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OFWs can get up to P500,000 funding for STI-related biz startups

(From left front row) iFWD PH project director Bianca Claudette R. Canlas, DOST-NCR Regional Director Engr. Romelen T. Tresvalles, SCALE NCR president Maria Cristina L. Ibanez, and Engr. Federico Gonzalez, executive director of De La Salle University Animo Labs, together with other project proponents. (PIA-NCR photo)

QUEZON CITY, (PIA) -- Returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who venture into their own business here in the Philippines stand to benefit with up to P500,000 (approximately $9,400) in funding support, courtesy of a program by the Department of Science and Technology-National Capital Region (DOST-NCR) that aims to help them become entrepreneurs.

"P500,000.00 is the maximum funding support for OFWs who are guided with the Phase 1,” said Bianca Claudette R. Canlas, project lead of DOST-NCR's Innovations for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines (IFWD PH). Phase 1 involves capability building for science, technology and innovation or STI-based business development and innovation, and funding support for OFW-owned or -led businesses (Phase 2). DOST-NCR spearheads the implementation of the iFWD PH program, which has evolved into the flagship initiative for reintegrating OFWs seeking business opportunities either while abroad or upon their return home.

"Approximately 7 percent of Filipino households have at least one member working abroad," Canlas said, highlighting the program's potential impact. "Over 2.5 million overseas employment certificates were issued in 2023, a significant increase from 2022."

Since its launch in 2020 by the DOST, the IFWD PH program has trained over 626 OFWs in business management, with 74 going on to secure funding for their businesses across various sectors, including food, creatives, health and wellness, software development, metal fabrication, and agriculture.  As of 2023, the program has generated 104 employments, excluding those among OFW business owners.

DOST-NCR Regional Director Engr. Romelen T. Tresvalles, for her part, emphasized the interactive nature of Phase 1, stating that newly acquired knowledge will be directly applied during the ideation phase.

Tresvalles, however, clarified the funding allocation: "70 percent of the grant will be allocated to equipment, with a 'refund' period extending three years from the business's launch or six years total."

"The remaining 30 percent will be used for product testing, production and development, market research, and investment needs," she added.

The DOST-NCR chief further clarified that the funding is a grant to be received by the OFW, with the equipment cost being recovered over time.

There will be two runs, the first run was in 2020-2022, [wherein] 70 OFWs have availed of the program, but not all entrants completed. Only 50 percent of them proceeded to the next phase of the program," Tresvalles said.

To further improve the IFWD PH program, the DOST-NCR is revising eligibility guidelines and expanding it by entering into a partnership with the Strategic and Collaborative Alliance for Leveraging Ecosystem (SCALE) NCR.

By partnering with technology business innovators (TBIs), beneficiaries of the iFWD PH Program will benefit from mentorship provided by institutions such as the Technological Institute of the Philippines Nurture Innovation and Revolution Office, Adamson University Neo Science and Technology Incubation Center, De La Salle University Animo Labs, Mapua Think and Tinker Laboratory, Miriam College TBI, UPSCALE Innovation Hub, TOMASinno Center, and QBO Innovation Hub.

SCALE NCR is equipped to offer comprehensive support for business ideation and incubation, aligning with the needs of technology-based startups, including those participating in the iFWD PH Program. The consortium commits to supporting the program by developing modules and knowledge materials for Phase 1 and Phase 2 activities.

Canlas also announced the introduction of an "ideation phase" into the program's first phase, which will include more frequent training sessions.

"We are introducing an incubation phase to provide additional support to OFWs as they venture into their own businesses," she explained.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) establishes a framework for collaboration between DOST-NCR and SCALE NCR. It outlines the implementation of the "IFWPH Early Business Ideation Sessions" within Phase 1 and the "IFWPH Business Incubation" program for funded OFWs in Phase 2. 

SCALE NCR is equipped to offer comprehensive support for business ideation and incubation, aligning with the needs of technology-based startups, including those participating in the iFWD PH Program. The consortium commits to supporting the program by developing modules and knowledge materials for Phase 1 and Phase 2 activities.

Canlas elaborated on the program's initial run: "Seventy OFWs participated in the program's first two years, launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, only half of them completed the program and proceeded to the next phase."

Tresvalles noted that the IFWPH program aims to introduce returning OFWs to DOST programs and equip them with the skills and resources needed to establish their own businesses. The "Expanded Framework" builds upon the learnings and outcomes of the program's first two years.

She added, "For every peso invested in the program, we see an average return of 1.77 pesos in sales."

Tresvalles highlighted the program's initial impact: "We anticipate a break-even point within the first two years, with each business generating an average of 2 new jobs."

"Filipinos are naturally creative," Tresvalles said. "The program encourages OFWs to leverage their existing knowledge and skills to develop their business ideas and products."

Regarding the program's timeline, Tresvalles said, "We are currently revising eligibility guidelines, including exploring the possibility of extending the three-year 'leeway' period for returning OFWs."

Maria Cristina L. Ibanez, president of SCALE NCR, expressed her support for the program, emphasizing its importance for "supporting returning and currently employed OFWs who are interested in establishing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)."

Ibanez acknowledged the challenges faced by some participants: "Not all OFWs who started the program completed it, but they gained valuable skills and insights into potential business opportunities."

"There is significant interest among OFWs in DOST's hydroponics farming technology. Building strong networks is crucial for success, and we encourage program participants to connect with others in the community," she added.

"We believe this is an ongoing process," Ibanez concluded. "We are committed to providing support and assistance to OFWs who seek to become entrepreneurs, and the IFWPH program will continue to evolve to meet their needs."

Supported by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), proponents aim to foster technopreneurship in the region through skills enhancement, mentorship, and capacity-building of startups and enterprises. (PIA-NCR)

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