(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Veronica Garcia is the CEO and Founder of BitLumens, which brings off-grid electricity and water from renewable sources to women farmers in rural areas in developing countries. BitLumens, founded in 2017, offers software as a service (SaaS) through a peer to peer network using blockchain technology and Internet of Things (IoT); providing transparent financial transactions that empower users to take control of their financial situation. Prior to this, she was an energy consultant at several financial institutions across Latin America, including the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and Castalia. Her research primarily focused on renewable technologies, and on quantifying investment needs to reach the country targets for renewable power generation.
What makes you do what you do?
I’m a firm believer that renewable technologies can alleviate energy poverty, reduce carbon emissions and stop greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations from rising.
I am also convinced that if we all collaborate towards the reduction of GHG emissions, we can succeed. Collaboration is key in every industry but in particular in the energy sector. There are different complex systems interacting dynamically with each other; the political sector, utility industry, to civil society, among others.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I worked for two Swiss banks as an investment consultant. After that, I decided to go back to school and focus on the application of economics in renewable power plants. I was privileged to work for IBM Research Lab where my research was focused on solar technologies using micro-cooling systems. At IBM, I fell in love with the intersection of thermal and electrical systems to achieve better efficiencies in solar plants.
For family reasons, I moved to Washington DC, where I worked as an energy consultant for the World Bank and Inter American Development Bank (IADB). I specialised in feasibility analysis of renewable power plants, carbon credits and economic tools to reduce carbon emissions. I streamlined my research more and more towards solar technologies and how to alleviate energy poverty. That’s when I discovered a new state of the art solar mini-grids and solar home systems. Both of these have different applications but have an immense potential to integrate with blockchain technologies which are my current obsession.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
Well, I love all challenges which science can help us overcome. My passion for the last seven years has been how to alleviate energy poverty and reduce carbon emissions. I want to make a change in rural communities to support women farmers. Renewable technologies have cost competitive and given the goals of the Paris Agreement, we need private investments to go into the places that need it the most.
It is imperative to invest capital towards the goals supported by signatory countries of the Paris Agreement. In BitLumens’ particular case, our mission is to bring new technologies to rural communities and empower women. However, when I contacted investors in Silicon Valley they thought this was a charity project. They did not understand that women farmers pay a monthly fee of US$10 to charge their phone, while people living in cities pay less than US$0.10 per year. I decided to find contributors all over the world who wanted to make a positive impact on the environment and to rural communities.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have lots of mentors! My kids are the first ones. My 11 and 14-year-old kids will sit with me for an hour listening to how I practice a speech. They are the best critics.
When it comes to science, I consider my mentors the beautiful minds with whom I had the honor to work with at IBM Research Lab. Bruno Michel is an unconventional thinker who is always pushing alternative solutions to overcome scientific barriers. I admire this quality.
My mentors are also the women farmers I meet on a daily basis. These incredible women are hardworking, intelligent and responsible. They give me a lot of guidance around their community.
How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
While finishing my studies at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, I decided to write my thesis on the simulation of power systems together with Professor Rutherford at Wisconsin University. At the time, IBM Research Lab had an opening and I was very lucky to land in Bruno Michel’s group.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
We have a great team with amazing backgrounds. Leadership to me is collaborating with great minds to achieve an optimal outcome. I give my team room to think, develop and make mistakes. We embrace failures and learn from these to grow our project and make it more efficient.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
BitLumens definitely supports diversity. Our project is all about empowering women through energy access and promoting financial inclusion. Currently, we are looking to hire teenagers as I believe they bring an incredible talent to manage and connect with blockchain communities all over the world. In fact, I think some teenagers in developing regions can learn more supporting a project and a company.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I don’t consider myself a leader. We all can be leaders but what I definitely do is roll up my sleeves, work hard and connect with my community, i.e. clients and collaborators. I love to talk to farmers, install solar panels and understand the client’s needs to bring better solutions to improve their lifestyles. I see cities moving towards decentralized and more efficient power systems where the sharing economy can widely be applied to manage our resources more efficiently.
Advice for others?
I would say read every biography of Einstein you can, it will give you some amazing insights (having done this myself!). There are a few things I tell my team – don’t wait for others to make a positive impact, be curious. If you have a passion, focus on it day and night.
The small and positive changes you make are as important as big ones. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, do the best you can and modify accordingly. Failures are nothing else but destiny giving you an opportunity to improve.
With a pilot programme established in Latin America, BitLumens is looking to expand into Asia.
If you’d like to get in touch with Veronica Garcia, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/veronica-garcia-heller-300b1991/
To learn more about BitLumens, please click here.