At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, PRIME Innov8 Manufacturing Co. was among the enterprises that responded to the high demand of alcohol and other disinfecting and cleaning chemicals. They supplied those products to hospitals, poultry farms, slaughter houses, and to other institutions providing essential services during that period. One of the institutions PRIME Innov8 took pride in supplying those products to was the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) which played a major role during the pandemic.
“Nagsu-supply kami sa RITM. Siguro sa isang buwan nakaka-dalawa o tatlong deliveries kami sa kanila. ‘Yung mga farms din. Kasi essential ang pagkain, so hindi nagsara ang farms. Sinu-supply-an namin sila ng disinfectants at ng iba pang panglinis at pangtanggal ng hindi kanais-nais na amoy. [Dahil] sa demand, nagkahirapan na ng supply,” shares Ms. Celia Pajel, Technical & Quality Assurance Manager. [We supply to RITM. We were able to make two to three deliveries to them in a month. Farms too. Because food is essential, farms remained open. We supplied them with disinfectants and other cleaning and deodorizing chemicals]. The demand for those products was really high but since the raw materials were mostly imported, there was a scarcity of supply.
Prime Innov8 is a social enterprise (SE), based in the province of Rizal. It is engaged in the manufacturing of home care products, specifically disinfecting and cleaning products. PRIME Innov8 was established in November 2008 under its former name AC Innov8 Manufacturing Co. It is currently a partner SE of the Foundation for a Sustainable Society, Inc. (FSSI) as part of its partnership with Investing in Women (IW).
Ms. Pajel was a corporate manager in a multi-national textile plant based in Laguna when she was hired by a textile firm based in Honduras, Central America to serve as its Vice President for Production. However, she had to leave the post after several months to take care of her sick mother, who was left to the care of a niece and of her husband. Getting bored at home, she worked part-time as an environment consultant giving lectures on environmental management systems and environment preservation. That consultancy was not enough to harness her potential, thus she ventured as an entrepreneur.
In November of 2008, upon the suggestion of a neighbor, AC Innov8 was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a partnership to manufacture household bleach, powder detergent, and dishwashing liquid. Being a registered chemist, venturing in the manufacturing business was the right thing to do. Her mission was to offer affordable and quality products, at par with those of the leading brands and manufactured from carefully selected biodegradable chemicals.
“We started with Primerox Bleach, Prime Suds Powder Detergent, and Prime Clean Dishwashing Liquid. Our venture had been very ambitious at the start, from Luzon hanggang Mindanao ang target market. Pero hindi ganoon kadali. Alam mo ‘yung mentality [among consumers] na kahit medyo mura ang product mo, they still want the branded ones?”, she recalls. [Our venture had been very ambitious at the start, our target market was from Luzon to Mindanao. But it was not that easy. You know the mentality among consumers that even if your product has a lower cost, they still want the branded ones.]
Consequently, after four years of hopeful business attempts, the neighbor partner got frustrated and left the partnership in 2012. AC Innov8 was left with loans to amortize, back- loaded products coming from Luzon to Mindanao and the indecision whether to stop or to continue.
Inspired by the triple bottom line objectives in place and with the support of FSSI as a social enterprise support institution, AC Innov8 decided to continue and began to explore other market segments with success. They started by approaching janitorial outfits and offer not only their products but also their technical support and capability of customizing products to meet their needs. With continuous research and development, the enterprise was able to achieve customers’ satisfaction in terms of quality, on-time delivery, and competitiveness of pricing.
In 2014, it dropped AC from its name and changed its SEC registration to PRIME INNOV8 MANUFACTURING CO. They started marketing their products through distributors, which they consider their biggest channel, as well as the wholesalers and toll manufacturing customers. Various customers were also encountered through their website made en gratis by a friend based in the United States.
In 2020, just before the pandemic, Prime Innov8 qualified as a beneficiary of the Department of Science and Techonology (DOST)’s Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) through the facilitation of the Department of Trade and Industry’s office in Rizal. DOST SETUP is a government initiative that aims to upgrade small and medium industries. PRIME Innov8 Manufacturing Co. received financial support intended for the purchase of an automatic filling machine to modernize its packaging processes. The amortization was to start upon the commissioning of the machine and should be made within three years without interest.
The acquisition of the said machine increased the efficiency of their production in terms of speed and accuracy. Consequently, toll manufacturing ventures became more prospective especially at this time that the pandemic is at the lowest level. Prime Innov8 is geared towards the increase of product demand should all enterprises start to operate.
All efforts resulted to the delight of the customers as evidenced by their continuous patronage and endorsements to other clients. At present, PRIME Innov8 has products for every market segment. They supply to hotels, farms, commissaries, homes, and hospitals and medical institutions.
A triple bottom line social enterprise
Her expertise was not only what Ms. Pajel brought with her when she started her own enterprise. Her advocacy for the environment complemented her strong background as a chemist, which allowed PRIME Innov8 to grow without compromising its social mission for environmental preservation.
“Aware ako kung ano ‘yung importansya bakit kailangan alagaan mo ‘yung environment. Dapat alam ng lahat ang magiging resulta kung hindi tayo mag-alaga nito. Kaya’t kami ay talagang nakatuon na ang operation natin ay concerned sa environment. I worked in a big company as the quality assurance manager. Kaya’t ina-apply ko ngayon kung ano ang ginagawa ng malalaking company sa abot ng aming kakayahan.” [I am aware of the repercussions if we do not take care of our environment. So on our part, we focused on this, our operations are environmentally concerned. I worked in a big company, and I was quality assurance manager. We apply to our enterprise the same good practices that are being done in big businesses as much as we can.]
Prime Innov8 practices waste management or segregation: determining what waste can be reused, recycled, or to be disposed. They are compliant with environmental laws, ensuring that there are no discharge and emissions hazardous to the environment during production. They also carefully select environment-friendly raw materials for their products, ensuring no prohibited chemicals are being used.
With the support of FSSI, PRIME Innov8 intends to continue product development to harness more natural ingredients in manufacturing their personal care and household products, and provide livelihood projects in their locality.
PRIME Innov8’s success has also contributed to growth of the local economy in the communities of Rodriguez and San Mateo towns where it operates. Although it would be less tedious to hire professionals who already speak the same technical language as her, Ms. Pajel saw the opportunity for PRIME Innov8 to offer livelihood and employment to housewives and out-of-school youth in the community. “I train them. Advocacy ko makapagbigay ng magandang kabuhayan. Meron akong isang na-hire, ang poor ng first impression niya, hindi mo siya tatanggapin; pero napaka-dependable niya. ‘Pag may mga test sa production, tatawagin ko lang siya, ibibigay ko lang sa kaniya ‘yung formula. Tapos ‘yung rate niya din tumaas na. I can say he’s okay now, may tatlong anak na siya. ‘Yung isa babae naman, since 2008 nag-wo-work na siya dito. Maliliit pa ang mga anak niya. Tinanong ko siya “anong work ng husband mo,” wala raw. Noong time na ‘yun nagkaroon na kami ng sasakyan, so kailangan ko na ng pahinante. Hanggang ngayon nandyan pa. Ayos na siya ngayon, maganda na ang sweldo niya, maganda ‘yung performance niya.” [I train them. It has become my advocacy to provide livelihood opportunities. I was able to hire someone, he did not put up a good first impression, he won’t be able to get accepted for a job; but he is very dependable. If there are tests in production, I will just call him and give him the formula. His rate has also increased. I can say he is okay now. He already has three children. There is also a woman who has been with us since 2008. Her children were very small then. I asked what her husband’s job was and she said he did not have one. We were able to acquire a vehicle then and we needed a helper. He is with us until now. He earns and performs well.”
It is a welcome initiative as the Philippine Statistics Authority’s report on the employment situation in the country indicated that the unemployment rate in 2021 averaged at around 8% and underemployment was at around 16% or a total of around 11 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos.
“Target ko na lalaki pa kami, para mas marami pang matulungan. Hindi lang mga empleyado, may mga hindi na nakabalik sa abroad [ngayong pandemic], maraming pumunta dito, nag-attempt sila ng online selling. Kung lalaki kami mas maraming empleyado at tao kaming matutulungan. Iyon ang bottom line namin,” Ms. Pajel shares. [I aim for us to continue to grow, so we can help more. Not only our employees, but there are also those who were not able to return abroad because of the pandemic. Many came here to attempt online selling. If we expand, there will be more employees, more people we can help. That is our bottom line.]
Encouraging women entrepreneurs
Ms. Pajel tells women entrepreneurs to follow their passion. “Isa lang ang pinaka-importante, dapat kung ano ‘yung bubuksan nilang negosyo, ‘yun din yung passion nila. Kasi kung hindi, wala rin mangyayari. Katulad ko, ito ang passion ko dahil chemist ako. Bago mamili ng business, dapat andun ‘yung forte mo. Kahit anong mangyari, ups and downs, kaya mo ma-sustain, hindi ka mawawalan ng loob, hindi ka ma de-demoralize,” she shares. [It is important that when you start a business, your passion is also there. If not, nothing will happen. Like myself, this is my passion because I am a chemist. In choosing a business, it should be where you are good at. Whatever happens, ups and downs, you will be able to sustain, you will not lose faith, you won’t be demoralized.] This is something that she has demonstrated in the past 14 years since PRIME Innov8 was established. In many ways, it was her determination and passion that allowed it to continuously grow and expand.
She also notes that it is important for aspiring entrepreneurs to exhaust all means to train themselves, including maximizing mentoring programs offered by government agencies. “Kailangan din may study, kailangan magkaroon ka ng business plan – anong gusto mong mangyari, anong target mo, ano ang resources mo. Dapat very specific ka, hindi ka dapat basta di-diretso. Kailangan i-plano mo nang mabuti, anong strategy mo, paano mo ito ma-i-implement, ano ang magiging action plan mo. Saan ka magiging magaling, anong magiging business mo, anong magiging market mo, ‘yun ang importante. Dapat meron kang product value proposition, ‘yun bang gagawin ay kailangan ng tao. Hindi basta ka lang mag-ne-negosyo, kailangan pagplanuhan mo mabuti, ano ang customer segments, anong age bracket ang pupuntiryahin mo. Sino ang mga partners mo sa negosyo mo, sino ang makakatulong sayo. ‘Pag may business plan ka, I’m sure uunlad ka.” [There should be a study, there should be a business plan – what do you aim to do, what are your targets, resources. You should be very specific, and not just go straight ahead. You need to carefully plan your strategies, implementation, action plan. Where will you be good at, what your business will be, what your market is. That is important. You should have a value proposition for your product, will what you make be needed by the people. You should not rush it, plan carefully, your customer segments, age bracket. Who will be your partners, who can help you. If you have a business plan, I’m sure you’ll be set up for success.]
PRIME Innov8, with Ms. Celia Pajel’s leadership, stands by their philosophy and proves that indeed, sustainability is the future of business.