"We are leaders in innovation, we must seek the greatest social impact... nothing is impossible!"
Barbarita Lara Martínez, Leaders in Innovation Fellowships alumna, is a Chilean computer engineer. She is CEO of EMERCOM and Project Leader of S!E, which allows users to communicate in emergencies when other networks fail.
We interviewed Barbarita on her innovation, the impact of LIF on her business, and her role as a leading female engineer in Chile:
What is your innovation and what inspired you to create it?
Mobile phones are common the world over, but when a natural disaster strikes, the communication networks our devices rely on can fail. We developed SiE in Chile, inspired to solve the problems that we experienced during a 8.8 magnitude earthquake in 2010. SiE (Emergency Information System) encodes text into high-frequency audio tones that can be distributed over broadcast radio waves and received on any smartphone without needed internet infrastructure. An app on the phone listens for these tones and turns them into a text message.
What was your experience of the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) programme?
During my first LIF training in 2016, I fell in love with the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. Thanks to achieving first place for Chile at the final pitch event, my project became better known both in Chile and abroad. This kick-started a series of other awards and possibilities. We were thrilled to be selected as one of the best LIF alumni in Chile and invited back to participate in LIF in 2017, with the idea of training us into coaches for future participants.
How did the LIF training support you and your business?
At the beginning, I knew my project had big potential but I was struggling with the problems of a first-time entrepreneur, about to finish university. I had the mindset that some things are unreachable and that everything must be small-scale; for example, here we drink ‘a little cup of tea’ instead of just a cup of tea. My innovation was focused on a local problem and I was limited by my environment, which was the only one I had been exposed to.
After the first LIF experience and the help of my coach, I changed my business model, took better advantage of my technology and removed the local limitations, in turn creating a low-cost, highly scalable product that can save lives. I gained the confidence to see it as a disruptive communication tool with many industrial applications.
Leading a project that has the potential for global social impact without the confidence or tools to overcome the dreadful ‘Valley of Death’ is hard. But thanks to LIF, the training received and the support of the Academy and the Newton Fund, my team has learned valuable lessons about global entrepreneurship, and broken not only the geographical limits, but best of all we’ve broken the personal limits we had carried in ourselves.
What stage are you at now?
At the World Summit Award 2018, S!E was recognised among the top five digital solutions with global social impact in the category ‘Smart Settlements & Urbanization’.
The founding team is hard at work developing alternative applications based on the core technology that underpins S!E. We’re exploring user cases and markets such as interactive advertising, telemetry, indoor location, and people meter for radio.
We’re also working with Samsung as a strategic partner to test and deliver our technology on Samsung devices. Now we’ve secured a patent we can freely offer our solution to industry.
What has the personal impact been for you as a female engineer?
I have become a leading figure for women in engineering in Chile and a reference in the area, thanks to awards such as Chilean Innovator and Inventor of the year (2018), and being the first Chilean in history to feature on the MIT Technology Review: Innovators under 35 Global (2018). Recently, I’ve been recognised for my contribution to leadership and visibility of women in STEM and technology ventures by Comunidad Mujer on International Women’s Day 2019.
This all allows me to work with different communities and institutions inspire young girls and women to participate in STEAM careers, while encouraging technology entrepreneurs and innovators to turn their ideas into reality.
Whenever I’m invited to speak I share my experiences and knowledge, and always try to motivate both the young and not so young to make a better world through meaningful engineering innovation and to develop the mindset that we have unlimited possibilities. I show them the biggest challenges that need to be solved in the near-future, such as establishing a Mars colony.
I am now a tech ambassador for the Chilean British Council and I also volunteer at Girl Power Code-fest, which is running a pilot in eight schools in my community to teach coding skills to young girls using BBC’s micro:bit platform. As one of Samsung’s featured corporate ambassadors, we are developing solutions and showing people that innovators and scientists can make the impossible possible through engineering.
What does the future look like?
The future is incredible, but there’s still so much to learn and improve. We’re a company with disruptive engineering, software and communications solutions. We’re growing and trying to position ourselves as innovation leaders. We aim to show that with social innovation we can make a better world.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Resilience is very important to survive the ‘valley of death’ that every entrepreneur has to overcome on their journey. Even though sometimes the road looks harsh and you may lack support or funding in your country, you must go on, consistency and perseverance will have your back.
Failure is often unacceptable in our society, but managing failure and understanding that it’s part of success will lead you to positive results.
Anything else you would like to add?
I often get asked how my career took off and how I have managed to get this far; without doubt it started here at the Academy in the UK. My teachers and coach supported me every step of the way to understand that we are leaders in innovation, we must seek the greatest social impact and that nothing is impossible!
Thanks to LIF I will be able to fulfil my dream of being a global technology leader and an engineer in the service of humanity. And by the way, I no longer drink little cups of tea
Visit S!E or EMERCOM for more information.