Nº 3 2013 > Young Innovators
Interview with Victoria Alonsopérez
Remote monitoring to detect livestock diseases
Victoria Alonsopérez is a Telecommunications, Electrical and Electronic Engineer. She is a winner of the 2012 ITU Young Innovators Competition with her CHIPSAFER project. She is also a co-founder of Innovative Efficient Engineering Technologies (IEETECH), a social enterprise of young entrepreneurs who look for efficient engineering solutions to current problems.
What motivated you to enter the ITU Telecom World Young Innovators Competition in 2012? And what advice would you offer young women who hope to become innovators?
Victoria Alonsopérez: For several years I had been thinking about how to use technology to overcome some of the endemic economic problems faced by Uruguay and indeed the whole region. Because our economy is based on agricultural and livestock exports, one of the biggest threats has always been animal diseases. This gave me the idea of creating a telecommunication system that could remotely detect outbreaks of disease in cattle by monitoring rising temperature in the animals. But I did not have the means to start developing my concept. Then about a year ago, I found out about the ITU Telecom World Young Innovators Competition. After reading a description of the competition, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to help me turn my concept into reality.
My advice to young women who aspire to become innovators is to take advantage of every single opportunity that arises — just like I did when I found out about this competition. For me, winning the competition was an extraordinary experience.
How has winning this competition contributed to the development of your CHIPSAFER project?
VA: Winning this competition opened a lot of doors for me. Last year I just had a concept but now I have founded my own company to develop the product. The guidance provided by ITU was instrumental in making this happen. During my participation in ITU Telecom World 2012 I learned a lot and met many role models. And the support that I got from ITU afterwards was amazing. I received plenty of good advice from the mentors and the organizers of the competition. Also, Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, visited Uruguay and introduced me to very influential people in the region, which has helped me enormously.
Is the business environment in Uruguay conducive to your project and activities — especially as a female innovator?
VA: Considering that my country’s economy depends largely on livestock, the system that I have invented offers tangible benefits. I believe that there are excellent opportunities to develop my product here. As far as I can tell, the fact that I am a woman has made no difference to the enterprise. At all times, the determining factor has been the project itself and its development in the local market.
What are the next steps for your project?
VA: I have already founded a company, Innovative Efficient Engineering Technologies (IEETECH), to produce my winning device. Our company mission is to transform innovative ideas into reality. I am currently working with a team of engineers on finishing and testing the prototypes. Once this stage has been completed — and I expect that to happen shortly — I will begin to commercialize the device.
Who or what inspired you to study telecommunications, electrical and electronic engineering?
VA: I had a passion for space from a very young age. It all started when I was four years old. I asked my father, who is an accountant by profession, what was the use of the numbers that he had written on a piece of paper. He took me to the window, showed me the moon and told me that putting numbers together in the right way had made it possible for humans to go to the moon. I was so impressed that, then and there, I decided that I wanted to be an engineer. Later I discovered that electronic engineers were contributing significantly to space exploration, so I decided to pursue telecommunications, electrical and electronic engineering at the Universidad de la Republica in Uruguay. For my thesis, I designed and built the altitude determination system of the first Uruguayan satellite.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to succeed academically?
VA: In Uruguay, we are currently taking the first steps in putting aerospace engineering into practical use. Pursuing a space career in a country that — at that time — had no aerospace industry was not easy. I was frequently told that I would never be able to work in the aerospace field and was discouraged from following my dream. Fortunately, I did not pay attention to those comments and I never stopped trying. I presented aerospace projects in different forums and attended extracurricular courses in this area. My big break came in 2009, when I obtained the International Astronautical Federation Emerging Space Leaders Grant to present a paper at the International Astronautical Congress. There, I found out about the Space Generation Advisory Council and got to know the Council members. I loved the work they were doing, so I currently serve as South America Regional Coordinator.
In 2011, I got a scholarship to participate in the International Space University’s Space Studies Program where, together with two friends, I helped design a medical experiment that won the Barcelona Aerobatics Zero-Gravity Challenge. In 2012, I served as the Space Engineering Department Teaching Associate at the Space University’s Space Studies Program in Florida, United States. It is noteworthy that all these achievements and especially the recognition from ITU were highly valued in Uruguay, where I was interviewed by the media several times. This prompted many people to get in touch with me and generated interest in these activities.
To sum up, I would say that, despite repeated negative comments about following an aerospace career, it is thanks to my academic background that I am now developing a system that uses space technology to help farmers worldwide.