Habitat for Humanity gathered over 130 affordable shelter practitioners and enthusiasts today to celebrate innovation in the affordable housing sector.
Titled ‘Building a vibrant and investible sheltertech community in Southeast Asia,’ the conference raised awareness about business opportunities that exist in the shelter innovation space, and how corporate partners can tap disruptive solutions being developed by startups and scaleups.
Sheltertech – an industry term that refers to innovative products and services that improve access to affordable housing – has been compared to the likes of sectors such as proptech and fintech, but with a lens towards making shelter sustainable and affordable for low-income communities by scaling, streamlining, digitising, or disrupting traditional housing approaches.
Sheltertech startups at the event showcased their products and services, ranging from upcycled construction materials, water treatment systems, property financing, modular homes and more.
“In the Philippines and across Asia-Pacific, there are millions of families shut out from housing markets. They are unable to afford high-quality and durable building materials and are excluded due to unachievable mortgage and financing income requirements,” said Luis Noda, vice-president for Asia-Pacific at Habitat for Humanity.
“We want to bring to light these sheltertech solutions to contribute to building a housing ecosystem where they can scale-up successfully, having in mind the goal of helping more people make their homes resilient, safe and durable,” he added.
The conference was co-organised with innovation platform Plug and Play, startup incubator Villgro Philippines, Impact Pioneers Network and the Manila Angel Investors Network or MAIN.
“Our experience has shown that startups are an ideal channel to bring innovation to larger corporations, however the rate of adoption remains slow. Corporations often face challenges in working with innovators to create pilots and scaling opportunities with startup technologies or face limited resources to focus on innovation initiatives to drive these efforts.” said Patricia Nordstrom, APAC senior director for Corporate Partnerships at Plug and Play.
One of the startups, Manila-based CUBO Modular, introduced their prefabricated homes made of bamboo, which can be easily assembled in just a few days. The venture was launched in 2019, and quickly saw a boom in demand. “We joined the Habitat’s ShelterTech accelerator program in 2020, right at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. With guidance and support from the program’s mentors and corporate partners, we were able to fine-tune our product, grow the business and seek ways to go down-market,” said CUBO’s co-founder and CEO, Earl Forlales.
At the conference, participants had the chance to hear from a myriad of sectors, including incubators, and investors, who shared their views on how sector players can speed up collaborations for scale and attract the right backers. A ‘speed dating’ session also allowed people to quickly exchange ideas and come up with actionable steps to be further developed after the event.
Joseph de Leon, founding member of MAIN added that “the beauty of sheltertech as an organising investment principle is that it literally brings home a diverse set of innovations to solve real problems for families. MAIN will continue this conversation and community building when we host the Asean Angel Alliance Impact Summit in February.”
Habitat for Humanity has already supported over 100 startups across six accelerator programs, including a Southeast Asia cohort which took place in 2020. With housing connected to 15 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, sheltertech solutions position affordable housing as a centrepiece of the development agenda while also aiming to become one of the top impact investment categories in the coming years.
About Habitat’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter
The Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, a unit of Habitat for Humanity International, works with housing market systems by supporting local firms and expanding innovative and client-responsive services, products and financing so that households can improve their shelter more effectively and efficiently.
The ultimate goal of the Terwilliger Center’s market systems program is to make housing markets work more effectively for people in need of decent, affordable shelter, thereby improving the quality of life for low-income households. To learn more, visit habitat.org/tcis.
About Habitat for Humanity
Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity found its earliest inspirations as a grassroots movement on an interracial community farm in South Georgia. Since its founding in 1976, the Christian housing organisation has grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in local communities across all 50 states in the US and in more than 70 countries.
Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit habitat.org.