Ignition Venture Studio: pioneering global company on the Philippine scene


Atti. Paolo Villonco sees impactful ideas shaping our future

MANILA, Philippines — Lawyer, entrepreneur and political adviser Paolo Villonco is leading the way to a new era in business. As co-founder of Ignition Venture Studio, he and his partners nurture the brightest Filipino minds in technology and business.

On top of that, they serve as a bridge between tech entrepreneurs and government agencies.

Villonco explains, “There is sometimes over-simplification and over-regulation when it comes to new businesses like cryptocurrency. Part of my advocacy is also helping the government understand what the right level of regulation is. Also, what are the consequences of over-regulation? We don’t live in a Filipino bubble. Sometimes our regulators only think of it in terms of the Philippines. In this global digital economy, we also need to see ourselves in relation to other countries.

Ignition Venture Studio is perhaps the future of the Philippines in the global context. After quickly adapting to the changes brought by 2020, Ignition is paving the way for the enterprise sector to further explore emerging markets and services.

In this interview, we learn more about Atty. Villonco and how he draws from his multiple followers, the story of Ignition Venture Studio, and the next markers of their success as a pioneer in the Philippines.

How did you start your multiple roles?

My family. I am strongly influenced by two of my grandfathers. One was an entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur, and the other was a CPA lawyer who later became an entrepreneur as well.

Entrepreneurship and the legal profession have always been part of my life growing up. Even when I was in law school, I always thought that at some point I would go into business too. Of course, I wanted to learn and earn a living in the legal profession before venturing out so I had a solid foundation for things. It was an adventure, especially the entrepreneurship.

Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?

Staying true to my values ​​is something I’m very proud of. It is difficult both in business and in the legal profession.

I’m not perfect, when I was younger I was more idealistic. I’m a little more pragmatic now. Throughout life, you make many compromises along the way, so sometimes it’s hard to keep the same values ​​or stick to them. So that’s something I’m proud of.

Recently, I received an award from the Securities and Exchange Commission. They gave me an award for being the “ease of doing business champion” for 2021. It’s about helping SMEs (small and medium enterprises). I’m glad they recognized my efforts and contributions to the business sector, especially to making it easier to do business.

I’m curious to know more about Ignition Ventures Studio.

Ignition Ventures Studio was inspired by my experience at Stanford Venture Studio. This is something I tried when I was a graduate student in law school. I liked the conveniences of the university for entrepreneurship.

They had activities like boot weekend. I joined in and collaborated with other graduate students from business school and engineering school to build the company. I was actually an entrepreneur on campus. That business, unfortunately, didn’t work out, but the experience that I gained, in the business itself and also in how Stanford created this platform, where people from disciplines or different backgrounds can come together, was really good.

Sounds like something a lot of people could benefit from.

I brought this concept back to the Philippines. I helped build a localized version of it. I introduced it to different people and schools, but there wasn’t so much interest or they didn’t know what it was.

I ended up telling my friends, and soon we started to find a business model to be able to create this ecosystem and sustain ourselves. We then identified the points that companies always needed to get started: office space, accounting and compliance, etc. They are like pains that the entrepreneur does not want to do but must do. However, this is not the heart of the business. They want to make products; they want to serve customers. They don’t want to get bogged down in leasing or accounting. Also, when you start a business, you want flexibility. Not every startup can afford a one-year contract for office space, for example.

No one was really in the market to help or provide these services in a very professional way. Either you go to a very expensive law firm or accounting firm, or you go to a very cheap firm that is often unreliable. This is the market opportunity we saw. If you look at the number of companies, maybe 95% are SMEs. In terms of numbers but in terms of income, the scale is different.

We would then help match people with the right contacts. It involved networking for SMEs, as well as workshops. We have helped chefs, FinTech, and even invited government employees to pass on their knowledge. It was where it was before the pandemic. We had to, in the latter part of 2020, close our operations.

How did you start over after 2020?

We reorganized at the end of last year. But this time, we had to, we reorganized our group of investors as well as our services and our advisors.

Before being a facilitator, we allowed entrepreneurs to do their business. We advise you, we help you to do this ministerial work. Now we are more of a co-builder. Our engagement with the customer is more intimate.

We are more of a business partner. Some of my partners on the Ignition team have themselves invested in these start-ups. Some are members of the company’s board of directors. This then creates a more intimate relationship.

We advise venture capital. We advise in raising capital, fundraising for startups. We also help them negotiate strategic partnerships for growth. We also focus on market entry. We also help foreign technology companies that want to enter the Philippine market.

Can you tell me about your star adventures?

I would like to highlight three of them and I think this also gives an idea of ​​what we are doing.

The most popular is currently in the Philippines. This is Nichele Gaba. He is one of the founders of the Philippine Digital Asset Exchange, all about cryptocurrencies. He is probably the hottest name in crypto right now. He raised a lot of money and his valuation increased. He’s one of the superstars in the tech scene here right now.

Another entrepreneur I would like to highlight is Lieza Danan. She is not well known in the Philippines because she lives in San Francisco. She is one of the stars of biotechnology and an incredible woman. I’m so happy that, you know, we were collaborating and helping each other. She began; she co-founded this company called Intervenn. I think last year in July they raised $201 million. They are on their way to an IPO in the United States

Danan is also a scientist, so I help her too. She has a start-up which is also in the biotechnology sector. What I love about her, and what is our shared passion, is to help transform Filipino scientists into entrepreneurs. We’re thinking about how to get Filipino scientists more involved in global startups, and in that niche, startups that the Philippines haven’t really seen.

We also have at Ignition, Jin Tomioka. He’s a good friend of mine and he was at Stanford Business School. He started a robotics company, Telexistence, whose idea is to remedy the labor and population situation in Japan. Given their older but highly educated population, some jobs are not suitable for their workforce.

Telexistence allows people to work with robots over long distances. This allows labor mobility. Filipinos will be able to work in Japan thanks to these robots without having to leave the Philippines. We give them higher salaries here and without the hassles of having to migrate to Japan, often leaving your families behind. Here you will work where your family lives. It’s one of the things that is close to my heart. I was also an employment lawyer early in my career, and I was exposed to OFWs, and heard many of their horror stories.

What does the post-pandemic business landscape look like?

I am cautiously optimistic. What we experienced is no joke. I don’t think we’ve felt the full effects yet. We start to. Global supply chains have really been affected; inflation hurts the common person. I think then we need a leader who can navigate through all the changes that we have gone through and will go through. This person needs to see the Philippines in a global context. They can’t have a myopic view of the economy at this point. And that’s why I’m careful. There are so many factors at play.

But why am I optimistic? We have one of the youngest populations in the world. The average age of Filipinos is around 22 years old. Peak consumption is around 35. Thus, there is a long way to go. We have high potential consumption levels. We also have one of the fastest growing middle class populations in the world. These are my takeaways from a presentation the World Bank did with Ignition.

We then have a young population, a rapidly growing middle class. We have one of the highest internet and social media usage rates. So a lot of potential in the digital economy. The pandemic must have triggered that, but I think we haven’t reached our full potential.

What are your next goals?

I had a realization during this pandemic. I used to be such a goal-oriented, milestone-oriented person.

The pandemic gave me a number, and it really made me realize that I can’t get too attached to goals because I can’t control everything. I became a more open-minded person without very strict goals.

In terms of goals, I hope to help build on these business ventures that I have embarked on. These companies must all be in my mind, Philippines-centric and nation-building companies. Also, I want to build businesses that can really help, aligned with issues like environmental issues. For example, we work with another company that deals with carbon reduction, mga ventures. I want to build impactful businesses, not just profit-driven businesses.


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