“You have to reach for the stars. For me, it’s kind of literal because I want to have a company in aerospace. People need to invest in technologies that will make the world better. Many entrepreneurs have their eyes set on being an impact business. I would like to see more dreamers like that.”
In 2001, there was an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) amongst livestock in Uruguay. By the time the outbreak was controlled, Uruguay had suffered millions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of animals had died. Given that cattle products make up Uruguay’s largest export, this was particularly devastating for the country. At the time, Victoria Alonsopérez was in her early teens and living in Uruguay.
Flash forward several years: Victoria went on to study electronics and telecommunications engineering, and focused on satellite technology at the International Space University. Following her studies, Victoria stayed in the aerospace industry and began her career. She taught as an associate professor at the Kennedy Space Center and worked on content generation for the US Air Force Academy’s curriculum. There’s more I can list here, including Board memberships and array of technology awards. This is a very smart and inspired person.
In the course of her work, Victoria came across an innovation challenge hosted by the International Telecommunications Union, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations. Drawing on her memories of the 2001 breakout of FMD in Uruguay, Victoria envisioned a product that would help to remotely monitor and report on the health of cattle. She pitched the idea…and won.
Chipsafer: Combining digital, internet of things, and satellite technology for agriculture
Victoria’s original pitch has evolved into ieeTech (Innovative Efficient Engineering Technologies), which is a company that aims to find technology-based solutions to challenges in agriculture. Their first product is Chipsafer. For the non-tech savvy, Chipsafer is reminiscent of a device like the FitBit. It is a wearable device with a sensor that tracks GPS location and movement. Cattle wear the sensor in a collar, and data on their movement and location is sent remotely from the device to a farmer’s mobile phone. A custom-designed software analyzes the sensor’s data and provides insight into the animal’s health based on the nature of its movement. With the product, farmers receive live information on animals that have strayed beyond their borders, show signs of being ill, and more.
If you use a FitBit or similar product, you know that you occasionally have to remove and charge the band. That’s one reason why a product like Chipsafer didn’t already exist—it’s not feasible to remove and recharge cattle collars on a regular basis. This is where Victoria’s background in aerospace comes into play. In her work, Victoria worked with CubeSat, which is a small satellite that contains the technology to self-recharge. Victoria has applied this self-recharging capability to build a collar that can collect information, transmit it remotely, and self-charge as needed. Just 10-15 years ago, this type of technology was unimaginable for most of us.
The road to making Chipsafer a reality has had plenty of up’s and down’s. Victoria lost months of time and significant funding after working with a manufacturer in China that did not meet her quality standards. From there, she began operating in Uruguay but found it difficult to navigate local import-export policies. Finally, Victoria has found the right level of support in Brazil, where she is in the final phase of software and hardware development. The product will officially launch (beyond initial pilot sales) in Brazil and Uruguay this season.
The possibility ahead of a product like Chipsafer is enormous. A 2013 report by the U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that the annual impact of Foot and Mouth Disease in terms of production losses and vaccination in endemic regions alone amount to between US$6.5 and $21 billion. Chipsafer may totally overhaul and replace traditional methods for managing livestock, a change that would impact agriculture all over the globe.
Words for the World
Victoria would challenge aspiring social entrepreneurs to think big. Her aspiration is to have an aerospace company, so it is safe to assume that she is planning to take her own advice. Beyond that, her ask of the world is to invest more in technologies that will make the world a better place. Many entrepreneurs are finding innovative and sustainable ways to create positive impact through business, but they need initial seed funding to get started.