Colombia native Tomas Felipe Llano-Rios is, perhaps not surprisingly considering his birthplace, a coffee connoisseur. The University of Louisville PhD student in computer science and engineering at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering is applying that caffeine passion and his tech skills to help coffee growers from his hometown. He and two friends, software engineers and former classmates still in Colombia, have created an app for coffee growers from Medellin and neighboring towns to better reach potential coffee buyers and market their products. One of those towns is Santa Fe de Antioquia.
“It is a small town where they are very well known for producing a high-quality coffee. I looked at issues they were having like management, distribution, logistics and others, so I thought maybe we could incorporate different business models into a digital platform,” Llano-Rios said. “Our ultimate idea is to see if we can export the coffee they produce to the States.”
The coffee app currently is available only in Colombia and in the Spanish language, but ultimately will help potential buyers from the United States buy coffee from growers in the region. The app will feature the different coffees and different aromas, flavors and growing profiles.
“You can take a quiz and it gives you suggestions on coffees based on how much acidity you like, what aromas and flavors because many Colombian coffees are based on different fruits,” Llano-Rios said. “The app and website not only give you a description of the different coffee profiles, but also information about the farm, how the beans are grown and cultivated.”
In addition to selling coffee through the app, Llano-Rios hopes to develop new features to promote eco-tours and coffee tasting events, which currently are handled by word of mouth and by phone.
For Llano-Rios, who completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science in his hometown of Medellin, his path to Speed School and the United States began through a part-time job in Colombia.
“My boss recommended me to a professor he knew at Speed School, Dr. Antonio Badia, associate professor in computer science and engineering, who was looking for a student to work in his research lab,” said Llano-Rios. “Once Dr. Badia and I connected, we found we had many common interests, so I moved to the United States and came to Speed School.”
After Llano-Rios completed his master’s degree, one of those common interests – databases – became the focus of his current PhD research, which he began in 2020.
While Llano-Rios continues his work with his team on the coffee growers’ app, his post-PhD plans are to go into industry. He hopes to return to Colombia one day but right now, there is so much more he wants to learn and explore in the U.S.
But back to the app, why coffee?
“I just love the taste,” he said.
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