Victoria Alonsoperez is working towards improving the safety of livestock herds across the globe by developing smart devices.
by Julia Migné
With a background in engineering, a passion for space and new technologies, and a strong desire to make a positive impact, Victoria Alonsoperez came up with an idea to revolutionise the way farmers take care of their cattle.
Chipsafer, the startup launched by the dynamic Uruguayan woman, is a platform that allows farmers to track and detect anomalies in their animals’ behaviour remotely and autonomously. The smart devices developed by the startup transmit crucial information to the ranchers and provides an early detection of potential outbreaks of diseases but can also inform them of potential cattle theft events.
INKLINE talks to Victoria Alonsoperez, the founder of Chipsafer, to know how it came to life and learn more about what’s in the pipelines for the innovative startup.
INKLINE: How did you come up with the concept of Chipsafer?
Victoria Alonsoperez: It all started because in 2001 there was a big outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Uruguay which affected the economy a lot because our main source of export is cattle. It not only affected the whole sector but also the whole society so I started wondering if there could be a system capable of detecting anomalies in the animals remotely.
Then in 2012 [by then Victoria had become an engineer], there was a competition called ‘Young Innovators Competition’ from the International Telecommunication Union and the idea was to present a concept that could solve a problem in the region using the telecommunications.
I immediately thought about this idea again and so I submitted it and I won the competition! That’s how it all started. I was working in aerospace with a remote satellite at the time and that’s where I got the technology to be able to implement the Chipsafer system.
I: How did you get the funds to start working on Chipsafer?
V: The competition didn’t give much much funding, it was about 5,000 Swiss Francs (around £3,800) but it was enough to start the company. At the time I didn’t even know what a startup was so I had to Google what it was and I didn’t know anything about investors so I really started being an entrepreneur from scratch.
I learnt by doing and with this funds I could start this company and then we got more funds from the Uruguayan Research and Innovation Agency and with that we got $20,000 to create a prototype and then we got different grants to keep funding the company.
I: How did you convince the farmers to use your prototype?
V: There is a very big issue which is cattle theft and is terrible in the whole region so we didn’t have to convince them! We actually had a lot of farmers coming to us and asking about the system we developed who wanted to know more about it.
I: What type of anomalies do you see in the cattle and how can your system help local farmers?
V: Right now we can detect that there is an anomaly in the movement of the animal but we can’t really tell the farmers what that anomaly means. It can be a lot of stuff so what we tell them is ‘Hey, there is something wrong!’ so they can go and check. We are working towards being able to tell people what exactly that anomaly is but for now we just tell that there is an anomaly in the movement.
The way we do it is by placing a collar that the animal wears that transmit information to a gateway and then from there to a server. With Chipsafer farmers can know where the animals are, they can receive warnings if an animal goes beyond a certain perimeter which is particularly important for cattle theft or if an anomaly in the movement is detected and receive hourly information.
We can detect a difference in the movement of the animal, if it’s moving differently from the pattern it generally has or it’s going to a different place so all those are anomalies that we can detect with our algorithms.
I: How did you develop a team to help you move your project forward?
V: That was not easy! I’m very happy with the team right now but it took a lot of time to get there! I’ve been doing this since 2012 and we are now 12 people working on it. All of the staff members have great expertise either on software development or on algorithms.
We have computer scientists, some data analysts and we also have a veterinary and people with a background in farming. We are still a small startup but we are all focused on different areas of the company.
I: Could you tell us a bit more about how you are helping develop a more sustainable way of farming?
V: The thing is right now people don’t really know where the beef they are eating came from. With Chipsafer we can prove that the animals didn’t make a negative impact on the environment because, for example, they were not raised in the Amazon rainforest.
“There is a trend globally to be more aware of where the food that we are eating comes from.”
We have an active traceability and we can tell you where the animals were at all times so you can know that the animals didn’t make a negative impact and that trees didn’t have to be cut in order to raise the animals.
We are able to tell people how many animals per hectare there were so we are sure that there is not a lot of animals on the same spot and that they didn’t generate a lot of land contamination. We are also providing farmers with statistics to improve their productivity so that they can be more efficient with the land they have without contaminating it.
Right now there is traceability from the slaughterhouse onward and what we provide is traceability since the animal was born! What we do is just pass the information to the slaughterhouse where they can then add it to the information they generate afterward.
I: Would you say that people in Uruguay are quite keen to know exactly where their meat comes from then?
V: I think everyone right now is interested to know where their meat comes from. For example in Europe, the labeling of the meat has to contain information about every places the animal has been and not only just from the slaughterhouse. There is a trend globally to be more aware of where the food that we are eating comes from not only for farming and livestock but for vegetables and all the other food types too.
I: What has been your biggest success so far and what’s coming next for the startup?
V: It was being able to deploy the system, to have a product that the farmers like and want, and I think I would say that being able to be in the field doing this was the biggest success!
Right now we have projects in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Australia, Brazil and Uruguay. We are now starting the manufacturing mass production to be able to provide the service anywhere in the world.
In the past five years, we were in contact with people from all over the world so we have developed a network of distributors and retailers that will help us accomplish our goal to reach other countries.
“It is like a rollercoaster, it’s lot of ups and downs so unless you are really convinced about what you’re doing it’s really hard.”
I: What would be your number one advice to millennials hoping to launch their own startups?
V: Do something that you are passionate about, that you really believe in because there are lots of bad days! It is like a rollercoaster, there are a lot of ups and downs so unless you are really convinced about what you’re doing it’s really hard.
It’s really rewarding when things are working and something you created is functioning but the most important is to make an impact. I think that having something that can make an impact is very important but at the same time, there are some days where you have to struggle a lot and you need to keep going. Don’t consider it as a failure but consider it as a learning experience and go on!
Julia Migné is a multimedia journalist and wildlife photographer specialising in environmental issues and odd hobbies. She has written for Africa Geographic and BBC Wildlife among others. An endless traveller, she swears that she would visit one country for each letter of the alphabet.