Going from an idea to a project, and what happens along the way: UnderstHand
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is a collaboration from Grupo Guayacán, as part of its 25 Days of Giving campaign.
“We assumed many things about what the deaf community needs,” said Alondra Toledo. “We had done interviews and market studies. We were looking for solutions to a problem.”
In essence, what Alondra and Joel Josué Colón had back then was an idea. Alondra is a renowned leader of the deaf community in Puerto Rico’s west region. As it happens to many entrepreneurs, a very personal experience or interest gave way to a business idea: creating an application that would facilitate communication between the deaf community and health care professionals.
“We literally see it as before Guayacán and after Guayacán,” said Toledo. Before their participation, they had sought information and tried to devise ways to address the communication gaps that affect the delivery of services to deaf people. A professor recommended that they apply to Guayacán’s EnterPRize business competition.
“That’s when we started to validate the idea as such,” said the entrepreneur. “We were assuming the deaf community needed this or that, but it wasn’t until we took the workshops that we understood many things. We had no experience in the industry and had never owned a business.”
The project started taking shape within the competition, and they managed to develop an application prototype. The startup won the student entrepreneur award sponsored by Entrepreneurs’ Organization Puerto Rico Chapter, allowing them to travel to China and represent Puerto Rico in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition, where they won the Innovation Award. The project passed its first major test.
“In preparation for the international competition, I was meeting with Guayacán’s coaches every week to receive mentorship in accounting, marketing, and engineering. And although the competition is over, they keep calling us, and we have continued receiving advice,” Toledo explained.
Their outstanding performance in the competitions attracted the attention of investors and collaborators. They no longer have just an idea. Since they have received financial support to develop it, the project is right on track and already has a name: UnderstHand. Now, they are at a crucial point to move on to the next stage.
“We’re in the process of getting the patent approved. As part of the mentoring we received, they recommended that we make some changes to get it approved. We are focusing on doctors who treat deaf patients with cochlear implants,” she said.
They already have interested prospective clients, as well as doctors and medical students who have said they want to learn more about the application.
For Toledo, the business education and guidance they have received along the way are what made it possible to move the project forward. Alondra is convinced that supporting Grupo Guayacán so they may continue offering business education will enable the development of more innovative projects that other entrepreneurs are currently working on. Another lesson she learned, which she considers very valuable, is humility in the process of learning.
“In college, we think we know more than anyone else. But I learned there will always be people who know more than me and who can help, because they’ve already been through experiences I haven’t yet lived,” Toledo said.
That willingness to learn will always be as fundamental as the education to start a business.