How ‘hugot’ can lead to innovation

Words by

Digital Reporter

Potential startup founders have to face one very important question before they can even start: “What problem do I want to solve”?

With so many problems to choose from in our day‑to‑day lives, how can you choose just one? Startup founder Christina Guanzon of EARS and Shubhabrata Sengupta, Lead Innovator for Accenture Philippines, took inspiration and strength from painful moments in their past.

See, Guanzon was born deaf. Sengupta, on the other hand, grew up in a community in India where electricity was scarce.

 

DEFINING INNOVATION




Let’s start with Sengupta. The innovator had all ears on him during the Spark Series x University of Santo Tomas last February 17, to define what innovation and what his job in Accenture entails.

“What is innovation? Come on, you all know what innovation is,” Sengupta goaded the audience. He called on a student to answer for him, and developed the definition from there. “Innovation is making things anew, it is changing something that you do everyday,” he defined, differentiating it from invention, which he defined as “making something new.”

Sounds confusing? Here are two examples of innovation given by Accenture’s lead innovator.

First, the fingerprint scanners on the latest smartphones like iPhone X. No one had to invent a new fingerprint scanner or a new smartphone for this technology to exist. Someone from Apple’s big company of geniuses decided to put a fingerprint scanner on a smartphone and now we have a phone that can identify its own owner by fingerprint.

Another innovation, something that we’re more familiar with and something that Sengupta is fascinated by, is our modern passenger tricycle. (Or pedicab, or TODA, we all have different names for it depending on where we’re from.) Motorcycles have already existed, sidecars have already existed. Put them together, with a few modifications, and we have a hardy mode of public transportation for short trips inside residential communities. Now that’s innovation.

“Many things that you do in life are innovations, you probably just don’t realize it,” Sengupta said.

In passing, Sengupta talked briefly about what led him to being an innovator. He grew up in Burdwan, India, in the late ‘80s. Electricity was scarce. Lamplight was more reliable than light bulbs. So he became interested in studying electronics, so that perhaps someday he and the people in his community can live bathed in light. He graduated from the University of Burdwan in 1993 with a degree in electronics, and now he’s here, in the Philippines, developing innovative products like augmented reality car showrooms, so you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home when shopping for a new car.

 

HUGOT

Meanwhile, Cristina Guanzon, who graduated from UST, shared the stage with her sister and business partner, Pauline. It was hard, growing up with a disability that took away one very important sense, but it’s Cristina’s hardships that led the Guanzon sisters developed the Early Action Response System (EARS) from Cristina’s college thesis.

“One out of five road accident victims are pedestrians (many are persons with disability),” said Cristina Guanzon on the need for her startup. “Nine out of ten women are victims of abuse in public transport.” The mere day‑to‑day act of commuting may pose more challenges for female PWDs like Cristina Guanzon. Even if she can read lips, she still wouldn’t be able to recognize sounds from behind her, which could warn of impending danger.

EARS, which is still under development and slated for future road tests, is a wearable device that alerts its hearing‑impaired wearer of possible threats from beyond their line of sight through a series of lights and vibrations. It will also send a notification to the user’s emergency contacts.

Pauline Guanzon likened their inspiration for EARS to the popular trend of hugot. “Start with a pain point, the more personal the better,” she said. “This is your hugot. What is the personal situation that you care about to do something about it.”

“Your vision has to be bigger than your profit,” she added. “To achieve true sustainability, you have to think of how your movement today will affect tomorrow.”

Take it from Martin Mauhay, business leader of Freenet. “Find a cause, otherwise everything else is chaos.”

And that’s it for our re‑cap of the latest Spark Series. See you soon, Benilde!