#MiamiTech Startup Spotlight: Launching a tech company to soar starts with right team on ground

Miami-based Aerosens  provides IoT and RFID solutions for the aviation industry in order to make the industry safer, smarter and more cost efficient. 
By Nancy Dahlberg
Spain, France, United Arab Emirates, the United States. Maria Esther Martinez’s engineering career has taken her around the world. And now she is leading an aviation tech startup in Miami.
Her company, Aerosens, provides IoT and RFID sensors and other solutions for the aerospace industry for better safety, security and efficiency.
But let’s back up a bit to find out how Aerosens’ founder winged her way to the Magic City to launch Aerosens.
The story: After earning her engineering degree in Spain, Martinez was working in France as a telecom engineer for Airbus at its headquarters, when her boyfriend, now her husband, asked her to move to Dubai when a career opportunity knocked for him. “He told me, ‘just come for one year, and then we go back to France,” she laughed. They spent 12 years there.
At first, it wasn’t easy, she said. “For an engineer woman looking for a job, it was very challenging. And it was 2003, still very closed.”
But leveraging her experience at Airbus, she found work with Alcatel working as radio system lead engineer on the Dubai airport expansion. Then, as the project was wrapping up, she met two Kuwaiti entrepreneurs trying to bring new technologies, such as RFID,  to the Middle East. She began working at their startup, Tagstone Technology, and quickly rose to COO as it serviced clients including the Dubai police, Mercedes, Toyota and General Motors. Martinez was the only woman in the company.
She spent 8 years at the startup, and caught the entrepreneurial bug – hard.
Instead of moving back to France, Martinez and her husband were off to the U.S.  She had started an MBA in Dubai and finished it in Miami. Now what?
Martinez started brainstorming startup concepts with Farid Hassani, who was leading the Technology and Innovation Group for Airbus, who would later become her co-founder in Aerosens. “We set up a company for the patents and said let’s start talking to people in the industry and learn their problems.”
Somehow, Martinez convinced Hassani to quit his corporate job in France and move to Miami.
Martinez, Aerosens CEO, and Hassani then added Rafael Alonso, who recently retired from his position at Airbus as president of Airbus Latin America & Caribbean after over 30 years in the industry.
She met him at a dinner. “I explained my idea and three days later, he called and said ‘I like your idea ad I want to be part of it’ … Rafael brings an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience that is invaluable when designing systems tailored for the airline industry.”
The co-founders and members of their board of advisors contributed seed funding to launch the venture in 2018.  As they learned more and more about airlines’ pain points, they quickly pivoted away from an original idea.
The business:  Aerosens  provides IoT and RFID solutions for the aviation industry in order to make the industry safer, smarter and more cost efficient. It seeks to capitalize on a first-mover advantage in a growing sector because of the strength of its team and technology.
“The idea behind the company is to provide technology solutions to the airlines to become more efficient,” said Martinez, in an interview last month. “For example, checking emergency equipment manually takes six hours — our solution takes one minute on their mobile phone in real time. They can get alerts in real time if something is tampered with inside the plane.”
Airlines also have a problem with passengers stealing life vests, believe it or not. And what if a defibrillator goes missing? It’s happened.
“Technicians can spend two minutes literally with their phone in the aircraft and they can know everything in the aircraft, when it expires, when it to be replaced, when it needs calibration — today it takes hours manually to do this,” she said.
Aerosens is currently a team of four, with a contracted team of four developers abroad. “We also have a board of advisors —  they are senior executives from the aviation industry. I call them my Saturday breakfast team,” Martinez said. It has developed an MVP and is in the process of getting required certifications.  
Milestones: Aerosens recently signed an agreement with South Florida-based Heico, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of airport parts, which will be a huge help with distribution, Martinez believes.
What’s next: Funding.
To be sure, launching a startup, particularly in a highly regulated industry like aviation, is high risk. However, the Aerosens team may be in a better position to succeed than a lot of startups because of deep industry expertise and connections, both on technical side and in business development, said Ricardo Weisz, a consultant with Florida SBDC at FIU, who has been advising Martinez on fund-raising.
For Aerosens, there are some certifications to get, and once that is completed it will be a bigger barrier for competitors, giving the small company first mover advantage. At least that’s the plan: “We are fighting,” Martinez said.
The details:
Headquarters: Miami
Website:  www.aerosens.com
Founded: January, 2018
Management team: Maria Esther Martinez, CEO; Farid Hassani; Rafael Alonso.
No. of employees: 4 (plus contracted tech team abroad)
Financing: Self-funded by co-founders and advisors, $635K. Seeking to raise an additional $600K now.
Photo at top shows Aerosens management team. Left to right:  Farid Hassani, Maria Esther Martinez, Rafael Alonso.
Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at [email protected].
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Nancy Dahlberg