Biz forum for millennials is most-attended ASEAN event this year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 6) — Some 2,500 local and foreign delegates braved heavy rain and flood to attend the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Carnival held in Manila.

"We were looking at inviting only a thousand people, but the response was so strong that we had to move the venue from the [Philippine International Convention Center's] reception area to the main hall," the ASEAN Committee on Business and Investment Promotion Chair Nora Terrado said.

The forum held on September 5 was a chance for young people to dialogue with government officials about the support they need to go into business, such as access to funding, technology, and partnerships.

"We have to make sure the ASEAN is felt in each society, especially to the youth. What is the ASEAN for them? How can the ASEAN be more meaningful and relevant to them," said Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, this year's chair of ASEAN Economic Ministers,

The interest in ASEAN's young entrepreneurs extends beyond the region. Australian companies, for one, are keen to incubate ASEAN start-ups.

"They get access to co-working spaces and a structured program of mentoring and coaching. But most importantly, it allows them to be embedded in the Australian entrepreneur ecosystem," Australia-ASEAN Business Council President Eleanor Mak said in an interview.

Edukasyon.ph: A story of hard work and success

Start-up founders were on hand to share their stories of success.

Henry Motte-Muñoz was recently awarded the Philippine winner of the ASEAN Young Social Entrepreneur Award. But he stressed it has been a difficult journey to put up his business, Edukasyon.ph.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes for many digital businesses is to think, 'Build it and they will come,'" Muñoz told CNN Philippines.

When he started his website three years ago, he thought getting it online and publicized would immediately give them a following.

"That simply didn't happen. We had 4,000-5,000 visitors a month maximum. A bunch of them were probably my relatives," Muñoz said.

Edukasyon.ph is a database of schools and courses for students pursuing higher education, publishing information such as tuition fees, amenities and academic calendars. It offers advice to help users pick their career path. It also allows them to apply for their schools online.

Awareness isn't just about spreading the word about your business. He also learned that simply posting information about thousands of schools was "like asking people to drink from a firehose."

Edukasyon.ph upped its value to users through "choice, advice, and convenience."

Muñoz said his team regularly holds focus group discussions with students to understand their behavior in using the website.

Muñoz said focusing on the higher goal of Edukasyon.ph motivates the team to overcome challenges.

"If you educate someone, you give them a shot at employment. Once they're employed, they get higher incomes and they can start spending for nutrition, health and housing," he said.

Social impact can be added pressure as well, though. Edukasyon.ph has grown steadily from 5,000 unique visitors to the website in January to 200,000 users in August.

"But if you think that there's more than 6 million students in this country, you're barely scratching the surface."