Article

Winners of 10th SWEEP Awards use tech to solve ‘real’ problems

Feb 12, 2015
[1 December 2014] BALANGA CITY—A group of young information technology professionals has taken it upon themselves to help solve problems in their community with the help of technology.

BALANGA CITY—A group of young information technology professionals has taken it upon themselves to help solve problems in their community with the help of technology.

Balanga Makerspace is patterned after makerspace, an international concept of open laboratory, a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, goals, and skills meet, socialize, and collaborate.

Two of the co-founders, Laurence Arguelles, and Mark Anthony Colentava, went to Silicon Valley early this year courtesy of Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart).  The week-long exposure to tech companies and startups was part of their prize as grand champion of the 10th SWEEP Innovation and Excellence Awards, an initiative under the Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program—the first industry-academe linkage designed to enhance engineering and information technology (IT) education in the country.

Arguelles and Colentava were very much inspired by their trip to Silicon Valley that they decided to replicate the makerspace concept in their hometown in Balanga City in Bataan.  They hope to eventually scale this up nationwide.

“We want to share the culture of problem-solving and the culture of startups. Who knows, the Philippines can become the Silicon Valley of the future,” Colentava said.

The other co-founders of the Balanga Makerspace are John Auxillos, Christopher Lauro Sarili, Armando Ching, and Patrick Evan Espiritu.  The group has since expanded its membership to 20.

“When Smart brought the SWEEP winners to Silicon Valley last May, we wanted them to be inspired by the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.  We are extremely happy that these two young men rose to the challenge and set up the Balanga Makerspace to help make a positive change in their community,” said Ramon R. Isberto, head of Public Affairs at Smart.

The co-founders of theBalanga Makerspace, which is barely three months old, are very thankful for the support that Smart has been extending them.

“We asked for Smart’s insights on how to further develop our projects and how to bring them to commercialization. Their experience and knowledge of the market has helped guide us in making the right decisions,” Colentava said.

As a tech startup, Balanga Makerspace relies heavily on the Internet for research and in developing solutions for their community.

Located on top of Balanga City’s public library, Balanga Makerspace focuses on technology and electronics. “Makerspace is an international concept whose aim is to provide a place where young people or makers can gather, exchange ideas and find solutions to problems in their community,” Sarili added.

The co-founders of Balanga Makerspace cite certain mobile apps as answers to the needs of consumers. “There’s Uber or Grab Taxi which solve transportation problems. Startups are born this way—they find solutions to problems and at the same time, they create a business,” Colentava said.

In Balanga City, the problems are related mainly to agriculture, but they also have problems on data network, commerce, advertisements, and tours. “Some problems should be approached with mobile applications and web solutions while others would need hardware and kiosks.  Solutions have to be customized depending on the need of our clients,” Colentava said.

Some students inquire about technologies related to their school projects while others request for training. 

To accommodate this particular need, Balanga Makerspace has organized a lecture about an advanced technology used in server management called Docker. They managed to tap the CEO of a tech company from Colorado, USA to give a class lecture via video conferencing.

“The American lecturer was so kind. He had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to give a seminar to students of the Bataan Peninsula State University (BPSU),” Sarili said.

Balanga Makerspace has even assisted the city government in undertaking a traffic management study of the city.

The group is very busy these days. “We have training sessions and also public speaking engagements to spread the “maker” culture to other places. We are also developing projects like city-wide WiFi, open street map for disaster response, and a new kind of rice variety,” said Colentava.

Indeed, their Balanga Makerspace’s motto of Design, Inspire and Play is very apt. “We look at problems and work on the appropriate technology to help solve them. We inspire others to do the same.  The best thing about all of this is enjoy the entire process,” Sarili explained.

Balanga Makerspace can be reached at balanga.maker.ph or at 63-920-5078178.

Smart has already announced the 10 finalists for the 11th SWEEP Awards, an initiative under the Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program—the first industry-academe linkage designed to enhance engineering and information technology (IT) education in the country.  Schools interested to become part of SWEEP may visit www.smartsweep.ph.

Meanwhile, entries are still being accepted for the Open Competition, a new category within the 11th SWEEP Awards where college students from non-SWEEP schools can compete for the best mobile applications that make use of location services and SMS technology. Five winning entries will win cash prizes plus a path to commercialization.  Deadline for submission of entries is on December 5, 2015.