Interview with Sara Gonçalves from Trigger Systems - MAZE - Decoding Impact

Interview with Sara Gonçalves from Trigger Systems

Sara Gonçalves presenting Trigger Systems at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a founding member of Maze X startup accelerator.

Sara is the co-founder of Trigger Systems, an impact startup from the first cohort of Maze X

Can you tell us who is Sara and a little bit about your background?

I am one of the founders of Trigger Systems. I have a Bachelor in Agronomy, where I studied for three years and learnt about all the challenges agriculture faces today. In my final project, I started coding by myself. Now, I’m doing my MSc in Data Science.

What is Trigger Systems?

Trigger Systems is a hardware and software solution that brings efficiency to farming and gardens by optimizing irrigation operations. Our system programs automatically how much water to give to plants and optimizes on the best hour of the day to do so. This recommendation is sent directly to our three hardware products that, nowadays, cover all types of irrigation systems at a very low cost.

How did you and your co-founder come up with this idea?

I met Francisco, my co-founder, three years ago, and he had the same background as me but with more than 20 years of working in the area of irrigation.
We started by developing a similar system used 20 years ago with not so recent technology. We upgraded it with new technology and were able to create a much more efficient irrigation system. Most often than not, there is no need to reinvent the wheel to deliver impactful outcomes.

And it started with a pilot with the Municipality of Lisbon?

Yes, three years ago, roughly, but the company only started in 2017.

Why does this Trigger Systems matter?

First, because we’re addressing a problem in one of the most polluters and consuming industries, agriculture. Second, it matters because we are saving water and energy which are connected. And third, agriculture is responsible for feeding the population that has been growing a lot and will continue to do so in the next decades.


Sara Gonçalves networking during the Demo Day of Maze X on July’19

Do you have an example of a client that was not using trigger systems and is using it now? What is their percentage of water savings using Trigger Systems?

Water savings can go up to 50%. We have, for example, Brisa, in Estradas de Portugal. Last year they didn’t have the system installed. This year, they saved 30% of water with our solution. Another example, the Municipality of Lisbon had 50% water savings last year.

Why did you apply to Maze X?

We applied to Maze X because we needed some help on how to organize our team and reach out to investors. We started by working hard on our investor and sales pitch. Being investors themselves, MAZE’s feedback to our pitch and investment case was crucial to close our latest round. Maze X granted exposure to several investors and even opened new clients leads such as the Municipality of Cascais.

What were the three challenges you wanted to tackle throughout the acceleration program?

First, preparing all the documents behind the funding procedure. Second, organizing the roles inside the company, which we did in the workshop with Nikita Savitskiy, Maze X product expert. Finally, simplifying our messaging. Before we only focused on the technical features of the solution and it was challenging to understand what Trigger System was. Today, we focus more on the benefits to the clients and not really on the software or hardware features. This was very important to improve our pitch.


Sara Gonçalves at Pitch Practice, a two-day event designed to help startups improve their pitch throughout the acceleration period of
Maze X.

What did you do with Nikita?

We determined the roles that we had inside the company and which people should be assigned which status. We also talked a bit about how to implement debugging systems and the quality of the software procedures.

Which startup surprised you the most, last year?

This year, I found some startups working with Hyperloop, which I found Incredible. Hardt is one of them. Hyperloop is used for faster travelling in cities. It’s the same as aeroplanes, but much more ecological.
Then, Sleepiz, a solution to monitor sleep. Nowadays, if you have a sleeping disorder, you must go to a clinic to use a lot of machines to analyze your sleep. With this new device, the doctors can see what’s happening during your sleep while you’re in the comfort of your home. They can make the sleep diagnostics much more efficiently, cheaper and more reliable since you are in your ordinary sleeping environment. I found this one very innovative and important since more and more people have sleeping disorders.
Finally, CorpowerOcean which is producing clean energy from our oceans.

What surprised you the most in Maze X?

The customized and hands-on support to each venture. We were all facing very specific challenges and Rita always knew, exactly, what was happening on our team. It was not a standardized approach, like generalist workshops, where you go home, and you do your stuff. Rita actually went through our business plan, changed the formulas, and we reviewed it together. With the pitch deck was the same thing. I think the support was much more personalized, and this is much more valuable for a startup.

Where do you find wisdom?

Talking to other people, just connecting, sharing the problems and receiving feedback from the people I work with.

Sara Gonçalves during the Demo Day of Maze X startup acceleratoron July 2019.

Sara Gonçalves on the Demo Day of Maze X on July’19

Do you have mentors?

Some of them are more friends than mentors, right now, but yeah. As a team, we share a lot of the problems we have. If we want to hire someone, we ask developers: what do you think about this? We try to make decisions with the maximum input from others.

How many do you have on your team right now?

Since the program ended, we hired three people. We needed someone just for UX. We are growing, and we are also expecting to hire two more people, at least. We are also growing in commercial development. Until this year we were more on the development of the technology, validation and improvements of the product itself. Now it’s more about image and how to communicate it outside the company.

Maze X was conceived and initiated by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations and MAZE, with the law firm PLMJ joining as a founding corporate member and BNP Paribas, Hospital da Luz Learning Health, Casa do Impacto as partners.

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