After bagging high-profile deals with telecoms and digital solutions provider PLDT Inc. (PLDT) and the City of Manila, Senti Techlabs Inc. (Senti AI) hopes to create a bigger customer base that would benefit from technologies relevant today.
Recently, Senti AI, which was founded by Ralph Vincent Regalado, inked a deal with PLDT Enterprise, the B2B arm of PLDT and its innovation arm, PLDT Innovation Laboratory (Innolab) in co-developing solutions to serve the constantly changing business landscape.
Manila City Hall, on the other hand, tapped Senti AI in its digital transformation efforts through a project that is aimed at driving efficiency in addressing complaints in the located government.
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Today, the technology startup is fast becoming known to be the “Philippines’ pioneering AI company” offering various services that will enable private and public organizations to leverage technology for operations. But before its potential trajectory upward, Regalado went through a series of roller coaster rides before the startup finally found its footing.
Officially, Regalado founded Senti in 2015 but the turbulent three years involved layoffs and ceased operations. He had to rethink his decisions including leaving the stable world of the academe (as an assistant professor at De La Salle University teaching Computer Science) and spending his life’s savings to set up the startup.
His extensive background in IT pushed Regalado to start anew with fresh funding from the Department of Science and Technology and QBO Innovation Hub, a platform that supports Filipino startups and develops the local startup ecosystem.
Regalado graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science-Software Technology from DLSU. He took up his Master in Science in Computer Science right after graduation, also at DLSU.
“We appreciate the help of the government,” Regalado, who also sits as CEO of the company said. “If not for that funding, it would have been difficult for us to get back on our feet.”
It was a turning point not only for Senti AI but for Regalado as well who sees technology and entrepreneurship as tools to advance the country forward by contributing to nation-building. Senti AI held offices at QBO for two years before it moved to its current headquarters in Makati City.
While claiming to be clueless in business operations, Regalado found himself joining — and winning — the 2013 Startup Weekend for his pitch of a product “backed by research on the Filipino language.” He found an investor but was eventually abandoned after a few months due to reasons that most startups face and that is the difficulty of the business to take off.
After relaunching the company in 2017, Senti AI also rebranded adding the “AI” to make it more relevant than before envisioning a world where AI becomes a new normal.
With an insurance company as a first major client, Senti AI started offering social analytics tools that allow social listening. As its client base grows, the startup decided to develop services leveraging emerging technologies such as AI. Today, aside from the PLDT and Manila City government deals, the startup is expanding the breadth of its customers across other industries including banks, BPOs, fintech, and transportation, among others.
As a startup, Senti AI looks for pain points that technologies can address. Through Regalado’s leadership, the company developed products Natter and Volant, and services using customized AI solutions such as Text Processing, Image Processing, and Speech Processing.
Most technologies developed are English-based and that’s what Senti AI wants to break by combining Academic Research and Business Value. Machines should be able to understand Filipino documented languages and that is the focus of the company’s research.
Regalado is also a certified Google Developer Expert with a specialization in Machine Learning, who is part of the global network of experienced product strategists, designers, developers and marketing professionals actively supporting developers, startups and companies changing the world through web and mobile applications.
Pay it forward
However, Regalado’s vision goes beyond the business of earning money. His previous jobs allowed him to become part of community development. He had the opportunity to meet tech enthusiasts in other parts of the country who are as skilled as their counterparts in the National Capital Region.
Regalado, who never saw himself in the academe because as a child he wanted to become a scientist, said he wants to have a startup that pays it forward. He’s building the company so that it would be big enough to help other Filipino startups in the future.
The young entrepreneur considers his lack of business management skills as the greatest challenge so far.
Google has invited Regalado to conduct an ML bootcamp in Malaysia and Singapore.
“I read up on books, videos, and listen to podcasts to educate myself on how to run a business,” he said.
For the industry, however, Regalado echoes the perennial observation in the skills gap or shortage of talent in the technology industry. While he didn’t actually have a hard time expanding the workforce, which is now at 27 and counting, he feels that there should have been more of those people that would allow the industry to flourish here in the country.
It may not be unusual for companies to offer their services to LGUs but Senti AI believes that assisting the government in their digital solutions needs will pave the way for more digital transformation in other agencies.
“But right now, we want to offer our solutions to non-governmental organizations,” Regalado said. “We want to help them organize their data and build a potential research model that we could work together.”
As part of its mission to promote inclusive technology across all sectors, Senti Ai conducts training and education to schools, corporations, and government institutions about AI and ML. While these technologies are already mainstream in other countries, the Philippines will still need a lot of help to make good use of them.
AI Pilipinas now has more than 1,000 members in the Facebook Group and 800 members in a series of meetups over the years.
While overseeing that his company thrives, Regalado makes it a point to pay it forward by sharing his accumulated knowledge and education to others. His community organizing experience.
“I hope to see a future where Filipino startups are thriving and branching out to other countries,” Regalado said.
As for his company, Regalado said the focus is to widen the scope of the client base in terms of industries. He likes to see a Philippines that is both digitally inclusive and technology advanced.