Twenty-two-year-old Janna Pauline Pueblas loves tending fish and plants at home.
She recalls a favorite pet, a gold fish that “unfortunately died due to a swim bladder disorder. I then decided to give my aquarium and other supplies to a friend because I was getting busy with school.”
Apart from the usual university exams and homework, Janna is also busy with the startup that she cofounded with her engineering peers: Aqua Cultura, an aquaponics system that can produce lettuce and tilapia. The idea stemmed from the team’s capstone research.
“We said yes when we were given the chance to incubate it into a business in UMasenso Hub,” Janna says.
UMAsenso Hub is the University of Mindanao’s tech startup development facility in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology.
The senior electrical engineering student enjoyed the process. It came naturally to her because of her fondness for fish and plants.
“My parents are both educators and my father taught me how to grow vegetables in our backyard,” she says. “I started raising fish at home in Monkayo, Davao de Oro, when I was in kindergarten.”
Her love for plants also goes way back.
“I have succulents and cactus plants, too! Seeing them grow helps to relieve stress,” she adds.
Janna and her team say the project is relevant to their community.
“We chose to pursue aquaponics because we want to contribute solutions to agriculture in urban settings,” she points out.
Through the project, her group is hopeful to make a difference in food production in growing cities in the Davao region.
Aqua Cultura utilizes an online system that taps various sensors to monitor soil moisture, humidity, water temperature, pH level and water level. The aim of the project is to lessen labor cost and increase productivity in work.
“Connected components to the internet can be accessed by the users of the system,” she says. As a result, this can boost existing agricultural practices and improve farming business operations.
At the moment, they are done with functionality tests. “We are now working on gathering data from the sensors, and finding partners like private farms and nature park owners to work with.”
Janna and her team started with a clean slate—admitting to being beginners but with much enthusiasm—and received support and coaching from their peers and mentors in UMasenso Hub.
She says they were encouraged to bond together to turn ideas into reality. Other groups are working on projects that can “address existing gaps” in the fields of tourism, transportation, environmental sustainability, and disaster risk reduction.
Aqua Cultura is one of the nine student-run startups currently undergoing the six-month incubation process of UMasenso. Many of these startups have received offers from companies for partnerships and investments.
Hands-on activities in coworking spaces taught her that dedication trumps self-doubt.
“As a future engineer, I envision myself sharing skills and solutions by improving systems and processes that can give people a better life. My mom continues to inspire me to find my purpose and to bring it with me wherever I go,” she says.
Her Aqua Cultura peers and fifth-year electrical engineering students Jifford Rois Hernan, Mil Albert Torres, Janice Lacaba and Harly Brix Jabahab concur with her leadership.
With diligence and hard work, Janna hopes to translate Aqua Cultura into a full business venture through UMasenso.
When that happens, she’ll go back to raising a new pet.
“Maybe after graduation, I will raise a fish again at home and upgrade my fish tank,” she says. —CONTRIBUTED