Ralph Vincent Regalado of Senti, pioneering artificial intelligence in the Philippines

By Michaela Villaroman

The artificial intelligence trend has taken over the world by storm. With endless applications and possibilities, the demand can be felt everywhere. Even in the Philippines, more organizations are turning to AI for innovative solutions. 

Recognizing an opportunity to help Filipinos understand and adapt to the impact of artificial intelligence in the country, Ralph Vincent Regalado founded Senti along with his co-professor in DLSU. Through the platform, he wants to increase the presence of artificial intelligence in the Philippines, helping organizations implement AI solutions to solve their problems and improve their operations. 

The Leading Artificial Intelligence Solutions Provider in the Philippines

In a nutshell, Senti provides customer-centric AI solutions and services to clients who wish to innovate and improve their businesses. 

Way back in 2015, Senti was already making waves in the local AI scene when they first launched Senti Pulse, a localized text analytics tool focused on analyzing Filipino text data. From their days as a social media listening platform, Senti has since moved forward to creating user-centered AI solutions that can be used in retail, enterprise research, etc. Their focus is now centered on continuously creating algorithms that would make computers understand and adapt to the way that Filipinos think and communicate. After all, the Senti team believes that machine and tech should adapt to culture and communication, not the other way around.

Using their core tech of machine learning and natural language processing, they were able to grow and create more products that catered to even more uses for AI. On top of Senti Pulse, their platform now also offers services like Senti Natter and Senti Volant.

Senti Natter is a programmable chat assistant that is capable of understanding and interacting with customers using the Filipino language with the ability to detect user sentiment, adjusting the messaging based on the detected emotions. Their aim is for users to feel like they’re talking to actual people online, not a chatbot. As for Senti Volant they offer an automated form processing product that saves time through a faster and more straightforward process.  

“The Philippines is home to creative people, and you can really observe this creativity in our language,” Ralph explains. “Our expressive culture is engraved in our constantly evolving language, and I think that really sets us apart. As Filipinos, we develop and create new words -- we have beki speak, jeje speak, etc. -- and that’s where Senti’s importance comes in. We help people and tech understand our language.”

Ralph Regalado, teacher turned technopreneur

Before innovating the analytics scene, Ralph was fulfilling his first passion: teaching. Ralph taught mobile and web development courses in De La Salle University. As a professor, he wanted to maximize the impact of his classes, so he proposed mixing in entrepreneurship to the syllabus. He wanted to provide students with more opportunities to apply what they learn from his classes.

Ralph Vincent Regalado in DevFest Hanoi 2018

It was when he started teaching technopreneurship that he realized he should be able to “walk the talk.” While he was an expert in the field of tech, he knew he wasn’t as experienced in the realm of entrepreneurship. “I was teaching technopreneurship but I was limited from giving more depth to my lessons because I haven’t experienced it for myself,” he shared. And so, to teach better and to impart more value to his students, Ralph decided to get into his first business venture.

Ralph began dabbling in the startup scene when he joined Ideaspace’s StartUp Weekend Manila. He pitched the concept of innovating analytics in their contest and ended up winning. This marked the beginning of his startup journey.

Ralph’s winning pitch was to bring AI-backed software into the analysis of social media data. The kicker was that he wanted it to be able to understand and analyze the Filipino language specifically. He explains how he came up with the idea, “In terms of analyzing sentiments and social media data, English pa lang talaga yung naanalyze [English is still the only language we are capable of analyzing]. Parang walang local language [There wasn’t one for local language],” he says. “And if you look at the numbers in analytics, 70% of conversations are posted in the local language of audiences. Even if in the Philippines where people are generally good with English, we still tend to express ourselves online in Filipino. This would call for translation, which might end up losing the essence of the audience insight.”

Come 2014, Ralph was already into product development. He got people on the team to help build what would eventually be Senti. However, in the midst of setting up the company, he found himself at a crossroads: Ralph was offered a scholarship to complete his PhD. He explains, “Usually in the academe, your career path involves taking your PhD and then you teach, teach, teach. It’s like you’re meant to have a straight path. And when you compare that to a career in the startup space, your path is in question marks.”

The Senti AI team

Ultimately, he ended up going all in and continued building Senti. Using savings and personal loans, the team was able to initially bootstrap their operations in 2016. And in 2018, Senti received a grant from DOST that has helped the company to propel its growth. Among the first projects Senti took on involved taking part in analyzing how the Philippine elections were shaping up. Senti was used to analyze the political landscape using social media data. And from there, Senti has since expanded onto bigger and more diverse projects involving artificial intelligence.

Opportunities lie ahead

As the application of artificial intelligence remains open to a lot of opportunities, Senti continues to build on their strengths as the leading AI pioneer of the Philippines as they create more services that enhance businesses.

Ralph Vincent Regalado giving a presentation in Senti’s Singapore office branch

Already establishing its presence around the region, Senti has expanded its service to cover other languages like Bahasa, Malaysian, and Thai. To date, they have worked with partners like PLDT, Google and Microsoft among others, and have serviced clients like Nestle, Standard Insurance, Globe, and Cebu Pacific.

With all their success, Ralph credits having a helping hand from destiny, “If you look at my story, it was like everything fell into place serendipitously. Every time I was knocked down, an opportunity opened. And so, I still stand here today.”

At the end of it all, Ralph hopes to give back to budding entrepreneurs. His overall goal has always been to help future entrepreneurs. He measures his success not by how much money he gained from his business, but by how many people he influenced. 

“I want to go back to teaching. I want to pass on what I learned from my experience to others who might need it,” he shares happily. “I believe that opportunities are not meant to be limited to oneself; it should be shared with other people. I want to do my part to pay it forward - through Senti and through my advocacy.” 

To learn more about Senti, you can visit their website here