Monday, April 23, 2012

Echelon 2012: The Battle of the Startups

I dropped by the Echelon 2012 event at Meridian International (a.k.a. MINT College) to support my old co-worker (and good friend), Ron, of as well as my former boss and mentor, Mike, of Payroll Hero.

The first Echelon 2012 Philippine Satellite event will be held tomorrow at MINT College. What am I going on about, you say? It's a startup event, sponsored by Roofcamp and WebGeek, and hosted by Jay Fajardo of ProudCloud where startup companies pitch to VCs in the hopes of being the best startup in Asia, which also equals funding for the project.

Five local startups were competing - one from Malaysia, one from Hong Kong, and five from Man-illa. These tech entrepreneurs are all set to show the panel of judges that they have what it takes to be Asia’s best startup! The pitches will be judged by Mohan Belani of e27, Jay Fajardo of Roofcamp, Simone Brunozzi from Amazon Web Services, Ben Gillenwater from Research In Motion and Miguel Paraz who is a mobile consultant.

The seven startups in pitching order are:

  1. – an online guest listing service and nightlife social networking site
  2. Collabspot – an online project management tool based on Kanban boards
  3.  Bolooka – an e-commerce website generator
  4. Payroll Hero - payroll generation in the cloud for web and mobile
  5. Mobile9 – An open, local and social app store
  6. Paybilis – Bill collection and payment service
  7. – a central hub for small business owners to manage their web presence

he Philippines Satellite event was organized in collaboration with Roofcamp and WebGeek Philippines. Seven startups - mostly from the Philippines, with one from Malaysia and another from Hong Kong - were invited to give a 5 minute pitch in front of judges panel that consisted of Jay Fajardo of ProudCloud, Miguel Paraz of Novare Technologies, Mohan Belani of e27, Simone Brunozzi of AWS, and Ben Gillenwater of RIM.

It was a whole day event, that included long talks and lunch (the tech community can't seem to get enough of Shakey's), but all I was really interested in were the pitches. I came in right before Mike and Tin of Payroll Hero started to pitch to the panel. I had to smile at Payroll Hero's Mission and Vision - Optimizing Work Productivity with Happiness. That's classic Mike Stephenson and Steve Jagger. The word for the day - compliments of a very enthusiastic Tin - was "Boom!"

Ron's startup,, is an online guest listing service and nightlife social networking site. I don't know how this took with the panel of judges, as none of them looked like they belonged to the "party all night long" crowd to really appreciate the idea. The judges were brutal, and picked every pitch apart, until there was nothing left of the idea but one and a bit of skin. Mike said they were kittens compared to the VCs in Frisco. Holy heck. I was sort of glad that I came in late and didn't see Ron pitch. The only criticism Payroll Hero got was that they didn't need a VC at the rate they were going (and pitching). I found that comment hilarious.

Bolooka, an e-commerce website generator, sounded a lot like the already popular Multiply, with a cheaper hosting plan; Mobile9, a Malaysian social app store, sounded like snake oil salesmen during their defense (the judges did bring out some good points and they over-inflated their numbers); Paybilis, a bill collection and payment service, is actually a really good idea that just needs to be taken to the next level to work; and, supposedly a central hub for small business owners to manage their web presence, just didn't know where or how to position themselves in the market. The last one and Mobile9 were just très bizare.

I may be a bit biased, having worked for Mike and seeing how they take an idea and relentlessly go after it until it becomes a reality, but I was pretty sure (as were the rest of the crowd), that they'd get the funding. These are guys who really know how to take simple idea and build it into a business, an monetize with minimal effort.

Before they announced the startup lucky enough to get funding, they raffled off two BlackBerrys, pulling out business cards from a basket. Guess who the very lucky winner of a lovely white BlackBerry 9900 Bold was? I had put in my card last minute and was lucky enough to go home with a new phone.

So yes, Payroll Hero got the funding. Mike and Tin were super happy, as were the rest of the Payroll Hero team. I was surprised B was here for the event, as I thought he was still in Vancouver. So it was nice to catch up with him as well.

Cheers to the very successful Echelon 2012 Philippine Satellite event! If you're a tech-head just mucking around Manila looking for funding, why not join the next one in 2013?