One of SA’s first female senior executives in IoT, she’s still under the age of 40. She has managed to combine her aptitude for innovation and technology with her passion for environmental sustainability and water conservation.
Now she is spreading this awareness and consciousness to those who matter most – the youth of our society – by implementing IoT-powered smart water solutions in schools and promoting a newfound water-wise culture at grassroots level.
Ushal reveals exclusively to Fast Company SA all about her passions, ambitions, and the techniques she uses to recharge her senses.
I have always been a tech head – from building rockets in my school science projects to creating home-automation systems in my days as an electrical engineering student. Graduating top of my class and then landing a bursary at Siemens Telecommunications is what kick-started my career in the telco space. During my tenure at Siemens, Nokia, and Vodacom, I was in the business of connecting people, but now I am on an exciting journey of connecting things through the power of SqwidNet’s national IoT network.
Technology is a critical factor in driving innovation, creating a unique selling point in business, establishing a competitive edge and, ultimately, earning profits. Understanding this, I strategically turned my focus to business studies. I completed a BCom degree in management and economics, as well as an MBA to complement my engineering background. The skills-set and knowledge I gained through these programmes, coupled with my 18 years of work experience, equipped me in my journey to directing technology businesses of the future.
I always challenge myself to push beyond my comfort zone, this led me to take the leap of faith from a structured corporate environment to a dynamic and agile start-up. While nerve-racking at the time, it’s been an incredibly growing and rewarding experience. Being surrounded by new thinking and a vibrant culture has helped me be a better version of myself. Building quality, successful solutions at a pace required by start-ups requires me to learn and unlearn every day and motivate my team to do the same.
At SqwidNet, as chief solutions officer, together with my team, I have grown activations on our network 8-fold in a year through personalised customer experiences, established a strong IoT ecosystem through strategic partnerships and enabled our customers to innovate their products while keeping their connectivity costs low. As an organisation we have seen great success in the security, vehicle-tracking and utility sectors. I now look to the horizon at new, innovative products and solutions that are ideally suited for a low power usage technology such as Sigfox that will continue to disrupt. This is usually referred to as a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN).
In Green Tech, the conversation is starting to go beyond being used as a phrase to describe the clean generation of energy. And LPWAN helps take green tech conservation to a new level, by introducing themes like disposable but environmentally-safe sensors.
I am extremely passionate about the sustainability of our planet, specifically the conservation of water. I can never walk past a dripping tap without closing it or drive past a burst pipe and not log a call. I harnessed my passion, combined it with the power of IoT technology and took over the reins of beating water leaks in South Africa, by empowering plumbers to take charge and proactively fix leaks as they happen. This has seen the birth of a specialised training program designed to take plumbers on a digital journey to ditch reactive services for more proactive services – giving their customers the power to control of their water usage and do their part to preserve precious resources for future generations to come.
I have now taken IoT-powered smart water solutions a step further, working with schools to drive water-wise behaviour for both students and teachers. My sights are set on a specialised water heroes programme through which schools can learn about water-saving techniques and track their progress against their goals – this is to instil water-saving behaviour from a grass-roots level upward – driving a culture change. It’s a journey but will be worth it.
In addition to the above, having worked in the tech space and recognised the shortage of skills and lack of understanding when it comes to exponential technologies and their benefits to businesses, I am focused on programmes that equip entrepreneurs with technical and business skills that will allow them to start vibrant, sustainable tech businesses in the future, such as SqwidNet’s IoT Entrepreneur programme. This programme has already produced innovative tech start-ups that use SqwidNet’s Sigfox network at the core of their products, allowing them to access untapped markets with smart solutions at a fraction of the cost.
Technology evolves rapidly and the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence is a hot topic right now. As an overlay, it provides a higher level of intelligence to sensory networks, allowing businesses to attack new frontiers in IoT– giving rise to an even more connected tomorrow which will be the IoE (Internet of Everything)– connecting things living, powered or non-powered to extract the data points that matter for faster decision-making and a whole new way of life and business.
My success in business is related to relying on my senses, particularly listening to, and reading people, being empathic and connecting with them on a level that builds trust and openness. While this is a special power, it can also be draining, therefore it is important to remain grounded and stay true to who I am. Knowing myself often means knowing what makes me strong, confident and powerful, as well as what makes me vulnerable. Reflecting on how my day panned out is what gives me clues on how to tackle these vulnerabilities head-on and plot out my aspirations. Having a sounding board, has been a great way for me to work through the tricky paths, this often means talking about it to trusted people. Just like champion athletes, I have sought coaching, which helps me work through my vulnerabilities, work out my aspirations and keep my work, family, and my personal goals in check. Exercise and spirituality are also key to keeping me in balance.
Everyone has many roles to play in their lives, resulting in many balls in the air – and as my coach says, some of these balls are made of rubber and some are made of glass. Dropping rubber balls will cause them to bounce back, but dropping glass ones, my glass ones – such as family and health – can cause them to be lost forever. Time is not always on my side; therefore, I take care to spend quality time with my family and ensure that I am being present. This is not easy to do and is something I must work at every day. Consistent practice and setting boundaries are what makes all the difference.
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