer, with Gen Z and Millennials topping the list.


An article by the Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates have been steadily increasing over the past ten years so the end of the pandemic would not signify the end of the resignations. The issues that led to the Great Resignation (i.e., burnout, unfair compensation) developed over a long period of time so they may take even longer to resolve. To win the war on talent, business leaders must recognize the needs of their employees and understand that they will have to make changes in their organization to meet those needs.


PwC’s workforce survey also found that retaining employees will call for more than just pay as they also consider purpose and fulfillment in their career decisions. A corporate purpose founded on human values and societal impact is vital to attracting, motivating and retaining key talent. Employees want to find meaning in the work that they do. They need to be able to connect with the purpose of the company, see how it benefits society, and understand how their work helps achieve it.


As companies face a wide range of challenges in the new normal, it is important that their people are fully engaged to contribute to the organization’s success.


A business strategy for the future


The past couple of years have transformed the way we do business. And to win in the next normal, businesses must act fast and adopt new ways of working. For organizations, this means implementing a three-fold transformation centered on technology, customer centricity, and talent management.

Digital capabilities that were previously viewed as ‘nice to haves’ are now table stakes as these can unlock transformative opportunities. Technology introduces key capabilities that can improve operations, enrich customer experience and enhance employee engagement.


Companies must also prioritize people and organizational transformation by investing in talent. Many have provided their teams with opportunities to upskill and optimize the use of digital tools. Others have also recognized the link between purpose and talent retention as they inspire their people to work towards the betterment of both the company and society.


As market conditions and customer needs continue to evolve, companies need to develop proactive strategies focused on creating long-term value. By integrating the intersection of these three main components into their strategies, companies can be better equipped to navigate the business landscape of tomorrow.


More business insights are discussed in the PwC MAP 2022 CEO Survey. Download the full report at


(The author is a member of the MAP CEO Conference Committee and the Vice Chair of the MAP Ease of Doing Business Committee. She is the Deals and Corporate Finance Managing Partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Feedback at <> and < >).