Who is Alicia Asín?
Alicia Asín is CEO and co-founder of Libelium, a company that designs and manufactures technology for IoT (Internet of Things) related applications. As a computer engineer, Alicia is an expert in showing how this technology can change our world by improving the competitiveness of companies and the quality of life of citizens. Libelium’s technology is present in more than 120 countries around the world. Libelium develops projects to monitor and improve efficiency in agricultural crops, environmental control systems to prevent climate change, and any application related to water management, parking control and smart manufacturing, as well as the management of smart cities. Alicia Asín participates in international conferences on IoT and Artificial Intelligence and has been recognized with different technological and business recognitions and awards.
How was Libelium born?
In 2006, right after finishing university, I founded Libelium with my classmate, David Gascón. We immediately coincided from the first day of class, and we were internship partners and friends from the beginning of the career. In 2006 I was preparing my final year project on distributed communication algorithms, and David had just returned from London and was researching the so-called “distributed paradigm” (where there is no hub in the center but a network of nodes). So we naturally thought about launching a company and we set about it. When we started we thought it was going to be easy, however, it didn’t take us long to realize the reality: in Zaragoza nobody knew what IOT was, we had no access to investor capital, and we were learning steadily from our incubation within the University to international development, step by step. The first thing was to get the spin-off company seal of the University of Zaragoza, and then we were in the CEII with different grants. They were not strategic and networking aids, but we sought our refuge there and from there we took continuous steps.
Why the name Libelium?
The name Libelium comes from the concept of distributed network communication, which is a way of communicating that exists organically in certain animals, mainly insects such as bees, ants… that communicate in swarms sending messages to each other. So we saw which insect with this type of communication between them was more attractive, until we chose the dragonfly, which faithfully summarized the type of communication of distributed networks in which we focused as a product from the beginning, and also allowed us to develop a much more beautiful storytelling than with other insects.
You develop IoT projects, the Internet of Things, how would you explain the importance of IoT in our daily life and in the future of society?
The Internet of Things is present in our society in every detail, and it has a fundamental advantage as an applied technology, and that is its versatility. We can practically say that any use case or need of a company or a city can be solved through the application of technology. We are at a point where technology has reached a very high success rate, at a cost sufficiently adequate for the IoT to become widespread. We have been in the industry for more than 15 years and come from a history of proof of concept and testing by companies and municipalities. After the positive demonstration of results in a wide range of sectors, from retail to industry through agriculture, tourism or security among many others, as well as in a very broad set of problems to solve, we have reached the point where we are ready to grow as a technology and provide complete solutions to easily solvable problems of the day: measurement of air quality, water quality, welfare in cities, efficient management of industrial processes, security alerts… In short, thanks to this flexibility and permanent adaptation to different cases, the IoT is here to stay and evolve organically as the best technological partner for companies and cities. It is fundamental for the future of society, since IoT allows real-time communication of information or data of any kind in an open manner, which increases information transparency towards citizens and allows permanent control over the return on investments and over what data is shared, with whom and for what purpose. Of course, it is the friendly technology that accompanies the evolution of society.
You are present in 120 countries, what has the internationalization process been like?
We can say that our internationalization process has been organic. We must take into account that we were pioneers in providing IoT services, which allowed us to be very well positioned at SEO level, so any international search for IoT naturally included us among its options. In 2006 and our first years, the IoT projects we received from anywhere in the world were what we call “proofs of concept”, that is, small projects, with low average tickets, used by companies and institutions to see the results of applying IoT technology in their use cases. And this need to test the market, together with our positioning, led to an increase in requests from both the educational market (universities around the world) and the business market. Since 2020 we have been carrying out a strategic process of internationalization, with a strategy of focusing on certain geographic markets and certain verticals or areas of action. This has allowed us to create a network of distribution partners that open up markets for us in these countries. Keep in mind that many of the key countries have a way of working only with established companies on the ground, and we make up for that need by working hand in hand with trusted local partners.
You have recently acquired the Murcian company HOP Ubiquitous (HOPU), dedicated to environmental, weather and noise monitoring solutions for smart cities. How will this help to curb climate change?
As you say, we are at a point where we have to think at all times about solutions to curb climate change. The damage we are causing to the environment is irreversible, and right now we can only work on reducing the negative impact until we reach an ideal moment in which our impact is neutral. We as a company are clear that sustainability is fundamental, and it is part of both our mission and our values and those of our employees. We have a clear focus on applying IoT solutions to problems normally linked to increased productivity or cost reduction, but we ALWAYS do so with the least impact on the environment. And in that sense, the acquisition of HOPU allows us to further strengthen our portfolio of monitoring solutions and intelligent decision making in the field of pollution especially, but not only in cities. We both have research in our DNA, we both come out of academia and design solutions from scratch. By joining forces and knowledge during all these years, we are convinced that we will offer even more effective solutions for maximum care of the environment.
You are one of the few women with a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Zaragoza. Where does this interest in technology and computer science come from?
I have always been a very homely person, and that meant that I was always at home designing my projects, my games, etc. Since I was a child, I have been a person oriented to build things, and I think that between that attitude and that at home my father has always worked with devices and computers, well, I think my head was already oriented towards that profile.
You received in 2018 the EU Women Innovators award, helping to give visibility to women in engineering. In addition to awards like this, in what other ways can women be encouraged to opt for engineering?
I think the best way to encourage women to opt for engineering is by example and the permanent creation of references. If you look at other areas such as sports, the visibility of role models has been the key to the boom in the practice of sports. And I believe that more and more steps are being taken in this direction, as there is a commitment on the part of those of us who can be role models to assume this role and take the step in the appropriate forums. I also believe that, in general, there is a need for universities to evangelize about engineering, making them less opaque and clearly demonstrating what you can end up working on. Although that is a generic problem of any type of studies.
You are a reference in the struggle of women to reach positions of prestige and responsibility. What future do you foresee for women at the highest levels?
I believe that little by little the presence of women at the highest levels of responsibility and decision-making is becoming normalized, although we are still light years away from an optimal situation. In any case, I firmly believe in meritocracy, and not in gender quotas. However, I also believe that the female type of leadership has different parts that enhance aspects more linked to empathy and contextualized decision making. To answer your question, observing how the younger generations relate to each other, I think it is only a matter of time before the normalization I was telling you about occurs de facto.
And looking to the future, what new challenges or projects do you have in mind?
We are currently undergoing a radical transformation of our business model, which means endless opportunities and new contacts, and I am very focused on guiding that transformation to get to the next level in the best position. The IoT industry is growing and there are and will continue to be integrations, demergers…. Ultimately, I‘m focused on continuing to lead the IoT market.