If the best ideas come from necessity, Teresa Portela’s creative spark is surely one of them. In April 2017, her 61-year-old father-in-law, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “Like many diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he has a tendency to wander, get confused, and get lost,” she says. “We needed a way to keep him safe without sacrificing his personal autonomy.”
Hoping to find a product to help him, Portela, a student in her senior year at the University of Arizona, realized that there were none. As someone who had always enjoyed problem-solving and building things from scratch, she sprung into action. “Watching someone decline right before your eyes and lose parts of their autonomy, bit by bit, is not easy,” she says. “I wanted to build something to help him keep his dignity while still guaranteeing his safety.”
She enlisted two friends, Michael Lewelling and Peter Siqueiros, with whom she had worked at the 24/7 IT Support Center at the University of Arizona. (She also worked with Siqueiros at the College of Public Health.) The trio developed a concept at Hack Arizona, an annual event that challenges students to create and build something within 36 hours.
“We just started working on this January 2018, for the hackathon,” says Portela, “and that’s when people showed so much interest that we knew we had something that could really help others.” The students ended up winning a prize for the best use of Google Cloud, and Guardian was born.