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Saturday, March 23, 2019

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Student tries his hand at business


A Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship student, Alfonso Olvera, designed a software system that received garnered recognition, and he plans to expand his business ideas to other companies and industries. | Courtesy of UH.edu

Alfonso Olvera, a senior at the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, was given the title of one of “America’s Coolest College Start-ups for 2010” by Inc. Magazine for his rail tracking software, RailTronix.

“I designed a system (that) connects to networks that are already set up by the railroads, which gives you what they call car location methods,” Olvera said.

He started his first business at age 16, a year after moving to the Woodlands with his family from Mexico City.

“Everybody was going into working at McDonald’s and Starbucks and places like that,” Olvera said. “I already knew a lot about technology, so I just started my own computer repair business for residential and small businesses.”

In 2007, one of Olvera’s clients, who was in the oil business, began transporting asphalt and oil throughout Mexico and the U.S. using railcars. Olvera designed a database for his company to keep track of their rail cars.

“His company used to do everything in Excel sheets, which was awful for (the company) because they had to be passing the files from one person to the other and make changes, which was really inefficient,” Olvera said. “I basically designed this system to fit the needs of this customer, and ultimately they started using the logistic system.”

RailTronix tracks each railcar by its license plate, or railcar I.D., the way a FedEx package is tracked with the tracking number.

“You plug in the railcar number (I.D.) into my system, and it tells you exactly where it was last spotted,” Olvera said.

The system lets you know the location of the railcar, where it was last seen and whether it was loaded or empty.

“Those are the three things that a car location message has. That’s what I call my raw data,” Olvera said.

Olvera’s system helps companies realize inefficiencies in their supply chain by tracking when the rail car crosses the U.S.-Mexico border, if it has stopped along the way, why the stops were made and the amount of time needed for the trip.

“There are three networks that have been placed by the railroads, and my system processes this information to give you this kind of statistical data, which can tell you the path that the railroad is circling,” he said.

Olvera’s next business move is to expand RailTronix to other companies and industries.

“Everything was designed for this first customer of mine, then ultimately people started saying, ‘Maybe you could market this for other companies that are in the same business,’” Olvera said. “And that is exactly where I’m at right now. I’m trying to expand. It’s mainly been done for this customer and the oil shipping business, but it can be done for any industry.”

Olvera has found the practical methods of teaching from professors at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship helpful.

“The Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship is a key factor in the success of my business, because it teaches you in a nontraditional way,” Olvera said. “Most of the professors here are really experienced, and they’re not really here to earn money. They just want to transfer their experience and their background and education to us.”

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