Filipinos are not particularly known as business-owners abroad. However, that notion is changing quickly with the escalation of entrepreneurship within Philippine communities all over the globe. In the UAE and Gulf region where the Pinoy consumer segment and buying power wields an undeniable presence, locally-grown Filipino-owned businesses are flourishing, with new ventures being registered each month. These businesses not only serve the traditional “kabayan segment,” but are becoming increasingly prominent in their own sectors catering to various nationalities and companies. Here are some of the brave Filipino entrepreneurs who represent us in the frontlines of business and the ventures they have created.
Illustrado FZ LLC
Lalaine Chu Benitez
Founder & Managing Director
Co-Founder & Creative Director
Business and real life partners Lalaine and Mon Benitez have been building brands in the Middle East for multinational and local companies for the last 20 years, originally from the corporate side, and in the last decade as entrepreneurs running their own agency. Typically known in the market for Illustrado Magazine, their company also provides advertising and marketing services including strategy, campaign creative and design, to social media, content marketing, production, web development, digital marketing, and etc. Drawing from the rich multinational experience of its core team, as well as its top-notch talent network in the UAE and beyond, Illustrado has the ability to deliver big strategic and creative edge, typically the domain of multinational agencies and mega-budget brands.
The company has worked businesses in fields as diverse as consumer goods, electronics, fashion and luxury, pharmaceuticals, food, hospitality and tourism, B2B, real estate, CSR, advocacy marketing, furniture and banking, etc. Their client portfolio includes Bayer, Nikon, Giordano, Casio, Private Collection, Swiss Arabian Perfumes, Horizon Foot Cone Belding, Apparel Group, Landmark Zenath Group, Ayala Land International, Global Hotel Alliances, InterCon Hotel Group, among others.
Multi-awarded ad man Mon Benitez shares, “To remain competitive and relevant in the market, we need to be, not only aware and equipped with new technologies and trends, but we also need to truly live in today’s world. Communication is changing so quick these days, professionals cannot afford not to learn new things.”
Founder & Design Director
Pushing the prolific boundaries, as well as innovation by art, is what Ape Creative is all about.
Avidly purveying a perspective that is dynamic and vibrant to the lowbrow art movement in the region, Rollan Rodriguez is the founder and creative director of Ape Creative – a UAE based full-service studio specializing in design concepts, brand identity, illustration, and experiential design, driven by a team of fearless creatives.
Armed with more than a decade of experience in graphic design, advertising, and the visual arts, Rollan has also spearheaded the Dubai based art collective, The Brownmonkeys.
Having worked alongside big brands like Nike, Nandos, and Red Bull to name a few, Rollan and his team have discovered that discipline, creativity, and vision are what principally constitute the foundation for an outstanding outcome.
Marcus Dela Peña
Initially starting out as a boutique design studio in 2012, advertising agency Wjacob has expanded over the years offering below the line creative solutions such as graphic design, corporate branding and identity, and more recently integrating web design and development.
For founder Marcus dela Peña, continually innovating and evolving with the ever-changing times remains central to the brand. As for their formula for success, Marcus attests: “Collaborate. Most of our big and successful projects stemmed from the willingness to accept the help of others and help others in return. Innovate. Re-invent yourself. Learn new things. Develop and explore new ventures. Have faith. Have faith in God; in what He can do through you to help others. Have faith in yourself. Believe in the product you are selling.”
Oliver Serrano and Ernesto Flores
For over 15 years now, Alpha Media Production has been creating quality audio-visual content for the region.
Headed by entrepreneurs Oliver Serrano and Ernesto Flores, this full-service media production company has made it a core priority to provide clients with compelling visuals that leave a lasting impact. Catering to several production-oriented needs, including photography, videography, and event coverage, Alpha Media Production, with their team of creatives and producers, seamlessly take any project from concept to completion.
Operating in the media and entertainment sector, Oliver and Ernesto share that continually striving for excellence on a daily basis, forging and consolidating relationships, as well as resilience when it comes to growing from our shortcomings, are all vital to success.
Catering to both businesses and individuals alike, Creative Comic, founded and run by Jruzz Merca, specializes in providing top-notch photography and videography services. Jruzz shares: “We aim to help our clients to express a meaningful message or represent themselves through a creative and unique approach that aids in elevating their brand. It is our task and mission to show the world what your brand or event is about.”
Since coming to Dubai back in 2007, Jruzz has worked alongside numerous companies as a photographer and videographer until ultimately choosing to set up an enterprise of his own. Establishing as well as sustaining a business here in the UAE, as multifaceted as that sounds, starts from a mere vision, says Jruzz: “Coming to Dubai with nothing, all I had then was a dream to someday put up my own company. From that thought, I became persistent in doing everything possible to achieve my goal. My advice: don’t just dream, work for it! Always find ways to improve yourself by learning new skills that will eventually pay off in the grand scheme of things.”
There is no deficit in talented Filipino photographers and visual artists in the Gulf, but few have reached the level of success and relevance that Eng. Milo Torres currently has.
As a freelance digital media creative under the Dubai Creative Cluster Authority, Milo offers services of which include commercial photography, event coverage, company profile design and development, and web development, among other things. He has had over 13 years of success in designing various materials for an impressive lineup of clients, including EMAAR, Dubai Duty Free, and Air France to name a few.
Acknowledging how becoming a thriving businessman is no easy fete, Milo yet shares that it is universally achievable: “To start and run a successful business entails many complexities, yet the fundamentals are simple – maintain a positive attitude, stay informed with the current market, know your customers, and keep monitoring all monetary transactions. More importantly, give your best shot in everything that you do. If you can take this simple advice, you can be a successful entrepreneur.”
Chris Calumberan FZE – UAE
Chris Calumberan FZE provides professional imaging production for commercial, retail and corporate clients. Their specialties include editorial photography for and videos for various campaigns, from marketing collaterals and catalogues, tailor made for various client needs. Since marketing is an increasingly diverse field, Chris Calumberan FZE has continued to provide event coverage for various occasions on different platforms.
“The UAE market is so diverse that there is a lot of space for improvement for ourselves in the business,” Chris notes. His approach to success centers around the principles of focus, solution, and abundance. By focusing on what really matters, clients become loyal, guaranteeing sustained business and growth. “Loyalty produces referrals and creates revenue. Having the resources to study our competitors is ok in exchange of cost, but focusing in what matters can create more income for the business.”
Staying humble and having reasonable expectations is another core quality that Chris encourages, as company growth is all about setting achievable goals and visions. Sticking to your goals also helps you practice practicality, he adds: “There are plenty of jobs for everyone. Think abundantly and try to avoid lavish expansion because it is an overhead that you may not afford in the future.”
Hyku D Photography/Soultrap Studios – UAE
Hyku Desesto is a renowned commercial photographer in Dubai, with two brands under her name. The first company is Hyku D Photography, a multi–specialty photography house that covers campaigns, events, interior, lifestyle, fashion, food, weddings, portraiture and nightlife photography. The second is Soultrap Studio, her professional video production team. Both companies exceed in producing high quality photo and video content for brands, businesses and individuals.
“Clients love working with us because we have the experience and foresight to devise from start to finish the output our clients really need. We also always give them more, without having to ask for it.”
Hyku’s method to success lies within strategic planning and having a practical mindset. She emphasizes on spending only when necessary, and selecting and maintaining investments wisely in order to get the most out of your choices in the long run. Hyku also encourages building relationships with clients to guarantee quality service and effective communications. “I always say to our team that we are only as good as our last project and to always challenge ourselves to be better. Our work speaks for itself and it’s great relationships and word of mouth that has brought us to where we are now.”
Great Image Middle East FZ LLC
Flariden Dela Torre
According to Flariden Dela Torre, “ Your passion and whatever is in your heart should be your type of your business. Business is not all about the money, but it is more of what you love to do. You will not succeed in business if your main goal is only to gain profit and money. Business should be balanced. It should be the thing you always wanted to do and always wanted to improve upon. It is your partner as well in having a happy personal family life.”
Since its establishment in 2014, Flariden’s company Great Image Middle East LLC has become a trusted and reputable company in the UAE for wedding and corporate photography, with their specialization including advertising, food, lifestyle and corporate portraits, to architectural and interiors. The company has also added videography to its portfolio of services.
With their roster of clients including corporations and government departments in the Middle East, as well as companies from the UK, Germany and Singapore, the company endeavors not only to capture, but to present images at its very best as they believe in elevating photos from a piece that you can hang on a wall, to an impressive picture that’s worthy of inclusion in a website or social media page.
Niche Modeling Agency – UAE
Renelyn “Glitzy” Robles
Founder & CEO
The UAE’s first fully Filipino-owned modeling, production, and events agency, Niche Modeling Agency, was founded in 2017 both with the ambition to provide the market with local high caliber models and talents, and to challenge the negative generalizations associated with the industry and women in general.
CEO Glitzy Al Banna, alongside her team, aspires to introduce a new breed of modelling agency that redefines industry norms. With Dubai being the multi-cultural melting pot it is, Niche Modeling Agency not only provides its clients with top-notch models for print, editorial, and video campaigns, they too promise to deliver a highly diverse selection of talents that wholly represent the UAE in a global arena.
Not only have their endeavors as a company given many models opportunities, but they too have empowered other talents in the industry, including photographers, stylists, hairstylists, makeup artists, many of whom are Filipino.
Anna Model Management – UAE
Anna Liza Llagas
Founder & CEO
Anna Model Management, established in 2016, was founded by seasoned Filipina model, Anna Liza Llagas. Having graced several runways and fashion spreads in the past, Anna’s transition towards the more commercial side of the industry was fueled by her advocacy to provide both models and clients with respect and professionalism, taking into consideration their needs and goals. Anna Model Management offers a unique range of models for commercial, runway, and editorial projects.
As for what it takes to run and sustain a business, Anna shares: “Setting up a business is like going back to school – you have to be knowledgeable in every field – management, accounting, marketing etc. – even if it means studying the basics. But ultimately, passion and hard work are what determines success. The most essential lesson I’ve learned from running my own business is that almost everyone encounters failure. But for those who choose to persevere and achieve their goals, a failure is nothing but a learning experience that helps one grow.”
Read more about Filipino entrepreneurs on Illustrado Life.