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Cape Verdean Alumni Entrepreneur: Erico Fortes

Erico Fortes, BSU G’16; Uni-CV, ’13 , Founder PrimeBotics

PrimeBotics, producer of custom-made drones

Erico Fortes’ journey from concept to working product was hard-earned. We could say it began in Fortes’ youth and his fascination with drones. However, actually acquiring a drone in Cabo Verde was financially beyond his reach. At Bridgewater, while studying for his master’s degree and with the help of his professor, he built his own and turned it into his thesis project.

Erico Fortes reforestation drone

“In Cabo Verde we have deforestation, soil erosion, and lack of water,” said Fortes. “We came up with this idea of using drones for agriculture and reforestation purposes. But I didn’t want just to finish my project, I wanted to develop something that would help my country.”

Fast forward.

After graduating with his masters from Bridgewater, Fortes returned to Cabo Verde, enthusiastic about the potential of his drone but lacking the financial wherewithal to move it forward.

His aunt encouraged him to apply for a grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which focused on granting funds to aspiring African entrepreneurs with winning ideas. The odds of receiving a grant were daunting: of the 152,000 applicants, only 1,000 would be chosen to receive seed money to launch a business. Fortes beat the odds.

Erico Fortes flying an agricultural reforestation drone

With funds from the foundation, Fortes bought a 3D printer, which allowed him to make the parts he needed to build his drones. PrimeBotics was in business.

Keeping Cabo Verde’s minimal rainfall in mind together with his passion to help his country move forward, Fortes focused on how his drones might be used to help seed the land.

Using a software program called Mission Planner, Fortes developed a seed release mechanism that attaches to the underside of his drones. He then used a piece of hardware called a microcontroller to program coordinates into the drone, pinpointing exactly where the seeds should be dropped.

The drone operator then controls the motor that rotates and drops the seeds at pre-programed locations.

Mindful that seeds dropped onto dry land were vulnerable, he used a technique called “’speedball’ to protect them. “We encase the seed in a ball of clay to help preserve it. We then drop the seeds, and when they get in touch with water, they will germinate.

“We have been working with the Ministry of Agriculture here in Cabo Verde and also in a partnership with the United Nations Development Program Accelerator Lab. They bought four drones from me and have been helping me implement all of this.”

Fortes has trained 24 Ministry of Agriculture technicians to operate this system for agriculture and reforestation.

He also created a pulverization system, similar to the seed drop mechanism. “Essentially, it’s the same thing,” said Fortes, “but now the drone will leak liquid like pesticides and fertilizers.”

Thinking back to Bridgewater, his thesis project, and the founding of PrimeBotics, Fortes says it all when he says, “Bridgewater transformed my life.”

Read more about Erico and other Notable Cape Verdean Alumni +