Karen Ayumi Akitaya Ribeiro wants you read this every time you feel unmotivated, tired, or alone. Here’s her journey…

What did you do prior to coming into the industry?

Before entering the UAV industry and application development I worked as a line operator in a car production plant. Due to my somewhat troubled childhood, I started working and supporting myself when I was 15 years old. Because of that, I couldn’t finish high school studies and the language barrier due to the fact that I was a Brazilian in Japan made it even more difficult for me to adapt to society and the job market.

I worked in supermarkets, convenience stores, home centers, and restaurants and took care of the elderly, but because the pay was very low, I started working in factories on the automotive parts production line. As I always liked to create new things and technology, I felt very oppressed (and under) valued in a job that did not explore my potential for a salary that was still less than average.

Industry Experience

How did you get started in the industry?

I joined the drone industry because at the age of 18 I decided that because of the bad working conditions I would never work in factories again. As I always liked art, I started to work as a freelancer with illustrations and design. In addition to design, I also worked with translation (Portuguese, English, Japanese). During my journey as a freelancer one of my clients, the CEO of the company I currently work for, was impressed by my dedication and quality of services even though I have so little experience and age.

The client (Yusuke/CEO) asked me for illustrations and then 3D models, then translations, animations, and several other services that I had never done before. I didn’t want to turn down the job because I just didn’t know how to do it, so I asked for a week to learn and deliver the results to Yusuke. After 1 week Yusuke was impressed by my dedication and offered me a job as an international sales manager in his start-up.

Tell us about your current organization?

APEX is the name of the Startup I work for. We mainly work in the UAV market. Basically, the drone business for B to B sales, marketing, consulting, introduction support, surveying, inspection.  Surveying business: Topographical surveying, reference point, surveying, construction surveying, i-construction support, etc.  WEB development/Software & Hardware development: (planning, marketing, design production, system development, etc.)

Very few people know but since about 1990 Japan has not had many innovations and also due to the low birth rate the country has been declining more and more. With the low rate of innovation, the UAVs, UGVs, and USVs market and the construction market have difficulties progressing even though they have a lot of potential and capital.

Our mission is to provide and develop all the necessary tools for the market and the economy of Japan to strengthen. also serve as a bridge for services, hardware and software developed abroad to enter the Japanese market with their innovations.

Tell us about your current role in the industry.

After a few months of working as an international sales manager at APEX, Yusuke recently offered me the position of COO. Yusuke and I work approximately 16 to 19 hours every day deciding together how to proceed with all our projects. Yusuke has a long experience with the UAVs/Construction market so he can tell me in detail what customers and companies need. My role is to develop software and hardware that solve market problems and also join forces with foreign companies to do so. All projects and company relationships are managed by me.

What do you like most about being in the industry?

What I like the most and what motivates me every day in this industry is that with technology/innovation/cooperation and creativity many problems can be solved with the help of drones. I enjoy reading the market news and being able to have contact and the opportunity to work together with other people for the good of all. I like the landscapes, the people, the motivation, and the development. I like having the opportunity to do something that really helps people.

What’s your favorite type of project and why?

I’m on a project right now which is really fun for me. It’s called SIMPLE-POINT, it’s a platform where anyone can request LIDAR data analysis. I like this project because it makes people’s work faster, and more accessible.

I like projects that impact the way people work and how services are promoted. At the moment I am directing a project to develop a UAV with SLAM that has a very affordable commercialization price for the Japanese market. Many small and medium companies find it difficult to provide quality services and buy the hardware/software they need because of overpriced prices. I want to make UAV technology more accessible for every company to strengthen the market.

What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

I highly appreciate and value women’s ability to judge risk and face problems. Recently I came across a new side of me, like any woman I’ve always had an adventurous and energetic side, and being able to give my all within a relatively masculine job market gives me more willpower to persist until the end.

Sorry for not addressing so narrowly just the drone industry, it’s just that I really find this superpower hidden in each of us amazing. A thirst for competition and a tireless race that, when mixed with our femininity, turns into innovation and transformational power. Honestly, I was too scared to get into this industry but when I started to do more research on other female figures I felt very safe. I felt safe because I saw photos and stories of amazing women making amazing and impactful transformations. I wanna be part of it!

What You Have Learned

What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?

That’s when I realized that all my complexes and negative points that I thought I had could be used for the development of innovations in the UAV industry.
Because I’m a foreigner in Japan I could help people by sharing global knowledge across the industry and joining forces with everyone.

Because I am a woman I would be able to exercise more thoughtful care and judgment in business.
Everything around me changed when I realized that there were things I could only do because I was exactly the way I am.
I changed, I became stronger.

What have you learned that you wish you had known when you go started?

I just wanted to know that regardless of the difficulties I would be strong enough to carry on. The process of maturing and recreating yourself is one of the most exciting parts of entering a relatively masculine industry with no experience. I wish I had known that there was a power within me that would overcome all difficulties and insecurities and anxieties.

Any suggestions for other women entering the industry?

If you love it, do it. Dive in and overcome every challenge smiling, smiling not because you are a woman but because you are strong. Don’t worry, if you find it impossible to go research. Don’t overthink, you already know what to do, just look inside.
Have passion, a motivated woman with passion can make miracles. And, if even everything goes from bad to worse, seek help, you will never be alone. Be proud of your gender, skin color, religion, culture, language, hair type, and personality, it will take you far.