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Inspiring Filipina entrepreneurs

We were privileged to have a few VIPs with us at our Women Summit event last March 9. There was the First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson and DTI Secretary Fred Pascual. There were also with us notable women in business, namely Myrna Yao, CDO’s Corazon Ong, Angkas’ Angeline Tham, Olive Limpe-Aw, Siu Ping Par, Annette Gozon-Valdez, Doris Ho, chef Gaita Fores, Cong. Caroline Tanchay, Delby Bragais, Kim Abellar, Rose Ong, Lotis Ramin, Willen Ma, Emma Imperial, Rhoda Caliwara, Kim Lato, Karen de Venecia, Tess Ngan Tian, Ana Manrique, Yolly dela Cruz, Emelita Alvarez, Evelyn Co, Kamela Seen, Monica Teodoro, Bettina Quimson, Claire Feliciano and Gianna Montinola.

Impressive though this guest list was, the real stars that day were the women who were given this year’s Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs Award. We received hundreds of nominations this year and, truth be told, it was very difficult to narrow them down to the 18 MSMEs we chose as this year’s winners. The Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs Awards is the highlight of the Women Summit, which we organize every year to celebrate women’s achievements and contributions to society and the economy. In doing so, we hope to inspire the next generation of Filipinas to go and start businesses.

And what an inspiring lot they are this year. Some of them had to overcome personal challenges and the many hurdles any woman entrepreneur has to face. But triumph they did, and they did so remarkably well.

Some of the success stories can be traced to their love of family. Frances Espinosa, the proprietress behind Bohol’s famous The Original Paeng’s, was a teenage mom when she ventured into business by trying out event organizing and online selling. Motivated by the need to stand on their own two feet and provide for their child, she and her husband revived the family’s beloved chicken stall and grew it into a brand that now has 70 branches in the Visayas.

Even with this success, Espinosa made sure that the store still had budget-friendly meal options to serve its loyal customers.

This concern for making food accessible is a trait shared by another of our winners, Rica Peñalosa. She is the Rica behind the ubiquitous Ate Rica’s Bacsilog, which began as a humble food cart along what Lasallians call the “hepa lane” of affordable meals behind DLSU in Taft. Rica made hers not just affordable, but freshly made and tasty. Though Ate Rica’s Bacsilog has grown to a well-established franchise with now over 170 outlets in 24 provinces and 59 cities nationwide, she also made sure she still offers affordable and freshly prepared “silog” meals.

I suppose this keen insight into the market is a natural gift for women entrepreneurs. One of our winners of the Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs Awards saw the need to make Filipiniana clothing that was both modern and wearable, yet still respectful of Philippine culture. Rafaella Louise Sol took the family business of making traditional Filipiniana costumes and gave them a modern twist.

She uses traditional weaving and embroidery techniques, collaborates with the women weavers of indigenous tribes to create pieces that promote their culture, and then makes it possible for other women to incorporate these into their wardrobes. It wasn’t an overnight success, but after five years, the modern Filipiniana trend took off and now you can see other stores carrying the modern takes on the “terno” tops that Rafaella helped push into the mainstream.

This is also the path of another Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneur winner, Jonnah Garcia. Her social enterprise is keeping alive the weaving tradition of “puni,” the traditional art of weaving coconut or buli leaves. Where “puni” was traditionally used to weave food containers and toys, she has adapted it into fashion accessories, home decors and even art pieces.

Beyond that, her business provides jobs to underprivileged women in Bulacan, where she partnered with local groups to train women in puni weaving. In teaching local women the craft and also employing them in a local business, her social enterprise is helping improve their lives without taking them away from their families. This is the same spirit that drives another winner, Cristina Calao-as Cayat, who is popularizing inabel by incorporating it in modern and even upcycled clothing.

This is especially significant because weaving is traditionally a woman’s job in indigenous communities. By sourcing the fabrics and making sure the credit is not taken away from the traditional weavers, they support and keep alive traditional crafts by making it a viable livelihood option for the women in the community.

We see this common thread in the rest of the winners. They are resourceful and resilient, whether the business is in innovating in the increasingly crowded coffee business, as AJ Cabarles of Kaulayaw Coffee, Marie Joyce Co Yu of True Brew and Ana Magalona of But First Coffee, did. Or in food, like Czarina Sevilla of Avocadoria, KONU CEO Denise Caranto and Emelyn Labor of Jireh Foods did. They find ways to benefit communities and other MSMEs while doing well in business, as demonstrated in agri-tourism by Annette Patdu of Diaspora Farm Resort; in making innerwear for the various stages in a woman’s life, as Camille Escudero did in her business Lily of the Valley, and Anna Nava did in finding ways to help other MSMEs with their trade and logistics needs through her company, 1Export.

They successfully turned their passion into an enterprise, as Katrina de Leon does in her furniture design venture, Genteel Home, and Gracia Lomboy in the promotion of Philippine viticulture via her family-owned enterprise, Lomboy Farms.

They take the ordinary, such as lemonade or paper, and turn it into a thriving business, as Marjorie Barcelona did in Healthy Lemon and Leah Ayeng with Prestige Paper.

These women have achieved financial success and empowered not just other women, but other MSMEs and their communities. Seeing how exciting this year’s winners are, we can’t wait to meet next year’s batch of Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs.

Source: Go Negosyo -


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