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Learning business through board game


By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Have you ever thought of running and managing your own business but don’t know where to start learning the ropes?  Are you intimidated by crunching numbers, learning complicated theories on entrepreneurship?

Would-be entrepreneurs can actually learn business the fun and immersive way with Upstart, the Pinoy-made board game that teaches players to run a business without the risk of losing money.learning business

Upstart was developed in 2016 by entrepreneur Richard “D-cal” Dacalos and landscape architect Ina Flores.  The two have been working since 2011 in Social Play and Innovation Network Manila (SPIN Manila), a social advocacy enterprise.

Upstart is a pen and paper board game in which 2-5 players must win either through one of the three conditions: Scale, when you have enough money to scale up your start-up; Followers, when you gain enough followers or a market base; and Cash Cow, by simply earning enough personal wealth.

You start the game by selecting a character background (a mid-level employee, a small-time business owner, etc) each with its own advantages and disadvantages, and then work your character to achieving one of the winning conditions.  Of course, there will be a lot of challenges and considerations, especially in the ‘business’ matters of the game.

“My degree in Landscape Architecture taught me all the technical skills needed to pass the board exam and work for someone, but did not equip me with anything to empower me to start my own firm. I had to navigate through a lot of trial and error, which taught me a lot of priceless insights, but cost me a lot of time and sometimes money,” Flores recalled.

Upstart eases the introduction of its players into the world of entrepreneurship in a fun and creative way, and will spark their interest into pursuing more in the field, without the hard and taxing mental rigor of real business.

“Our journey with Upstart started more than 2 years ago when D-cal was going through his own cycle of trial and error. We loved playing board games and I remember talking to him about how it would be cool if there was a board game about running a business — where you can get the priceless insights of failure without really failing,” Flores said.

According to Flores, it took more than two years of testing, seven game iterations and collaborations with over 300 people from 17 countries before coming up and finalizing Upstart.

Upstart was initially crowdfunded in 2015, and set for local selling only, but in 2016, Flores and Dacalos saw the potential of Upstart becoming global.

 When the buzz came out, angel investing and venture capital firm MFT Group of Companies headed by 25-year-old CEO Mica F. Tan, took an interest in Upstart; what happened next is a partnership between the two.  With the backing of MFT Group, Upstart eventually became global.

“MFT Group has since helped us by providing resources and connecting us to people to help us with the marketing and logistics needed for our first foray in testing the international market.  MFT Group took a shared risk in bringing Upstart to a global stage, and because of that we are one step closer to fulfilling our vision of creating empowered entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world,” Flores said.

The MFT Group has always been inclined to imparting business and entrepreneurial education to aspiring business leaders.  Recently, the MFT Group concluded the Pan-Asian Angel Investing and Venture Capital Congress, which highlighted the importance of cross-border angel investment as an emerging stimulus to the economy of the Philippines.

The one-day congress also featured Australia-based veteran angel investor Jordan Green, who talked about the importance of domestic angel investments and of public-private partnerships.

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