For a while now I've been impressed by the development of the Cape Verdean tech & start-up scene. I was interested in hearing a few stories, and wanted to understand both the motivation and challenges. In this series of interviews I'm speaking to young (start-up) entrepreneurs in Cape Verde. Despite challenging circumstances they are able to discover solutions and bring these to the market. Products that can create a better society. This is part 4:
Hilaria was born and raised in the small village of Garça, on the island of Santo Antão. She went to school in the city of Mindelo, where she studied Computer Science at the University of UNI-CV. She is a fantastic example of the incredible talent and persverance that we have on our islands. Hilaria develops (codes) and designs her own irrigation systems.
How did you come up with the idea for Gestagrosystem?
"I've seen my mother spend so much money on investments for our land here in the village. She never stopped spending money on it because this land is part of our heritage. The things is, all that money is wasted because there is no return due to the difficult circumstances. I decided to try and solve this problem in my own way.”
"The idea for Gestagrosystem really got serious ben I participated in a contest called 'Startup University'. My sister was the one who thought I should give it a try. I wasn't thinking of participating, but I did because my sister wouldn't let go about it."
“I ended third in the contest, but it was an important part of my journey. It gave me the opportuniy to work with a consultant. Together, we worked on my business plan and it forced me to think about building a susutainable business for the first time.”
Can you explain how the system works?
“It's an intelligent irrigation system, which can be used to reduce costs. I created an application that uses Cloud Computing to store the data. I had to learn how to work with services such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. The system gathers data through a gateway communication system.”
“By analysing the meteorological information at hand the system can decide what actions it needs to carry out. Besides the application I also uses different types of equipment, such as sensors. This means that sometimes I have to do things that have nothing to do with programming, such as solder my own equipment. This allows me to do certain tests way faster.”
“I'm currently working on creating my own algoritm, which I will need to improve the system. I can enter the market with the product I have now, but my goal is to build a complete and all-round intelligent process.”
How do you look at the current startup ecosystem of our country? And why is it we don't see more graduates with a Computer Science degree with a product on the market?
“We all have ideas, that's not the issue. All of us work on projects during our time in college. The question is if people have the power to continue when it get's hard. Take the search for financing as an example. Sometimes I felt like crying after a meeting, when I could just sense that people were not interested in what I had to say. This would often come from people who I thought could be the ones to help me out.”
"There are different initiatives out there, like Startup Jovem of Proempresa. But there is some bureaucracy involved, and this costs time and a lot of energy. I think I have different mentality than others, because I don't let this stuff get to me. I've been building my business for four years now. I work other jobs as well, providing services and teaching. This allows me to keep investing in my business.
In what way is it harder for women to run a company in Cape Verde?
“People don't take you as serious when you present ambitious plans for a startup. I get looks as if I'm crazy all the time. Besides building a business, I'm also a mom. So I have different 'jobs' to do. The fact that it's even more difficult as a woman, is no problem. I never give up, and will always chase my dreams.”
“It's good that we see so many more women go to college today. I see women chasing their dreams and goals in other ways as well. The circumstances don't really matter in my opinion. Overcome and persevere, that's what I always say...”