Employees support innovative housing solutions through pro bono consulting

4 min read

Image courtesy of CUBO Modular

More than 1.6 billion people around the world lack adequate and decent shelter. In 2017, Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter launched ShelterTech, a platform for affordable housing innovation, including regional accelerators to provide shelter-focused startups with business support and mentorship. Through a customized pro bono mentorship program, Autodesk employees are using their expertise to help ShelterTech startups successfully launch and scale their solutions.

The Autodesk mentors have worked with founders and staff from 10 emerging startups over three months to iterate on product design, assess market opportunities, understand customer pain points, and more.

Hear from Gene Monasterio, an Autodesk customer-tech training instructor in Singapore, about her experience applying customer expertise to ShelterTech Accelerator startup CUBO Modular in the Philippines.

CUBO Modular (CUBO) makes sustainable, affordable, and dignified housing available to more people by designing and manufacturing modular engineered bamboo house kits. Through the mentorship program, CUBO Modular sought to understand its customer pain points and identify its ideal target customer segment.

Why did you How do you see mentorship fitting into an entrepreneur’s journey?

[GM] Before working at Autodesk, I ran my own small online business, and I had a mentor who played a crucial role. I was passionate about the product I was selling, but there are so many other components that make a business successful – you have the marketing side, the operations side, the financial aspect. I couldn’t hire for all of those roles, but mentors were willing to share their expertise with me free of charge. It really helped propel my business so it could be successful.

What were the initial challenges or opportunities that CUBO Modular presented to you and the other mentors?

[GM] CUBO was looking to mentors to enhance its understanding of customer pain points, identify a target customer segment, and refine its value proposition. It’s quite a challenge and opportunity!

Were there any surprises that you learned more personally from this mentorship experience?

[GM] You know, I was a bit hesitant at first, because CUBO’s focus on affordable housing in the Philippines is not an area I have expertise in. CUBO’s work creates access to dignified housing in the Philippines, and I really wanted to contribute something meaningful to that vision. I began the mentorship by applying my research, analytical, and customer experience skills. Because of my work with customers on the Autodesk operations team, I could advise on CUBO’s end-to-end customer experience. Through this mentorship I was able to overcome my initial intimidation, immerse myself in the work and research, and provide valuable advice that has been utilized by CUBO’s team to advance access to housing in the Philippines.

What is it like to be a mentor working with other mentors, supporting one startup in that collaborative model?

[GM] It was really interesting, because we are from different companies and industries. One of the mentors had an experience working for a real estate developer, so she had the industry know-how. The other mentor was an architect and engineer, so he brought a technical angle to advise on the modular housing product. I learned from my fellow mentors, and was able to walk away with a deeper understanding of real estate, architecture, and engineering industries and how all of these industries can contribute to creating a positive impact.

If you had a chance to meet with the CUBO founder a year from now, what are some things you might want to tell them?

[GM] I am just really inspired by them! They’re very young and yet their vision is just remarkable. Even though there is a lot of interest in their product from the middle-income group, they remain steadfast in their vision to provide affordable housing for under-resourced families. So, a year from now, I hope to celebrate alongside CUBO as they expand their reach of modular housing for low-income families in the Philippines.

What would you say to Autodesk employees who might be thinking about mentoring or pro bono?

[GM] My personal advice is to find an organization with a vision that you are passionate about. My role at Autodesk is as a training manager, so at first glance it didn’t look like I would have any connection with CUBO’s type of business – sustainable, modular housing. But my passion for CUBO’s work fueled my mentorship. I was curious to learn more about the issue and listened to CUBO’s needs, conducted thorough research, and provided thoughtful feedback. If you are as passionate as the startup in helping them be successful in their business, you can find a helpful way to apply your expertise to the challenges at hand.

Interested in working alongside startups and nonprofits to solve environmental and social challenges? Sign up for Autodesk pro bono volunteering.

Interested in collaborating with Autodesk employees on a social or environmental challenge? Look for pro bono support.

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