MAOI ARROYO: BRINGING RP BIOTECH TO A SUMMIT
MANILA, APRIL 5, 2008 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Gisela Padilla-Concepcion, PhD - There is perhaps only one Filipino who can explain biotechnology effectively to potential investors. She is none other than Maoi Arroyo. Ever since Maoi returned from the UK in 2004 armed with an MPhil degree in Bioscience Enterprise from Cambridge, she has been the most ardent public promoter of biotechnology entrepreneurship in the country — as CEO of Hybridigm Consulting Inc. On April 16-18, Maoi is hosting the 4th Annual Philippine Biotechnology Venture Summit. Below is what Maoi had to say about her mission, vision and passion for biotechnology and about the summit in a recent interview. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Why have you embarked on a personal crusade to promote biotech in our country?
I’ve been privileged enough to be trained well: I was a Philippine Science High School scholar, I finished my BS Bio at UP Diliman, and I was a British Chevening scholar on a Cambridge-MIT program. Initially, I was thinking of becoming a doctor, but in the course of all that studying, I saw a lot of good technology that was stuck on a shelf, not being utilized by Filipino SMEs. I’m not the type of person who can just shrug that off, nor was I brought up to be afraid of risk, especially if I thought that I could do something to help our country. (Maoi is the eldest daughter of Sen. Joker Arroyo and Gregg Shoes entrepreneur Odelia Gregorio). It seems radical — scientists and businessmen coming together — but it’s where innovation and progress are born. Few Filipino companies can afford their own R&D units, and even fewer scientists would know how to turn their life’s work into a thriving business. People told me it was impossible, and they’re wrong. It’s difficult, but not impossible. I suppose I’m too young and headstrong to mind the hardships.
How can biotech contribute significantly to national economic development?
I truly believe that biotech can catapult us from being the most underachieving economy in Southeast Asia, to a legitimate emerging economy. Biotechnology is merely a set of techniques that harness the characteristics of plants, animals, and microorganisms to make products better, faster or cheaper. We have the capability to make new diagnostics, new medical treatments and medical devices. We have technology to make the most of agricultural land by extracting natural ingredients from common crops, including seaweeds. We can make an impact in manufacturing through biofuels, and by replacing harmful chemical processes with environment-friendly, effective ones. This is going to be an industry that will involve farmers and fishermen, who will harvest the raw materials, scientists and engineers who will process them, and businessmen who will market and export the final products. We have great scientists and visionary entrepreneurs who want to do more than just import technology and business models. There is a lot to be proud of and a lot to work with.
Are there particular obstacles that hinder biotech development in the country?
There are obstacles but they’re not insurmountable. First there has to be a greater public understanding about what biotechnology is and how we can build businesses around it. Another vital factor is public and private sector involvement: the academe, industry, and government have to work together. Technology has to come out of our university labs and into our industries. We also have to put in place policies that let us sustainably harvest our natural resources while still allowing us to get the maximum economic benefit from them.
What have you been able to accomplish in Hybridigm’s four years of business?
We’re currently developing policy with DOST, DA, and BFAD. Our team has taught 15,768 people through our entrepreneurial education courses, and built a network of scientists and executives around the world. We’ve facilitated over $3.1 million in investments in biotech companies abroad, and we’re looking forward to the first Filipino investment group funding the first Filipino biotech company this year. Hybridigm was also co-organizer of PESO (a technology- and innovation-based business plan competition) and Technonegosyo (a technology entrepreneurship fair hosted by Go Negosyo). Go Negosyo is also partnering with us for this year’s biotech venture summit to award the 10 most inspiring biotech entrepreneurs in the Philippines.
Tell us about the 4th Summit and what you hope to achieve in this summit.
The aim of the annual summit is twofold: to train scientists, businessmen, and policy-makers in effectively commercializing and investing in biotechnology start-ups, and to create and strengthen relationships between these sectors. In order to create new and better products through biotech, all these players have to be speaking the same language.
The summit is the only event in the Philippines that showcases top-of-the-line technology, which can be developed into products in six months to three years. This year is very exciting, since the theme of the summit is “Cashing in on the Health and Wellness Revolution through Biotech.” We’ve got a lot of innovations for the food and beverage, cosmetics, and medical industries. There are a lot of opportunities for contract growers and corporations to collaborate in this growing sector. (Details of the event can be found at http://summit.philbiotech.net/)
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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