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(Article published in the May 5,2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

Last Monday, 28 April 2003, the P.J. Lhuillier Foundation, Inc., the social responsibility arm of the P.J. Lhuillier Group of Companies, in addition to recognizing the scholars that it had supported during the year, awarded the second set of winners of the annual “Create a Business Contest” that it started last year. 

For those who missed my column that came out on 08 July 2002, the annual “Create a Business Contest” was set up by the P.J. Lhuillier Foundation, Inc. with the College of Business Administration of the University of the Philippines for the purpose of encouraging the members of the graduating class of that school to test whether what they had learned in class is sufficient to enable them to set up a business that has a reasonable chance of success.  The winner of the contest is the group of students that submits what the Foundation considers the best business proposal in terms of, among other factors, relevance, innovation and financial viability.  While each of the finalists, short listed by the committee set up by the school for that purpose, is given a modest amount of Php 10,000 for submitting a good proposal, the Foundation backs its seal of approval to the best by offering to put in Php 300,000 in the form of equity in the enterprise should the group decide to put their proposal into actuality. Last year, the winner was Inkwell, Inks, Inc., which proposed to engage in the business of refilling the ink of printer cartridges.

This year, the best proposal was a company in the business of developing and supplying art and craft kits for students in elementary and public high schools.  Naming the enterprise that they envision as “Module, Inc.”, Joanna Katrina Magalong, April Lou Castillo, Edielyn Agac-ac and Lady Jocelyn Mejia propose to do continuing market research and product development in order to offer trendy, innovative and age-suited art and craft kits designed to complement and reinforce the contents of the prevailing elementary and high school curriculum.  Their product catalogue will be a relief to parents who all have at one time or another experienced their children coming and home saying that, for art the next day, they had to bring to class an item or material that was not in season or, most certainly, impossible to produce or buy at a moment’s notice.  Art and crafts teachers will likewise welcome the catalogue because they will be able to plan their student’s projects and activities without having to worry about whether their assignments are realistically “do-able”.  Schools will be able to order in bulk thus be in a position to either pass on to the parents or generate income for its operations arising from savings resulting from the obvious economies of scale.  The Department of Education itself would have no problem endorsing the kits because the products in the catalogue will be chosen on the basis of the content of the approved curriculum.  It is no surprise that this “win-win-win” proposal was adjudged the winner among this year’s finalists.

The runner-up, which like last year’s was likewise offered Php 150,000 though technically the Foundation only promised equity support to the top proposal, wanted to set up an events organizer, a recent phenomenon seen today in big weddings and similar celebrations.  The group, which also won the award of best oral presentation, extends the concept to funerals. The general idea is to spare the bereaved family of the stress and inconvenience related to burying their dead, thus giving them time to reflect, pray, grieve the loss and celebrate the life of their loved one, or otherwise mourn in their own way.  Partnership ties will be made with the major funeral service providers, such as the funeral parlors, memorial parks, caterers, florists, car rentals, etc., in order to gain access to and expand the enterprise’s market.  Abigael Joy Valencia, Marc Brian Nicdao, Jennifer Non, and Marivic Barrota call their envisioned business as “Funeral Archangels, Inc.”

Other group finalists, who each got a Php 10,000 for their team’s efforts, propose to pioneer, as “911-To-Go”,  in providing food delivery services to various restaurants, supplementing the delivery capabilities of the subscribing eateries as well as giving customers the convenience of a single number access to many outlets, to provide a better alternative to the standard internet cafés by renting leasing laptops to university students, as “Rentalaptop, Inc.”, to combine linen rental and pick up/delivery laundry services, to establishments like hotels and motels, as “Sheets and Linen”, and, as “Pharma-Go”, to ride on the convenience of the stores now situated in many a gasoline station, provide pharmaceutical products to those gassing up.

Two characteristics dominate the current crop of winning proposals: first, the budding entrepreneurs focused on existing market trends and practices and built on the prevailing infrastructure, through the specific services they respectively offered,  by providing their value-added contribution.  Second, like last year, the list of the members of the finalist groups read like the school’s honor roll, two magna cum laudes and eleven cum laudes.

Together, these suggest, I trust, that, despite all the gloom and doom that media had projected from the stumbling and the bungling of their elders, the best of our young are still reasonably optimistic about the country.  They take what is and propose to enhance its value.  This they want to take on themselves, instead of rushing with the herd to grab a position in our very limited job market.

Our more talented young have hope and, if we can extrapolate from the experience of last year’s “Create a Business Contest” winners, their hope is not misplaced.  Tanya Hotchkiss, leader of winning group, reports that their Inkwell Inks, Inc.will roll-out their first products by next month, June 2003.  She busied herself, from the time she started working on putting reality into her dream, in meeting their supplier from the United States (who by the way is a Filipino), learning refilling techniques, and meeting with the  major players in the US remanufacturing industry by attending the 2002 World Expo in Las Vegas.  Operations were due to start last January, but had to be deferred when the supplier was unable to hurdle the challenge of the “self-destruction” feature that a major printer cartridge manufacturer had imbedded in its products.  Undaunted, the company revised its business plan and adjusted its operations schedule to overcome what it considers a temporary set-back.  The P.J. Lhuillier Group of Companies, the new enterprise’s first buyers (and most likely, the most difficult of its customers to please) will be taking delivery of products soon and see the fruits of the seeds it planted on good soil a year ago.

The leader of last year’s “Create a Business Contest” has an interesting story to tell.  During the awards night last Monday, he told the second batch of finalists how the allures of a well-paying job in a well-established multinational company in the country almost chocked the passion that made him start the Healthy Harvest, Inc., a company seeking to produce vegetables through the technology called hydroponics.  But in time, he got hold of himself, listed to the inner call within him that would not be denied, and, against the advice of parents and friends, quit his employment, one that gave and offered training, trips abroad, upward advancement to the best and the brightest willing to stick it out. He is now full-time in the business.  He and the P.J. Lhuillier Foundation, Inc. are looking forward, in a sense more than one, to a good harvest soon.

All is not lost in this country of ours.  If only we who have had our chance and in our inimitable way messed it up would only step back a bit and make way for the energy and optimism of our young.