PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #2 from Joaquin Benares ’15 of BUKO

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. Each grant recipient reports back with blog posts and photos. Here’s the second report from Boundless Updated Knowledge Offline (BUKO), one of the three 2014 winners, written by founder Joaquin Benares ’15. You can read his first report here, and learn more about Joaquin and BUKO in Wesleyan News.

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The PCSE SEED grant afforded me the wonderful opportunity to work on my social-entrepreneurship startup Boundless Updated Knowledge Offline (BUKO) throughout my last summer as a student of Wesleyan University.

I am happy to report that we were able to accomplish all the tasks we outlined.

BUKO v2 homepage design

BUKO v2 homepage design

The summer closed with BUKO deployments to 10 public high schools, and 1 public elementary school.  Our partnerships with Teach for the Philippines and the University of the Philippines by way of Ms. Mona Sasing are doing well. We’ve laid the groundwork for the continued collection of feedback from both parties to ensure that we move forward with information in hand and can improve the server based on this feedback. We have successfully developed a new version of our server, both front-end and back-end, and are currently seeking patents for both.  We’ve completely re-designed our home-screen layout from scratch, which now features an improved interface and a more attractive layout; this is easily the most distinctive new feature.  This re-design comes as a direct response to feedback data collected from students in our earlier deployments. We made the decision to add several necessary embellishments to the deployment package to ensure its durability and efficiency, namely: a waterproof/shockproof case and a fully capable home router to expand the server’s range. As expected, we were confronted with multiple setbacks and hurdles.

wireframes from homepage

BUKO wireframes from homepage

The setbacks we experienced were difficult and far-ranging in complexity, but what resulted was a summer of intense growth, not just for our company, but for myself as a student and aspiring social-entrepreneur. Two hurdles in particular have come to define my work this summer, and I’ve outlined them below.

BUKO Tablets ordered from China

BUKO Tablets ordered from China

We were forced to incorporate under the laws of the Philippine government as the result of our decision to import 60 tablets from China.  I had placed an order on Alibaba.com for a sample of 60 tablets, and specially requested that they refrain from using FedEx (the cheapest carrier) as FedEx required more paperwork than other delivery services.  The supplier agreed, and even had me pay the extra cost associated with switching carriers. This obviously meant little to him because he chose to ship via FedEx anyway, dropping me in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare – all to save $50 (the difference in carriers).  The tablets were held at customs for a month causing a standstill in our immediate operations. In our search for a solution, I learned that Philippine laws concerning package claim are more forgiving of corporations as compared to individuals.  We decided incorporation would be the easiest solution, and the tablets were in our hands within a week’s time. It remains safe to say that we would not have pursued incorporation unless very “serendipitous” circumstances forced us to do so.

Our first deployment of the summer fell flat on its face.  Luckily, we had decided that the first deployment, the beta-deployment, would take place 3 weeks before the rest. This was done to give us a cushion to learn from the inevitable mistakes made during the beta-deployment.

The beta-deployment was painful.  For the first two hours the server would not start. With the eyes of every department head and the principal watching me, I fiddled with the server, becoming younger and less credible with each passing second.  After apologising to the teachers for wasting their time, I realised that the server was acting up because the outlet that I had been using was loose, resulting in inconsistent current. Without a consistent power supply, the server found itself perpetually restarting, resulting in the illusion that it wasn’t working. With a word of advise to the teachers and a cheap voltage regulator, we ensured that the problem would never repeat itself. All of our subsequent deployments were problem free.

Laguna high school picture taken during recess (beta-deploy)

Laguna high school picture taken during recess (beta-deploy)

With the choice to seek SEED funding and dedicate my summer to BUKO, came the opportunity cost of the stable internship in New York or Boston, as many of my friends had done.  The setbacks we experienced were unlike anything I’ve ever had to prepare for, let alone solve, but were as refreshing in their complications as they were taxing. In my limited experience, I’ve come to realise that true professional fulfillment is a byproduct of emotional investment in your work.   I remain extremely thankful for the opportunity to have worked on BUKO this summer, and would like to continue to do so.

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