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Women on Top in Tech – Veronica Garcia, CEO and Founder of BitLumens

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(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.

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

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)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

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 many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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