YOLO, MoM spark hope for challenged SMEs


Small businesses may be bearing the brunt of the long-drawn-out lockdown due to COVID-19, but young innovators see this as an opportunity to craft digital solutions, enabling communities to survive and thrive. 

Participants from the Smart Prepaid Innovation Generation saw this disruption as an opportunity to craft digital solutions that bring giga impact to their communities, especially to shop owners who have been struggling to stay afloat. 

“At a time when we are looking for ways to adapt to the new normal, we spark hope and confidence in the youth and their ability to build solutions that can help communities. We applaud their passion for technology and innovation, as they endeavor to live smarter for a better world,” said Alfredo S. Panlilio, President and CEO at Smart and Chief Revenue Officer at PLDT. 

Mapua University developed a real-time people counter called ‘YOLO’ that automatically takes note of the number of people entering an establishment using the store’s existing security cameras. The system then runs the number against the allowed capacity. It will automatically send out an alert once the limit has been reached. 

“This project is for small businesses like convenience stores that are often understaffed or don’t have a dedicated employee who monitors the number of customers entering the establishment,” said Jessica Garcia. 

The idea started out as a thesis proposal. It was originally intended to count the volume of passengers at MRT stations. But when the pandemic struck, the team decided to repurpose the project into a tool that business owners in their community can use to comply with customer limits under varying states of quarantine. 

Participants from De La Salle – Lipa created a web-based application called ‘i-Contact’ that simplifies contact tracing efforts. By signing up on the platform, users are provided with their own unique QR code which they can scan at establishments. Businesses who will use the system only need a smartphone with a camera to scan the QR codes. 

“With our tool, people don’t have to manually register on logbooks. This means, there’s less opportunity to handle devices that are common touch points such as pens,” said Nikko Gammad. 

The team says the platform will also make it easier for contact tracers to look for persons who have had close interaction with a COVID-positive patient. Through the web site, they will be able to access information on the establishments that the patient has visited. 

Mom-and-pop shops were also on the minds of the participants from the University of Southeastern Philippines when they came up with a low-cost, portable air sterilizer that uses UV light to clean the air. The IoT-based device detects poor air quality and cleans it with the use of different types of filters that trap pathogens and a UV light that destroys microorganisms. 

The team touts their device as the better solution compared to existing air purifiers. They say it’s compact enough to be brought anywhere and it can be turned on manually or it can be operated remotely through a smartphone using a custom mobile application. 

“Outside of shops, the device is also useful to those who are living in condominiums because it doesn’t take up a lot of space. Customers can also bring the gadget to the office to sanitize the air in their work areas and augment other infection control measures in place,” explained Christian Escovilla. 

Long before the global health crisis disrupted how people live, breastfeeding moms have been struggling to find support even if the Philippine government has long advocated the practice. 

Inspired by their faculty advisor’s work with an organization that helps facilitate the deliveries of donated breastmilk to mothers, innovators from Bulacan State University developed ‘MoM’ (Mother’s Milk). It is a mobile application that was initially created to help mothers source breastmilk and make it easier for other mothers to donate their breastmilk to milk banks as well. 

“We thought we could create a digital tool to simplify the collection and distribution of breastmilk. This way, we also lessen close contacts between volunteers, donors and beneficiaries,” said Janella Rutte Caluag. 

But after talking to local breastfeeding support groups, the team decided to expand their mobile app. They learned that there’s a need to boost awareness on breastfeeding and the role it plays in mitigating infant mortality and child malnutrition. Based on their consultations, they decided to offer free breastfeeding information and paid on-demand counseling services with licensed professionals. 

The four teams joined young innovators from 12 other SWEEP partner schools during the pilot run of the Smart Prepaid Innovation Generation. The small grants program challenges the current generation to develop technology-enabled, simple solutions to help their communities adapt to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Smart guided the participants in developing their innovations further through a series of lectures and more than 70 intense one-on-one mentorship sessions with mavericks in the technology space and startup ecosystem. 

Smart Prepaid Innovation Generation reinforces the commitment of Smart Communications and parent firm, PLDT, to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) #4 on Quality Education. Digital literacy and education continue to be a flagship Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program of Smart and PLDT, Inc.