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Meet the Sisters Behind Vector, the Angel Fund Seeking to Mentor and Empower Filipino Entrepreneurs

Mentorship is an underrated and invaluable resource for entrepreneurs.
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo
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If you asked a startup founder in the Philippines what their company’s biggest pain point was, the first answer you’d get would be hiring, funding, and red tape. That’s a given. But their second answer would likely be mentorship, or the lack of, among up-and-coming startup founders with big dreams but little direction. This is where Vector comes in. Part mentorship network and part angel fund, Vector was formed by sisters Andrea and Angela Sy, both Stanford alum with a mission to empower Filipino entrepreneurs by connecting them to thought leaders around the world.  

Instead of staying in the famed startup haven, the Sy sisters chose to pay all of their learnings forward by bringing back their experience and expertise to the Philippines and empower the startup ecosystem here at home.

“We talked to almost 200 [startups] to really understand the situation here, the pain points, what people are feeling, and understand how we can contribute and add something of value to the ecosystem,” said Andrea Sy to Esquire Philippines. “That’s when we found that mentorship is a common issue.”

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In the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, where there are thousands of experienced startup founders, it’s not hard to find a mentor or an advisor who can help you cut through all the noise and give you practical advice. But in the Philippines, we have only a limited number of accelerators and incubators to guide entrepreneurs, and that’s only if you can make it through the front door past all the competition. Online guides and resources can only get you so far, and nothing is quite the same as having a mentor critique your elevator pitch, analyze your business model, and beta test your product.

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So how do Filipino entrepreneurs get noticed?

Enter Vector’s open door lightning talks, fireside chats, and hands-on workshops. Through these invaluable events, Vector, which seeks to “actively fight the nation’s brain drain and scale the local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” connects its attendees to some of the leading entrepreneurs of this day and age.

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Their last online event on December 2020 attracted over 200 attendees from 16 countries interested in product development, growth and scaling, business models, and more. Its past speakers include Christian Sanz, founder of Skycatch, an industrial aerial data collection company; Marsal Gavalda, machine learning head of Square, a publicly traded fintech company founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey; and even Joan Yao, vice president of the Philippines’ own Kickstart Ventures Inc.

That’s just the surface of Vector’s powerful speaker lineup, all of whom present real solutions and relatable anecdotes to Filipino entrepreneurs. What makes Vector events unique is the curated experience attendees have. All the speakers who participate are vetted to make sure that they’re willing to share raw and real stories about their startup experiences—not the “canned” talks you typically hear from large conferences.

Vector’s events come in two formats: the public open access event democratizes access to startup information and experiences, while the more intimate invite-only event for founders focuses on helping them solve a current challenge or get feedback on a current opportunity. Their last event in December followed the latter format, and instead of having just one speaker talk on a screen with passive listeners, Vector shook things up a bit.

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“We had pair fireside chats, where there was an investor or mentor speaking with a startup founder. The investor would go through the experiences of that startup, pulling out more intimate stories from the startup, to be vulnerable and open,” said Angela.

The participants were able to interact with entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Argentina, and more. Filipino entrepreneurs got to listen to the “the best of the best,” according to the Sy’s. And instead of a regular question-answer format, these entrepreneurs and rookie startup founders expressed openness and vulnerability about all the trials that come with entrepreneurship.

Aside from access to mentorship, Andrea and Angela found that funding is another pain point among startups, which led to the creation of Vector’s angel fund. For now, Vector’s investments have been focused on seed stage funding for Southeast Asian tech startups.

 “We're looking at companies that create economic opportunities that will help consumers in this region. These could be startups based here or startups outside of Southeast Asia that are targeting the consumer demographic here. We focus on these types of startups because we feel that we can add the most value to them,” said Andrea.

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So far, Vector has invested in less than 10 startups with plans to invest in much more, and each of the startups have received roughly $30,000 to $100,000 dollar check size investments. One notable investment is San Francisco-based Kapwing, a modern content editor that runs an online multimedia editing suite that’s quite popular among creatives in the Philippines. Vector is still looking for its first Philippine investment.

Pre-pandemic, Vector hosted a number of in-person talks and workshops. Now these events have migrated online with participants tuning in from over 15 countries.
Photo by Vector.
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Paying Forward Their Experiences

After a few years in the Bay Area, the duo behind Vector decided to return home to the Philippines and pay forward everything they’d learned in their years working for some of the leading startups today.

 “At Stanford, we worked with a lot of different startups, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists. We had the chance to experience the vibrant community and the pace of innovation there,” shared Angela.

Their exposure to different business models and frameworks in Silicon Valley helped them gain a deeper understanding of how startups work. While at Stanford, the two were also presidents of Stanford’s entrepreneurship organization BASES, considered the stepping stone toward the gold standard of startups: Silicon Valley.

“Vector is really about giving access. We want to provide founders and startups in the Southeast Asia region access to the tools, frameworks, and resources that have already been thought through in the Bay Area. We want to help them utilize existing information so they’re not recreating the wheel,” said Andrea.

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One big difference between their experience in the Bay Area and what they’ve seen in the Philippines is the “density of experience and startup knowledge.”

“That's why we started Vector. To connect founders with experienced entrepreneurs, technologists, and advisors and help them go from zero to one or from one to 100,” added Andrea.

Aside from the red tape and lack of mentorship opportunities, there’s also regional competition. For example, Vietnam is churning out more computer science graduates at a faster rate and Singapore’s ease of doing business makes it a more popular location to incorporate a company. Then there’s the pandemic, a hurdle for all entrepreneurs to maneuver around by adapting their products to the new normal.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all the challenges that face Filipino entrepreneurs, Andrea and Angela have witnessed the strength of our local startup founders.

“It is really inspiring to see how our startups are resilient in spite of these challenges and are still able to grow their business and find a way to make it work. In some ways grit can give you the advantage over others ,” said Angela.

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One startup founder the pair recently talked to even sold his car to keep his company running, just another example of the level of passion of entrepreneurs in the Philippines.

“That’s [why] we really want to figure out ways to support them and help them be successful. Funding is just one thing [but] that's not the main goal of Vector,” said Andrea.

“It's to become a tech hub, a knowledge sharing platform, [and] a community for entrepreneurs.”

Interested in attending a Vector event or wish to inquire about funding? Shoot Vector an email at [email protected]

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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