Ushahidi spinout BRCK Inc.has announced that it has closed a $1.2 million seed round. BRCK is solving last-mile connectivity problems with a device that can bring seamless internet connection to the most remote areas of the world.
Invested Development, an early stage impact investor, led the round for the Nairobi-based technology startup. Invested Development, Omvestments, Urban.us, Cheryl Heller and Gary Scheft of CommonWise LLC, Synergy Growth, and other investors were attracted to this opportunity because of the cross-sector impact it will have in Africa and beyond. World Bank data shows that for every 10% increase in broadband penetration there can be as much as 1.4% GDP growth. Currently, only 24% of people in the developing world are connected to the Internet and even then, the connection is often unreliable.
Seeing and experiencing this problem firsthand, Ushahidi developed the BRCK: a device that allows for rugged, reliable, and easy access to internet connectivity. This is a critical innovation for a variety of sectors across Africa. The BRCK taps into the unique market characteristic of emerging market internet subscribers: 65% of whom access the internet wirelessly. The BRCK allows users to leverage the nearly ubiquitous mobile broadband and turn it into a connection designed for productivity, rather than solely consumption. Beyond wireless connectivity, the BRCK was designed to provide redundancy where there is poor power and internet infrastructure, automatically switching to inbuilt batteries and 3g connectivity when the primary sources fail.
More than just a router, the BRCK is designed to allow users to access the internet in Africa and overcome some of the challenges that are unique to the continent.
Power spikes and outages are everyday occurrences in Nairobi and across Sub-Saharan Africa, no matter your income level. In Nigeria for example, you can expect up to 300 outages each year for 5-8 hours at a time. Power spikes are even more unpredictable. BRCK’s Chief Operating Officer, Philip Walton, detailed his experience dealing with technology and power spikes that are prevalent throughout Africa in a BRCK blog post. With the BRCK’s smart charging and management capabilities, internet access is uninterrupted and your devices remain undamaged.
According to the East African Community organization, 90% of schools and 30% of hospitals are off-grid. With the BRCK, teachers, administrators, doctors, and caregivers can mitigate the unreliable connectivity by caching and distributing content to remote locations and setting up reliable WiFi hotspots.
The BRCK team has proven that the product works in the harshest conditions. Their expedition to Lake Turkana in 2013 showed that dusty, unpredictable environments cannot stop the BRCK. As they say, “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”
According to Invested Development’s Founder and Managing Director, Miguel Granier, “Building a hardware company in Africa will have tremendous impact for the region if successful… well beyond the very useful product being developed.” Granier added, “The potential impact and scale of this company made it an easy investment decision. BRCK uses technology to solve problems where there is a significant market gap.