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The building of an empire amidst the rise and fall of public transportation in Brazil. Murder, fraud, high-speed motorcycles and diving off the coastal islands.
The story of Érico Moraes has the makings of an action-thriller movie script. And the film would be just the kind that the co-founder and president of Empresa 1 would enjoy watching over popcorn.
“Like my wife says, ‘you need some action, you need some adventure, you’ve got to have something going on,’” Érico says.
Although the challenges of running his own business have certainly kept him on the move for more than 20 years in an industry marked by rapid-fire change.
Empresa 1 has a legacy of creating new solutions for Brazil and Latin American transport companies. Érico and his team brought the first electronic ticketing project to the city of Salto, São Paulo in 1997, and they launched auto-payment by bank card in Brazil’s mass transportation system in 2016.
The company was also the first to develop award-winning facial recognition technology, which now includes riders wearing masks, to combat fraud and help make transport services convenient and safe for both passengers and operators. And its automated cashless solution for Guatemala, where thieves target buses and their cashboxes, has been transformative.
“The murder rate for the drivers in those buses dropped to zero,” he says. “The intelligent use of technology can improve transport and quality of life in general.”
Érico didn’t set out to be the frontman, the CEO of the company, accepting international IT awards for Empresa 1’s industry standard-setting solutions. In fact, as an electrical engineer with graduate studies in automation, he prefers to be hands-on in product design and development.
“I’ve always been that guy who enjoyed projecting hardware developing hardware. I’ve always liked working on different projects, with microprocessors and other things, for the industry in general,” he says. “I’ve been a business owner for almost my whole life. I would close a business and start a new one.”
As a serial entrepreneur, Érico has tackled many new business concepts, first manufacturing equipment for the medical field, and then working with business partners on automation and robotics projects for General Motors in Brazil.
“We were very sought after for new projects. I would build a prototype and the industry would implement it in the market,” he says.
“Things like that are fuel for me – to do things that nobody has ever done.”
His early success got the attention of a French multinational company that specialized in automation. In 1993, the company asked Érico to devise a smartcard system for urban transportation in Brazil. This was something completely revolutionary and there was nothing like it in the country.
“This automation revolutionized the market. It decreased a lot of fraud and really improved the business for those bus owners who were managing the process,” Érico says.
The Brazilian arm of the French multinational wanted to partner with Érico and his team to manufacture the equipment, so Érico established Empresa 1, which literally translates from Portuguese as Company 1, to produce and sell the product.
“In 10 months, we had substantial volume, different equipment operating in different cities. In total, we had 300 pieces of equipment,” he says.
Empresa 1 took the smartcard technology to the next level, developing embedded top-ups to refill payment for transit passes. This was a breakthrough in an industry historically fraught with problems like ticket fraud and operators having to manage cashflow.
Soon enough, cities across the country were knocking on his door looking to implement his systems. Like many start-ups, however, he wasn’t able to scale up to meet the demand and needed additional financial investment. He ended up selling a large share of the company to a family with experience in bus transport.
With the infusion of capital, Érico moved to the commercial side of the business, growing Empresa 1 into a highly recognized brand and leader in automated ticketing in Brazil.
So, what does an inventor, entrepreneur and dedicated family man do to unwind?
Getting out on the road on his vintage motorcycles and vacationing on the water.
“I love going to a beach that’s calm, not busy, where I can dive and see the colourful fishes. I do my dive and I turn everything off.”
A necessary tonic for a mind that’s always on, looking for the next big challenge!