Event Highlights: Business Models for Connectivity

On Tuesday, May 24th, mSTAR launched Business Models for the Last Billion: Market Approaches to Internet Connectivity at the event Business Models for Connectivity. Business Models for the Last Billion details how innovative entrepreneurs and forward-thinking investors are connecting the poorest and most remote communities in the world to the Internet. We were thrilled to have an engaging and dynamic line-up of speakers at the report launch.

Highlights include Namema Amendi from Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative who opened the event by announcing Microsoft was giving seed funding to two of the business models featured at the event and in the report: AirJaldi and Wi-Fi Interactive Networks (WIN). More than 200 start-ups had applied for funding from Microsoft, yet AirJaldi and WIN were among only 12 companies that received the grant. To see Namema’s presentation, click here.

The report authors, Steve Schmida and Caitlin Lovegrove from SSG Advisors, then detailed the report findings. They concluded that the technology exists for connecting the “last billion.” The next step is to bring the businesses that provide connectivity to the world’s poorest billion to scale. Click here to see their presentation.

Philip Zulueta, COO of WIN, flew in from the Philippines to describe his start-up to the investors, donors, NGOs, government agencies, and tech companies present. WIN enables base of the pyramid consumers to access wifi. WIN partners with major companies to set up hotspots at kiosks where that company’s goods are sold. If a consumer buys the sponsoring corporation’s products, the consumer also gets 30 minutes of free wifi. To learn more about WIN’s model, view Philip’s presentation here.

Paul Talley, Chairman and CEO of ViRural, then described ViRural’s model. Currently operating in Nigeria, ViRural designs, deploys, manages and maintains wholesale cellular networks for rural communities with no power and no Internet. ViRural partners with local mobile operators so that consumers can use their existing devices to connect with no extra charge to ViRural’s networks. To see Paul’s presentation, click here.

Michael Ginguld, Director of AirJaldi, arrived from India and took the audience through AirJaldi’s journey of becoming a successful start-up. AirJaldi provides high-quality broadband Internet to rural Indians. AirJaldi currently serves 70,000 Indians who previously had little to no Internet and aims to reach 25% of India. Click here to see Michael’s presentation.

After the entrepreneurs presented their business models, the audience heard from the investors who helped turn Mawingu, an Internet connectivity start-up, into reality. Lauren Kickham from Vulcan Inc, Jim Forster, Chairman and Angel Investor for Mawingu and AirJaldi, and Namema Amendi from Microsoft described how they came together to invest in Mawingu, and what it takes for a start-up to succeed. To see the presentation on Mawingu, click here.

Manu Bhardwaj from the U.S. Department of State closed the event with comments on the Department of State’s Global Connect Initiative, which aims to bring 1.5 billion people online by 2020. Manu underlined the critical importance of closing the digital divide and echoed a sentiment Namema made at the beginning of the event: It is just as crucial for a student in rural Kenya to be online as it is a student in Virginia. All people benefit from Internet access. You can view Manu’s presentation here. To learn more about the Global Connect Initiative, click here.

mSTAR is grateful to the authors of the report, SSG Advisors, the speakers who shared their knowledge and insights, and the attendees, who made the event a success!

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