Nigerian startup Ushahidi will ship its router device to Kickstarter supporters later this week. The company also received a $1.2M investment to help it keep developing countries online
Connecting to the internet is something often taken for granted in the developed world, and a few minute blackout of our routers can really ruin our day. However, in developing countries blackouts are a daily occurrence and can last for up to eight hours.
Kenyan startup Ushahidi created a device that it said works like a generator for the internet, and can be a backup in places where internet is unreliable, or it can be the main source of internet in a place where it is otherwise unavailable. The company, which raised funding for its product called BRCK on Kickstarter last year, said it will finally ship its product on July 17. The announcement that the first shipment of the BRCK is coming this week came right after Ushahidi spinoff BRCK Inc. announced that it received a $1.2 million seed investment led by Invested Development, to supplement the $172,107 it raised on Kickstarter and help it to continue bringing internet to the remote areas of the world.
Omvestments, Urban.us, Cheryl Heller and Gary Scheft of CommonWise LLC, Synergy Growth and others participated in the July 9 investment round.
A smart, rugged device
BRCK is a wireless router that works the way cellphones do by intelligently switching between Ethernet, Wifi, and 3G and 4G mobile networks. By plugging in a SIM card or connecting the device to a wired or wireless ethernet connection, the BRCK can get online. If its power source fails, it automatically switches to its eight-hour battery. The BRCK software operates with the BRCK Cloud, a website that can be accessed from anywhere to check network connectivity and electricity. The router is also portable and easy to set up, can support 20 devices, is powerful enough to cover multiple rooms, has a 16 GB hard drive, 8 GPIO pins to connect sensors, has software that allows for apps, remote management and data collection, and has a documented API. It can be charged from a solar panel, car battery, a computer and from a wall outlet.
Ushahidi launched its Kickstarter campaign on May 5, 2013, seeking $125,000. The campaign received support from more than 1,000 backers who donated between $10 (for a thank you) and $10,000 (for a trip to Nairobi to “build cool stuff” with the team). One backer pledged the full amount for the trip.
Nigeria-based nonprofit Ushahidi created the BRCK due to difficulties getting and staying online in different places in Africa. “Ushahidi” means “testimony” in Swahili and the company’s first product was a crowdsourced mapping platform it built during the Kenyan post-election violence in 2008. Founders David Kobia, Juliana Rotich and Erik Hersman wanted to make a product that would work with poor infrastructure and already its software has been used during storms in the U.S., earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and in other places.
“Anyone who has worked in the field — or anyplace far from the world’s most wired urban areas — knows how hard it can be to get connected and stay online,” Ushahidi wrote in its Kickstarter campaign. “And yet the equipment used to connect in Kenya, or India, or the rest of the developing world is the same as that’s used in New York and London, even though the conditions are completely different.”
If it works in Africa…
According to its statement on its recent investment, Nigeria experiences 300 power outages a year, each lasting five to eight hours. Power spikes also occur often and can damage devices. Moreover, 90% of schools and 30% of hospitals are off-grid, according to the East African Community organization. BRCK also noted that only 24% of people in the developing world are connected to the internet, and even then, the connection is often unreliable.
World Bank data shows that a 10% increase in broadband penetration can account for a GDP growth of up to 1.4%, so connection to the internet is integral for a country’s success in this age.
BRCK has tested its product in Africa, and it has seemed to work. The company’s motto is now “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”
Later this week backers will finally get to test it out. Ushahidi originally wanted to deliver the device in November, but like many Kickstarter campaigns, it ran into unexpected hurdles. Fortunately though, the team worked on and was able to attract the attention of some new investors that want to help Ushahidi get more of its routers on the ground.