By Kathryn McConnell
IIP Staff Writer
23 November 2011
Three small Brazilian companies harnessing the power of “smart” mobile phones have won recognition from a U.S. computer giant and a chance to find new capital and mentors.
Easy Taxi, based in Rio de Janeiro, developed a free smartphone application to enable people to call a taxi. The application locates and calls the nearest taxi, calculates the fare and processes the payment online. The system is popular; it saves customers’ time, reduces their safety concerns and boosts drivers’ profits. The city itself stands to benefit from the success of Easy Taxi. Cutting down on private vehicles transporting just one person can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, something locals are focusing on as Rio prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016.
The taxi company was one of five finalists selected from scores of entrants in the SmartCamp competition in Brazil. The contest is sponsored by U.S.-based IBM Corporation to encourage young entrepreneurial companies. Each company-contestant developed technology solutions to pressing issues in Brazil like traffic, health care or food safety. Each contestant had to be in business no more than five years and have annual earnings of less than $1 million.
Easy Taxi and the other four finalists were honored at a November high-tech conference in Rio that brought them together with business leaders and government officials to talk about how cities can encourage economic development.
Another finalist, Mobwise, specializes in traffic-management technology. It developed a smartphone application called Wabbers that uses information from the city and from users to suggest the best route for a driver to take to a destination. Mobwise even helps drivers locate parking spots. The service offers discounts at partner establishments for users who contribute traffic information to the application, said André Paraense, the company’s co-founder, in a video interview with IBM.
Food company Opara also uses smartphones — and tablet computers — to follow the movement of Brazil’s fruit from farm to store shelf, ensuring it is handled safely and transported quickly. By removing the need to monitor the movement manually, Opara reduces delays and helps producers identify a product’s origins in the event of an outbreak of food-borne illness, the company said. A People’s Vote award, decided by online public voting, went to Opara.“Helping cities address their biggest challenges requires rapid innovation and an in-depth understanding of multiple industries and the latest technology,” said Jim Corgel, an IBM general manager whose job involves encouraging technology development by entrepreneurs. “We believe entrepreneurs will play a critical role in addressing the needs of cities around the world.” More than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in large metropolitan areas.
The other finalists, while employing technology, are not focused on smartphones. Prime Saúde, or Prime Health, developed a technology to use health records to predict and forestall disease onset in patients. The overall winner is a company called IDXP, which has developed a sensor technology to track consumer traffic in stores to identify successful product and display-placement trends. IDXP will compete with finalist companies from seven other countries to be named IBM’s Global Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012.
Timothy Willeford of IBM’s global communications said the Brazilian contest is good preparation for IDXP. Entrepreneurial activity is picking up speed in Brazil and the country is a key growth market for IBM, he said.