With the new administration in full swing, one might say the obvious way to give the Philippine economy a much-needed boost is through politics.

But a growing number of young people are leaping into the entrepreneurial fray and doing the job themselves. It used to be that the common mindset was to get a job and be a resilient employee as you work your way to the top, but today’s youth have actually spurred forth an entrepreneurial revolution. Suddenly entrepreneurship has gone beyond its simple definition of working when you want it, where you want it. More than just an economic term, it has become a way of thinking.

The Ateneo de Manila University Center for Continuing Education asserts that “entrepreneurs are not only passionate about pursuing the growth and sustainability of their enterprise, they also have the capability and desire to contribute to nation-building through job and wealth creation and distribution.”

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) form the backbone of the Philippine economy, generating more than 90 percent of income.

“Encouraging more SMEs mean more jobs, more income, and more purchasing power. Filipino entrepreneurship is a key to creating a strong economy for the country,” adds Kat Luna-Abelarde, PLDT vice-president and head of the PLDT-SME Nation campaign that started earlier this year.

A Booming Dining Scene

Fueled by a growing economy and a rapidly increasing market for dining out, the demand for value-for-money places to eat in the country has grown significantly in recent years. “People are now more adventurous when it comes to eating out,” shares Timmie Hilado, the food entrepreneur behind Bibingkabon, a small-scale food biz that features Filipino bibingkas (rice cakes). “Diners used to be wary of eating in hole-in-the-wall places, but now the reverse is actually happening. The advent of blogs and media promoting lesser known, value-for-money establishments has encouraged diners to try more offbeat places.”

Encouraged by people’s openness to trying new things, chefs and entrepreneurs like Hilado have in turn started offering more interesting interpretations of traditional dishes. The bibingka category alone has seen a number of innovations, from bibingka soufflés to bibingcrepes and bibingka-inspired cheesecakes. To set hers apart from competition, Hilado packs a punch by introducing ube, pandan and corn variants.

Best Food Forward

While entrepreneurship may be widely heralded as the path to fame, fortune, and following one’s vision, it’s only nice when it works. More times than not, it doesn’t, and this is what SMEs have to contend with in the country, among other things. “One of the things I found frustrating since I started Bibingkabon is that it’s hard to expand—even when you have a ready capital,” shares Hilado.

“With bibingka kasi, if you want to get into malls and you’re only a small time entrepreneur, the malls won’t pay you any attention unless you’re part of a franchise umbrella. And when you go to bazaars and weekend markets, there are so many products and everybody wants their big break, so competition is really intense.”

Instead of being bogged down by her current predicament, however, Hilado decided to take matters into her own hands by organizing an event called “Best Food Forward (BFF),” a venue that’s set to kick-off the summer season and will gather prominent figures in the culinary scene, as well as give newcomers their much-needed break into the biz.

“Our mission is really to promote entrepreneurship, putting those with entrepreneurial aspirations under one roof, and to establish the event as a festive summer venue with the best food finds,” shares Hilado. “Best Food Forward provides a fertile ground for marketing food products to a captive market.”

BFF is also about creating a social impact. “We have two beneficiaries, and both are food-related,” Hilado adds. “One is Unang Hakbang, which organizes monthly feeding programs for over 300 street children; and then there’s Bayan Anihan, which is under Gawad Kalinga. They’re into farming, and we want to sponsor a farm, which helps support the whole community for a lifetime.”

Best Food Forward will be held from April 2 to 3, 2011 at the NBC Tent, Fort Bonifacio and expects 6,000 to 10,000 visitors. Events lined up include cooking demonstrations, awarding ceremonies, food-and wine-tasting, and other fun-filled family activities. Interested merchants/event participants may call (2)477-0294/211-9644, (920) 914-8175/(917) 794-1984 or e-mailbestfoodforward@gmail.com for more information.

Published in the December 6, 2010 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.