I always knew my cousin Andrew Esteban was destined for greatness. From the minute he could talk, our family would say, “that kid is going to cure cancer one day” or something equally as incredible.
According to its official website, The Call for Code Global Challenge — created by David Clark Cause and supported by Founding Partner IBM and Charitable Partner United Nations Human Rights — invites developers and problem-solvers around the world to build solutions that fight back against the most pressing issues of our time.
Andrew, alongside his team from Sydney University’s Dalyell Scholars Program for the Business School — Jagen Yoon, 21, Joshua Mok, 21 and Theresa Wang, 20 — developed their app Business Buddy to “improve communication channels between Government and small businesses by providing small business owners personalised chatbots that can find out what financial grants they are eligible for as well as learn about the health restrictions their business must abide by and develop their own COVID-Safe plans.
“It effectively acts as a one-stop-shop for small businesses in that it collates information from a dozen different Government agencies and presents what the business really needs,” Andrew told me in an interview with The Latch.
“Business owners can just log on to the service and send a message to their “Buddy”, who then processes their request and gets the necessary information from the relevant government agency.”
Not only did the team place second globally, but they received $25,000 USD, plus mentorship from IBM, the UN and the Linux Foundation plus $10,000 worth of IBM services.
Here, Andrew talks to me about the process used to develop the app, the importance of technology when dealing with a pandemic and how important it is for Gen Z to be at the forefront of creating for our future.
Needless to say, proud cousin right here.
WATCH: The Business Buddy Call for Code submission video. Story continues…
Anita Anabel: Congratulations on getting second place, Andrew! How did it feel getting so close to number one?
Andrew Esteban: We were so happy to come second. When we originally submitted, whilst we felt we had come up with a strong concept and prototype, all the other submissions we had seen were amazing, so we would have been over the moon to be listed as a regional finalist.
Even on the day of the ceremony, we were just incredibly proud to have made the top five, and we would have been happy regardless of where we placed, especially with the calibre of the other finalists.
So, for us to make not only the regional finals for Asia-Pacific but also come second in the world, we were just ecstatic.
AA: Can you explain what your app Business Buddy does?
AE: Business Buddy aims to improve communication channels between Government and small businesses by providing small business owners personalised chatbots that can find out what financial grants they are eligible for, learn about the health restrictions their business must abide by, and develop their own COVID-Safe plans.
It effectively acts as a one-stop-shop for small businesses in that it collates information from a dozen different Government agencies and presents what the business really needs.
So business owners can just log on to the service and send a message to their “Buddy”, who then processes their request and gets the necessary information from the relevant government agency.
AA: What does the future look like for the app now?
AE: We’ve made Business Buddy completely open-source, which basically means that anyone is able to contribute to the platform.
Our hope is that because of this, the wider developer community, of which there are nearly 24 million people, will be able to help make Business Buddy grow.
We’ve already got a few mentors from the Linux Foundation and IBM guiding us through the process of making the platform more accessible so that anyone around the world can contribute but our main goal now is to see Business Buddy deployed in NSW for small businesses.
We’ve already got a proof of concept but for proper deployment, we would need support from the Government and access to their internal servers. We’re in communication with a few Government agencies and are hoping to pitch the idea to the Government soon.
AA: What is the process you have to go through to create something like this?
AE: It was a long process to get from idea generation to where we are now.
Jagen and Josh originally pitched the idea of connecting small businesses to Government with an Artificial Intelligence-powered chatbot all the way back in February for a business unit they took together.
When the COVID-19 track was announced for Call for Code back in March, their lecturer, Dr Sandra Seno-Alday encouraged them to keep going with a shift in focus to helping small businesses deal with the impact of COVID-19.
They then workshopped the idea at a few Hackathons run by IBM, where they refined the scope and idea of the project. They then went out and spoke with small business owners and tried to get an understanding of the root causes of hardships they were facing, and pitched their ideas to the people that would actually potentially use it.
Theresa and I were then brought in to help develop the idea and turn it into a prototype that could be submitted.
We were regularly meeting with IBM, Service NSW, and Dr Seno-Alday to get feedback on our progress and then spent the final month before submission quickly bringing it all together, writing up our business case, and developing marketing material for the submission.
AA: How important is the growth of technology for your generation?
AE: I think we’ve all accepted that technology will continue to play a bigger role in our lives moving forward.
This year alone has seen technology become essential as everyone worked and studied from home. As technology grows, our lives will continue to change. It won’t be long until the concept of driving no longer exists because of self-driving cars, or robots take over what remains of manual labour.
I think that this growth then will be what defines our generation, in that it will determine what workplaces and domestic environments will be like in the years ahead.
AA: How important is it for Gen Z to be at the forefront of creating for our future?
AE: In my opinion, diversity of thought is probably the most important aspect when it comes to problem-solving. When you have a group of people that all have different backgrounds, they will approach problems in different ways, and come up with unique solutions to the same problem. It’s in situations like these where people come up with radical ideas that challenge pre-existing notions.
With Gen Z at the table helping create our future, a brand new perspective is brought in that has a different relationship with technology to everyone else.
Our generation has almost always had access to Google, smartphones and social media, and because of that, we treat technology differently, and so as technology becomes even more ubiquitous, bringing both positive and negative change, it will become even more important to hear from all stakeholders.
AA: What did you learn about yourself during this process?
AE: The thing that I feel clicked for all of us during this process is that our generation actually has the ability to make a significant change.
When we met with Government agencies for the first time to talk about our ideas, they didn’t just treat us like university students who don’t understand how the world works.
They actively listened to what we had to say and appreciated our idea as to how technology can improve how small businesses can operate.
To then get the same level of appreciation from dignitaries like Bill Clinton and high ranking figures in the technology world such as the CEO of IBM Arvind Krishna, just gave us more encouragement to keep on making a difference.
“The thing that I feel clicked for all of us during this process is that our generation actually has the ability to make a significant change.”
AA: What’s next for you and your team?
AE: I think we’ll be taking a few days off to celebrate with everyone that has helped us on our journey (and do our mid-semester exams), and then we’ll be getting right back into seeing how we can deploy Business Buddy. We’re incredibly happy and proud to have gotten to this stage, but we’re not done yet.
If you would like to help and contribute to Business Buddy, find out how here.