Palawan's Gora Booking App and Oriental Mindoro's Hive Energy PH pose together, the only Mimaropans among the first batch of startups that were granted funding by the DICT, chosen from a nationwide pool. (Photo from David Arrogancia)

David Arrogancia was still a first-year college student at Palawan State University when he joined the Impact Hackathon in 2019, where he conceived the idea for an app that tracks public transportation vehicles for long-distance travel, such as SUVs and vans.

Little did David know that five years later, the Gora Booking App would be announced as one of several winners of a ₱985,000 prize from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

The Gora Booking App (Gora) was among two startups from Mimaropa that secured funding during the DICT’s celebration of the 2024 National ICT Month at Google Philippines Office. They were the first batch to receive startup grants from the department.

While Hive Energy PH from Oriental Mindoro focused on sustainable energy solutions on the go, Gora targeted a specific niche in Palawan—tourists traveling across the island.

Gora distinguished itself from other ridesharing services in the province due to its focus on partnering with van operators for long-distance travel beyond city limits, unlike motorcycle or tricycle services.

David recalled that the Hackathon initially inspired a real-time tracking app for parcels and packages. It was a conversation with a classmate from Aborlan, who lamented the scarcity of vehicles and long waits on the road, that sparked the idea for tracking public transportation.

Despite Palawan’s numerous tourist spots, ridesharing remained novel due to inconsistent internet connectivity across the island. While tourism offices offered package tours with private vehicles, independent franchises operated mainly from public terminals, commuting between municipalities daily.

Existing ridesharing models in other parts of the Philippines provided a blueprint for Palawan. David and his team pitched their concept to van franchises and transport cooperatives like Charing and Palshutex. This allowed private passengers to hire vans directly through the app, eliminating the need for manual booking at terminals.

“Even a single company can have up to 20-30 vans. Since most relied on manual booking methods, the Gora platform provided convenience. Operators could monitor their business operations from anywhere, without needing to be in the office or terminal,” David explained.

David believed Gora could sustain and grow. With coding skills honed at Palawan International Technology Business Incubator (PITBI), supported by business and innovation trainers from prestigious state universities, they conducted market research and built the company under institutional guidance.

PITBI provided essential tools and resources, enabling them to weather early challenges. However, the pandemic disrupted global transportation and tourism, presenting Gora’s first major hurdle—funding—once lockdowns lifted.

Unlike other ridesharing services, Gora began as an app rather than a website, initially handling bookings via social media before transitioning to a dedicated web platform.

As college students, they faced additional costs for maintaining Android and iOS apps and securing domain names. To sustain operations without financial strain, they competed for grants and capital while leveraging PITBI’s resources.

David acknowledged early setbacks that disheartened the team, leading to turnover among original members who felt the app struggled to penetrate the local transportation industry.

“Working with diverse personalities and ideas was challenging. It required openness and adaptation to technology upgrades,” David reflected.

Now, with funding from DICT, Gora aimed to renew agreements with van companies and enhance their service offerings.

Their ultimate goal was to integrate fully with Palawan’s vibrant tourism industry, streamlining passenger bookings digitally, contingent on local connectivity and power infrastructure.

David hopes that Gora’s journey would inspire aspiring entrepreneurs not to lose heart in the face of initial challenges.