Power ng Pinoy

Reaching for the Stars at 30!

Earl at his Stanford University Graduation

In Season2 of Power ng Pinoy, we featured the inspiring story of Earl Valencia. Earl is a Filipino-American who had his early education in the Philippines then went to the US to continue his studies. He eventually obtained his technology and business degrees from various Ivy league universities in the United states. He landed a good job with a high-paying salary in Silicon Valley, California. But he decided to go back to the Philippines to work as the head of Corporate Development and Innovation at Smart Communications, Inc, Philippines. He is also a founding member of IdeaSpace, a non-profit organization to help promote technological entrepreneurship among Filipinos. What’s amazing is that he accomplished all of these at the age of 30! Now living in the Philippines, we conducted this interview with him.

When Earl Valencia was a child, his dream was to travel to the stars. Little did he know that HE would be the star. Though just in his early 30s, he has graduated from Boston, Stanford, Cornell, and Tsinghua Universities. In a nutshell, Earl is a systems and aerospace engineer, innovation strategist, and social techno-entrepreneur. He left Silicon Valley to head the Strategic Business Development arm of Smart Communications in the Philippines, but he is also the co-founder of the IdeaSpace Foundation and the co-founder and president of the Filipino Entrepreneurs Network in the US.

“Since I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. I definitely think I was a geek. I loved Math. I loved Science. I love Astronomy. It was just so fortunate that my aunt lived in Houston. We did a vacation there and they showed me. We went to NASA and I saw the rocket that went to the moon, the Saturn 5. And from that point on, I said one day, I will either design it or go to the moon as well. That really made me go to the path of science and engineering. And, thus, that’s why both my undergrad and my grad school relates to engineering. Actually, when I did my grad school at Cornell, it was focused on space and aerospace. So I have a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems from Cornell.”

“The mantra since I was a kid was “Reach for the stars.” And if you don’t go to the stars, where do you go? You go to the moon. But at least you’re in the moon, right? You’re not just in planet Earth.”

“Ideaspace really was a concept when I was in Silicon Valley, but when I came back to the Philippines, to actually go to my best friend’s wedding, I guess Smart tucked in an interview. And in one of my last interviews, Manny Pangilinan (MVP) asked me “Can we create a Silicon Valley in the Philippines?” knowing that I came from Silicon Valley. And that really inspired me to come back here. And then it’s just very interesting that things came true. So when I was in the States, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of my dreams was to actually create something here and help the technology ecosystem in the country. It’s really fortunate for me that it really aligned to the goals of a lot of the major companies in the Philippines that is associated with the First Pacific Group. So when I came here, me and my co-conspirator Martin pitched the idea to MVP and, his, I guess his board, he said “Let’s go do it!” So they allocated 500-million pesos to start this incubator/accelerator and venture fund to help technology start-ups here in the Philippines.”

Photo 2

Earl in 7th Grade at La Salle Zobel

In 2007, when Earl was a systems engineer with the Raytheon Company, he was chosen as one of the 15 New Faces of Engineering in the US. With his own career rocketing to new heights in America, let’s find out why this brilliant and successful young man chose to return to the Philippines, not just to make his mark here but to share his knowledge and wisdom and empower Filipinos.

“The New Faces of Engineering was an honor they give to about 15 engineers a year across the US to highlight the potential of the country in science and engineering. So it happens every February for National Engineers Week where most of major engineering companies … “‘Cause you’ve made it to the Top 15!” Right? Basically it’s the final pool! — Yes, I was 24. I was so happy. My Mom actually bought 50 copies of USA Today that day, right, and showed it to all her friends. So, uh, I don’t know how I deserved that, but maybe it’s about the passion for engineering, the passion for technology, that’s how I thought I was selected into this prestigious group.

So I was the only one in my industry. I was the only one in the Aerospace and Defense industry that made it to the list. Actually, I was the first one in my company to make it to the list in the history of this award.

“For me, looking back, I realize that it is a responsibility for me to uphold why I was selected. Right? And it wasn’t really looking at who is the future of engineering for the country and honestly for me it’s for the world. Right? So that’s why I’m doing a lot of things that I’m doing now with Smart, with the 65 million subscribers that I’m trying to touch, at the same time, the venture arm of IdeaSpace of all the start-ups I’m trying to inspire in the Philippines. Right? Because that’s a big responsibility. You know, to be said at 24, you are the future of your profession. And then, hopefully, you know, 20 years from now, someone says “Engineer Earl, what have you done?” And I say I’ve done something to change, you know, the lives of a lot of people, to protect the lives of a lot of people, and then maybe to change the country at the same time.

Photo 3 At one of IdeaSpace Seminar

At one of IdeaSpace Seminar

So what made Earl decide to go back home to the Philippines despite his stable job in the Silicon Valley working for Cisco Systems. In his interview with Smart Philippines, he said: “The head of HR of Smart told me one thing that really resonated with me — that everything you do as an executive in this Philippines is being Customer Service Representative(CSR). So how many times can I say that I’m gonna help potentially, directly, 65 million of your countrymen, besides the company that I am associated right now. So that really resonated with me when I was in the States. So I decided to really go home.”

“I did a lot of reflection when I was in the States. I said I was there for many many years. But in a lot of my professions, people are actually surprised that I am Filipino, more so grew up in the Philippines. Right. So I graduated top of my class when I was in BU, I got admissions to MIT, in top schools and scholarships. Even in the work place, I was probably the only Asian guy, and maybe the only one below 30 in every single job that I did. But I realized, because of the surprise, it made me question — why not us? Why isn’t the expectation that Filipinos could be in high technology? Right? So for me now, the moon now is hopefully changing the Philippines and changing and uplifting the technology culture in this country. And, thus, I said at some point in my life, I will go back and make it happen. So this is it. It just happened 15 years earlier than what I thought. But then, opportunity came and I had no choice but to say yes. Because I can’t tell my kids — I have two young kids — and I can’t tell my kids when I’m 50 or 60 that I had a chance to change the destiny of our country but I didn’t take it. Right? So, yeah, I’m also doing it for my kids.”

Earl Valencia he has gone beyond himself to reach out to others to make their lives better. He continues to inspire us. You, too, can achieve your dreams.

In Power ng Pinoy, we bring you our best to help you be the best you can be. Meanwhile, come share your stories with us on facebook (facebook.com/powerngpinoy). Tell us what inspires or motivates you to reach for your own stars. Because nothing is impossible, as long as you plan ahead, pray hard, and work even harder. And if you do well, help others to do well, too. Dahil ‘Yan ang Power ng Pinoy!

(For more information about the Power ng Pinoy show please visit www.powerngpinoy.tv)

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