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SISTEM one-on-one with Mr. Erik Hersman, Senior TED Fellow, CEO and Co-Founder of BRCK, a Kenya based technology company: providing hardware, solutions and services for internet connectivity in low infrastructure environments.

Erik Hersman

Erik Hersman is an entrepreneur and technologist focused on advancing the use of technology in Africa. He is the CEO of BRCK a rugged wireless WiFi device designed and engineered in Kenya for use throughout the emerging markets. In 2010 he founded the iHub, Nairobi’s innovation hub for the technology community, bringing together entrepreneurs, hackers, designers and the investment community. He is also a co-founder of Ushahidi, and has also established afrigadget.com and whiteafrican.com as key online communities promoting creative solutions entrepreneurship and development challenges across Africa. He is also a general partner in the Savannah Fund, and sits on the boards of Akirachix, Angani, the Kijabe Forest Trust, and the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI). You can find him on Twitter at @WhiteAfrican.

Q: Please tell us a few words about yourself, your background and your role and position at BRCK?

Hersman: My name is Erik Hersman, I'm the CEO and co-founder of BRCK, a company based in Nairobi, Kenya that focuses on building hardware and software solutions for internet connectivity in low infrastructure environments.

Q: Tell us about BRCK, why and who founded it, its products, services and customers (local, continental and global)?

Hersman: The BRCK was created due to the frustration we had getting reliable internet connectivity in Kenya. There are multiple areas we struggle with the internet throughout Africa, and they're all related to either power issues or the changing way we connect to the internet (mobile wireless) as opposed to the mostly land-line connections that you find in the US or EU. This means that we needed a different kind of device, one that wasn't built for the norms of the West, but one that was built to work and fit our environment here in Africa.

In 2014 we started shipping BRCKs, after two years of design, development, prototyping and getting it fully into production. This year we have focused on building the solutions that sit on top of the device and adding on new products that fit the verticals where demand has been highest. Our focus is on two areas; education and digital literacy in Africa, and small business internet connectivity.

Q: Can you elaborate on how BRCK's portable router works and for how long?

Hersman: The BRCK device works like a mobile phone, intelligently and seamlessly switching between Ethernet, Wifi Bridge, and 3/4G connection whenever the user’s preferred network is down. Plug in a SIM card and with its 8-hour battery the BRCK provides a fully functioning network anytime and anywhere in reach of cell service.

Q: Please tell us about internet access in Kenya and Africa in general in contrast to the prevalence of cellular phones. How can BRCK capitalize on Africa's now common and widespread usage of cellular phones?

Hersman: Mobile phone usage in Africa has been increasing at one of the fastest rates in the world year-on-year for the past decade. The internet is following behind it, and where mobile phones have reached critical mass, we only see critical mass of internet usage in a few countries. What we're trying to do at BRCK is help connect the next 800 million Africans to the internet and we do that by building a solution from the ground up here in Kenya. Besides the products that you see from BRCK today, you'll see new ones in the future where we are enabling more African mobile phone consumers to access the internet in a way that they've never been able to do before.

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