The entrepreneur who continues to thrive in his own dark world 

In Photo: Melencio

HE was named after Europe’s foremost leftist political theorist and philosopher Karl Marx, but Marx Melencio, founder and managing director of Grayscale Business Consultancy and Marketing Services, is a staunch adherent of capitalism.

What makes this Marx in this part of the world a lot more unique and so special is the fact that he has been working on making a difference in uplifting the lives of people with disabilities (PWDs). Marx Melencio, to be politically correct, is visually challenged.

The story of the 2005 Bachelor of Science Mathematics graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP) is a heart-warming inspiration to both so-called normal people and for those with  handicap. Despite living in his world deprived of light, Marx has proven he can beat the odds with knowledge, perseverance, fortitude and support from family and friends.

His ingenuity, acumen and perseverance to pursue his advocacies, despite the odds, were recently recognized by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology and Research Development during its recent eighth anniversary celebration as one of the members of the first batch start-ups.

Senseless

Marx was a victim of violence in 2003 when he was only 23 years old, when he was senselessly gunned down by a deranged stranger in Cubao, Quezon City, while he and his wife, Cherry, were buying food from a local food stall.

“The first 38 caliber bullet went through my chest. The second one went through my head [that may have struck] my optic nerve. I was left completely blind, permanently,” he recalls.

As an unemployed blind husband and father, Melencio realized he had no other choice but to pick up the pieces and move on to become the breadwinner despite his handicap.

“I knew the family wanted me to rise, shake it off and bring some semblance of order back to our lives,” he said.

Difficult years

The early years after he survived the violence were admittedly difficult for Marx because there were very few opportunities for people with disabilities. But he refused to give up as he tried to seek opportunities on the Internet. While hanging out at Web forums, he realized the potentials of search engine optimization and soft sell content marketing.

“I then began to regularly share my newfound knowledge with other forum members. They were actually my first target prospects for my tech content writing services,” Marx continues. In October 2005 he enrolled at Atriev for a medical transcription course. This gave him the opportunity to develop ties with the blind community. After a few weeks, Marx became adept in using dark sunglasses and a cane.

Later, he realized medical transcription was not his forte so he again started looking for another job only to be told by companies that they don’t have the infrastructure for people like him.

Rebirth

Things started to turn out right for Marx when Intelligraph, a trimedia service provider, called him for an examination and a job interview.

While working at Intelligraph as a writer for a couple of months, Melencio crafted a plan to transform himself into an entrepreneur. He believed he could start small in the same industry, but with a different business model. He chose the IT industry as his niche market.

In 2006 Melencio turned his crisis into an opportunity. He recalled Grayscale started out without any capital investment other than time, a couple of computers, an Internet connection and a place that also acted as their home with four people—his wife, a young UP professor based in Bicol, and a college student in India.

After several days, Grayscale had acquired the services of a doctor based in India and a lawyer living in Davao. After a couple of weeks, Grayscale commissioned the services of a small research and writing firm in India populated by six people and a multimedia outfit in South Africa manned by seven people. He admitted Grayscale experienced birth pains just like any emerging companies.

Starting as Web marketing company, Grayscale expanded in 2013 to the multilingual call-center industry to support Japanese, German and French client companies. At present, Grayscale is also a wearable artificial-intelligence (AI) development company and government contractor.

The company’s first project as a Web marketing company resulted to client’s carrier product being recognized as the world’s best-selling Windows optimizer in 2007. It helped their client sell more than 2 million copies of their product.

Projects

Moreover, their client’s tech web site was recognized as the eighth world’s best technology web site in 2008. Grayscale helped them drive more than 5 million viewers to their website each month. “Our first project as a multilingual call center resulted to more than a 300-percent sales margin growth for our client software company,” he said.

“All this, while being one of the first few local companies to provide a telecommuting work platform for skilled Filipinos with mobility difficulties. Our associates can work anywhere they want,” Marx said.

Marx, likewise, started to self-study AI, machine learning and deep learning and started to develop a solar-powered wearable AI device for the blind. This caught the attention of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) that eventually funded the project.

Melencio said Grayscale’s wearable AI can automatically describe the things around a blind person. It can read text on paper documents and physical objects. Further, it can compute the distances of things and can also provide access to a team of agents whenever the blind person needs manual visual assistance for complex situations.

Now, Grayscale is in the hardware prototyping and software optimization stage of the project. While doing research and development work, Melencio and his team were able to develop an AI text-to-speech synthesizer. “This simply means our AI converts text to spoken audio in that person’s cloned voice,” he said.

“That paved the way for the creation of the first bilingual Taglish text-to-speech AI synthesizer,” he added. Melencio also said he is finding ways to improve his AI software prototype for auto-converting sign language, facial expressions and lip movement to spoken audio and text, as well as voice and text to sign language. It is also adding the ability of deaf and mute users to remotely access a team of trained interpreters on demand, for more profound situations where they really need interpreting assistance.

Asked if his name has greatly influenced his ideals, Marx said what he had accomplished is a  testament to the kind of genetic intuition he had inherited from his parent-activists Edna Porte and Sonny Melencio, who fought the Marcos dictatorship.

“And, thanks to that genetic intuition [and my voracious reading appetite], this helped develop my taste for optimizing my thinking through science, philosophy, mathematics, arts and humanities. As for my UP orientation, I’d say that started out in Quezon City Science High School and thankfully continued to my college days,” he said.

Moreover, Marx said, his wife and daughter, and very good friends continue to inspire and motivate him each day to do things, well, a little differently.

 

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Rizal Raoul S. Reyes has covered technology, science, business, property and special reports. He had working stints with the Business Star, Manila Bulletin and Independent Daily News.