Helping Budding Entrepreneurs Get Down to Business

The Swiss RE Start Up Academy is a collaboration of Pathways to Higher Education, Aiducation International, and the Swiss Re Foundation. It is a week-long live-in bootcamp where participants learn the rudiments of business management. The main objective of the academy is to imbue an entrepreneurial mindset among the youth.

On April 23–29, 2018, 48 senior high school students from Metro Manila public schools attended the 5th Swiss RE Start Up Academy at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in Silang, Cavite. They were guided and mentored by top-ranking Swiss RE employees from the company’s various offices around the globe, as well as local entrepreneurs who served as resource speakers during the academy’s work and coaching sessions.

EnSure Rinse:The winning pitch
Ensure Rinse: The Winning Pitch

Entrepreneurial mindset begins with a shift in perspective  

The week-long academy covered topics on business planning, customer needs, unique selling proposition, business models, the basics of bookkeeping and financial statements, and market analysis and sales. Local insight on Marketing and Sales as well as identifying the USP and Business Model was provided by Mr. John Lagdameo, lecturer at the Ateneo Business Resource Center and current Director of the Office of International Relations.

The featured entrepreneur this time was Mr. Jay Liwanag (B.S. Business Management, 1997), Managing Director of Bright Venture Partners, Inc., who generously shared his very inspiring and humbling entrepreneurship journey with the students. 

The sessions, however, were not all business: night sessions were reserved for movie showings and karaoke sessions with students bonding with their mentors.

16-year old Erin Tanchoco, a senior high student from Universidad de Manila, didn’t know anything about the academy when she was applying for Pathways. As she learned more about it, she became interested and hoped that she would get to experience it as well. Aside from new friends and new memories, she will be taking with her a shift in perspective.

“Before, my idea when it comes to business is that it’s just there so you can have money, so you can supply your living. Now, it’s not like that anymore. That’s part of it still, but now I think: we need better inventions and better innovations that will help society,” she said.

She also learned that “when you want to start a business or when you want to become an entrepreneur, you don’t have to start with a lot of money. You can start with little things. You can start with simple things. You can even start with an idea you came up with the night before.”

Part of the sessions included a product presentation where students pitched their product idea to a panel of judges.

Pitching their business ideas

The business pitches were varied. One group presented their idea called “Cheese RE,” a cheese platter snack targeted towards on-the-go metro dwellers because of its mobility and affordability. Another group created “GrabTutor,” where students and their parents can request for a tutor via a mobile app. Winning pitches included “Ensurinse,” a pick-up and drop-off laundry service that offers convenience to students around the university belt; “Kalye Komida,” a healthy alternative to street food; and “Fun Guys,” a startup that aims to introduce cheaper and higher quality mushrooms in the common market.

Solvie Nubla-Lee, Director of Pathways, was also present throughout the camp. When asked about what makes this particular batch of participants stand out from the previous ones, she said: “I think it’s because they’re already part of the millennials. Their inputs here and the way they work is much faster. The way they research, the way they’re able to adapt right away.”

Solvie Nubla-Lee, or "Ate Solvie" as she is fondly known by the students, gives her comments on the pitches

“A lot of them hit challenges in the middle of the week,” she continued. “They found a competitor that was doing the exact same thing but they were able to bounce back right away. They’re very techie, so they researched some more to figure out, ‘okay, what can make me different? What can make our business stand out from the rest?’ They’re also more hopeful and more resilient. Their gung-ho personality also came out today.”

Shazia Khan, Director of Head Finance Transformation Programme Office at Swiss Re, was touched to make the connection with the students and watch them flourish as they grow to have more confidence in themselves and in the mentors.

Mentors from Swiss RE and Ate Solvie proudly wear their academy shirts

“It’s been a wonderful experience getting to know them and connecting to them on that level. They definitely have been reaching out for one-to-one mentorship advice. They’re very curious, they’re very smart, and they’re driven. I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to come here and meet these students,” she said.

The winners of the business pitch were able to choose from a variety of activities, including—but not limited to—an Intramuros tour with Carlos Celdran, a day at the Mind Museum, tickets to Sa Wakas, or a visit to the Malacañan.

After the graduation ceremony, the students, along with their mentors, took a break from business matters to relax and unwind. Part of good business management, after all, is taking time to recharge.


NOTE: The article was originally published by Ateneo de Manila University last April 30, 2018 (

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