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4 key lessons from 1st Asia SME Summit

Business leaders at the summit dare MSME owners to be disruptors in the Digital Age.
By Elyssa Christine Lopez |
1st Asia SME Summit
LESSONS. (From left) Trends and Concepts Total Interior Solutions President Joe Bantiling; Kalibrr CEO Paul Rivera; ADEC Innovations CEO James Donovan; Bloomberg TV News Anchor Quintin Pastrana; and Sven Group Executive Director Arvi Villacin share lessons they learned in running their enterprises at the 1st Asia SME Summit, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Photo by Elysse Christine Lopez / Entrepreneur Philippines


Hard work, teamwork and innovation are the key values championed by business leaders in the first Asia SME (small and medium enterprise) Summit on Wednesday, April 20 at Marriott Hotel, Pasay City.



More than 500 MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprise) owners, executives and professionals converged for the summit with key speakers from the local digital industry and the startup scene. caught the afternoon sessions of the summit. Here are some key takeaways:



1. Build your people up.

We challenge and motivate my people to do more and dream bigger. For a people-oriented company like ours, developing their character to be business leader actually helps us in the long run,” President of Trends and Concepts Total Interior Solutions Joe Bantiling said.


The design and build company worked its way up from a small SME firm into a leading developer in its industry, and for a creative organization, a leeway for mistakes is important.



“I’m open to my people experiencing failures as long as they analyze why such thing happened, that way they learn,”Bantiling said who always credits half of the success to his team.

2. Find your niche and time.

Another business leader who invited challenge to his realm is ADEC Innovations CEO James Donovan, who admits their company was irrelevant a few years back, even when it provided something new to the market.


“Just because you have a good idea, you may not have the timing right. For years, our idea was taken as ‘It’s nice but what else can you do for us?’ If you believe in something, you must have the persistence and the intelligence to make it relevant to the market you want to tap,” Donovan added.


ADEC Innovations was part of the first wave of players in the local BPO (business process outsourcing) industry. The firm provides intelligent solutions to business processes for both local and international markets.



Skepticism from critics drove Donovan and his business partner—the first employees of the company—to develop their business model. Today, it has grown into a 5500-strong workforce with locations in 12 countries, including China and the United Kingdom.


But the solutions provider believes the business model has to innovate soon or else technology may eat up the industry.


“According to a study by the United Nations, there are 1 trillion businesses that remain unfunded every year because the business model has not matured enough. There are still a lot of problems that demand solutions,” Donovan added.



3. Always innovate.

LBC X President Philips Yu saw the opportunity from the complicated business process between online shoppers and sellers and so he built


One solution this startup provided is better e-commerce experience in the country. The startup serves as a middleman for online businesses to deliver their products to the market and process payments at the same time.



“When building an online experience always remember the three ‘Cs’: simple, certain, and secure,” Yu said. The website remains as a learning process as it goes through constant updates but has successfully catered to some online shoppers.



4. Get out of your comfort zone.

But the story is different for Kalibrr CEO Paul Rivera, who in his words, “has always enjoyed uncertainty” and challenges business owners “to be where they shouldn’t be.”


His startup story goes back to 2007 when he founded a BPO firm in the Philippines but had difficulty in recruitment. Before then, he landed a job in Google—yes, the biggest company in the world— but decided to start a company of his own.


Related: Real tales: Leaving an enviable job at Google to be an entrepreneur


“If you’re uncomfortable now, you’ll be uncomfortable in the future. Look for opportunities to go out of your comfort zone,” Rivera said.



Kalibrr disrupts as the lone recruitment company in the country. Unlike the latter, the young firm match companies and individuals based on skills and interests, not just on academic background.


“If you don’t reinvent your business, someone else will…. In Kalibrr, the school you didn’t go to does not matter,” Rivera added.


This smart solution attracted not only PLDT Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) as funder, but venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. Today, they have $2 million worth of funding from San Francisco.


“We turned down MVP’s offer, but looking back, I shouldn’t even be in the same room as him so be where you’re not supposed to be,” Rivera said.




Elyssa Christine Lopez is’s editorial assistant/staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz.


Gold fish photo from

Joe Bantiling 
President of Trends and Concepts Total Interior Solutions, Kalibrr CEO Paul River, ADEC Innovations CEO James Donovan, Bloomberg TV News Anchor Quintin Pastrana and Sven Group Executive Director Arvi Villacin.

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