This is Mexican innovation in the technological world

14/11/2019

Technologies no longer see Mexican engineers and developers as support and firms like Intel are generating their patents and inventions with national talent.

For almost a decade, a question has been lurking in the country's technology and digital innovation sector: is there a 'Mexican Silicon Valley'? Image: Flickr
For almost a decade, a question has been lurking in the country's technology and digital innovation sector: is there a 'Mexican Silicon Valley'? Image: Flickr

A man reads aloud a text in English, but in reality, no one hears his voice. Behind him, a horn rumbles loudly and completely obscures his words; music envelops absolutely everything, there's no way of knowing what he's trying to say.

Then that same man puts glasses with a pair of sensors on his nose pads, those little pieces that rest on the septum of his nose and help hold the glasses. The man's voice suddenly becomes completely clear, the music is still on, but you don't hear the heavy rock of a few moments ago. Reading is perfectly understood.

The man who reads is Hector Cordouvier, an engineer and inventor of Intel Mexico, and the lenses are one of the most impressive creations that the so-called Mexican 'Dream Team' of the U.S. company has developed in its laboratory in Guadalajara.

Cordouvier, along with his colleagues Julio Zamora, Rodrigo Camacho, Alejandro Ibarra, and Paolo López Meyer identified one day that each of the words we pronounce when speaking become different vibrations that could be isolated through sensors placed on the lens platelets. That way, every time Cordouvier, or whoever was wearing the glasses, spoke, the words were understood perfectly, perhaps only with a nasal tone that is corrected by software.

"Since there are no microphones, the only thing captured are the nasal vibrations, you could receive a call in the lenses, be in the middle of an club, and your interlocutor could think that you are in the library," says López Meyer laughing. "It opens up the possibility of doing a lot of things.

The lenses developed by the 'Dream Team' generated the interest of other technology companies to incorporate that innovation in some of their products and, in total, the team registered almost a dozen patents. Intel Labs engineers in Guadalajara are probably the best example of one of the deepest changes in the technology sector happening right now.

For almost a decade, a question has been lurking in the country's technology and digital innovation sector: is there a 'Mexican Silicon Valley'?

"Before I answer that, I'll tell you something. A few years ago technology companies said 'we develop innovation in our countries and the rest the Mexicans do,'" says Lopez Meyer in a test space for intelligent drones. "Now, when they have a problem, they say, 'Ask the Mexicans'.

Textually there doesn't seem to be much difference, but the change has been radical. When Guadalajara and the area surrounding the capital of Jalisco began to be compared with the most important innovation region in the world, everything seemed to be part of the global 'mind-bill': Mexicans providing mainly support services to foreign technologies, without really developing important inventions whose benefits remained in Mexico.

"They were mainly young people who provided support services to companies in the real Silicon Valley, repaired lines of code, generated one or another solution for those companies," recalls Antonio Yáñez, an engineer from Guadalajara who develops a security application for homes and businesses. "We didn't generate so many patents here, we didn't build so many prototypes, we didn't sell the technology elsewhere. But that's the past.

Driven mainly by the development of digital applications and technological innovations, Mexico has significantly increased patent applications in recent years. According to figures from the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), in 2018 there were 1,555 patent applications, while a decade ago the figure was only 685.

Intel is a microcosm of that phenomenon. From 2000 to 2014, the number of patents of Mexican engineers in their laboratories averaged only one per year. However, since Dream Team engineers joined their specialty fields in 2015, Intel has generated more than 90 patents.

The technology developed by Intel's Mexican engineers includes phone calls by nasal vibration, driving autonomous vehicles, handling devices by voice and electromagnetic waves, truly intelligent drones, among other innovations that can eventually be acquired by other companies internationally and from which their creators are also beneficiaries.

The creativity and pace of the generation of a new technology of Mexican engineers gave Intel the confidence to give them the responsibility of enabling the first 5G chip in the world. Once that network is enabled for widespread use on the planet, signals using Intel chips will eventually pass through Guadalajara.

The technology sector has been key in the region. In 2017 and 2018 were created about 17 thousand jobs in the technology and innovation sector of Guadalajara, while the government of the entity assured investment of several companies for $222 million dollars for this year. Jalisco was, after Mexico City, the entity that applied for more patents for inventions in 2018, with 580, of which 276 were industrial designs with technological applications.

HP will build automation centers, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Oracle will develop solutions in the cloud and autonomous data. Sanmina will already have six innovation laboratories in the entity. Google will start its "Google Station" project in the region.

"What we see is a real innovation in the area," says Santiago Cardona, country manager of Intel Mexico. "I've been in this country for many years and I can assure you that the growth rate of the technology sector is now much higher than before.

The innovative drive of large companies has permeated the world of startups. Currently, AMITI estimates that in the country there are already almost 4 thousand technology companies, whose turnover is 444 billion pesos a year, far from the giants of the original Silicon Valley still, although for a start.

"The only thing missing is a 'push' from the entrepreneurs," according to Javier Orozco, CEO of Crabi, the first auto insurance company in Jalisco and one of the first in the country that is completely digital.

"My opinion is that we have great potential, we have talent, with a high specialization in different world-class technologies and I believe that the opportunity lies in entrepreneurs, where they can give the opportunity to those talents, can direct them to create a world-class product or innovation," says Orozco. "And that not only impacts Mexico, not only impacts the region, but can impact the world".

Crabi's CEO commented that conditions are unique in Silicon Valley and as such cannot be repeated; however, some characteristics can be replicated to create an environment of innovation, as Israel did with one of its 'unicorns'.

"There is a typical watershed where from the creation of a startup with a value of one billion dollars it is called unicorn (...). For example, in Israel, when Waze was founded, it went on the market and was acquired by Google for more than a billion dollars, triggered a series of investments and validated that innovation is possible, and an ecosystem was created," he adds.

Given the conditions in which Mexico has advanced, he added, the next national unicorns could arrive in the next two years.

"I think we are quite advanced, I think we will soon see the first Mexican unicorn. There are a couple of companies that already exceed 100 million dollars and continue to grow at very important rates," said the founder of Crabi, a company that aspires to be a unicorn by 2024.

Another strong candidate to be a unicorn in Mexico is Zubale. Co-founded by Allison Campbell and Sebastian Monroy, the company connects thousands of people with retail businesses to work for them as independent contractors.

Through the app, people can choose between dozens of 'tasks', from promoting a product in a supermarket or visit a specific supermarket to audit its operation.

"In Mexico, we see an environment as favorable as the one in California and a possibility of growth also very large," Campbell said on the phone. "There is a lot of potential, a lot of talent and that is very valuable".

Zubale, whose offices are in Mexico City, although it has a presence in 94 cities in the country, intends to become in a short time an indispensable application in the digital economy such as Uber or Rappi.

In fact, the goal is permanent expansion and its good management and numbers have already achieved about 4.4 million dollars in a round of investment led by NFX. A figure that until just a few years ago was a dream for an application developed in Mexico.

Things have changed, insists Zamora, Intel's engineer, back in Guadalajara. Little by little and almost furtively, the innovations, technology, and applications developed in Mexico are consolidated all over the world. It's a long way from the country or any specific city to be awarded the nickname "Mexican Silicon Valley" with full rights, but the distance is shorter.

In fact, Zamora, who is developing a facial recognition system that could transform the retail industry, believes that the foundations for this promising future are already very solid. "It's not an exaggeration," she says. "Truly, more and more people around the world are turning to ask Mexicans for solutions.

Source: El Financiero