Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.
Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2022 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an online competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems. Since 2017, the competition has awarded $3.25 million USD to 78 start-ups from 25 countries.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2022 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions.
Meet Beamlink, a startup based out of the U.S. that won a $75,000 USD Regional First Runner-Up Prize in the Americas region.
Beamlink’s Chief Technology Officer, Arpad Kovesdy, has a background in the aerospace industry and a passion for spacecraft electronics. Beamlink CEO, Mateo Abascal, focuses his energy where social entrepreneurship meets technology. He’s leveraged tech to solve issues from food donation distribution to the delivery of prosthetics and ventilators. DC Palter, Beamlink Chief Marketing Officer, is a startup founder and marketing expert with 25 years in the computer networking space.
The team has designed and built a cellular mesh networking solution that connects people affected by natural disasters, when communications infrastructure is down, while also broadening access to vital connectivity in rural underserved areas of the U.S. (and eventually all over the world).
I recently had an enlightening conversation with the team about their innovative, award-winning technology.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Mateo: Nearly half of the global population lacks access to mobile internet connectivity.
This is an issue literally everywhere in the world. It is an issue here in Los Angeles, where we’re based. It’s an issue for rural farms in America. It goes far beyond the U.S. I mean, you pick a country, you pick a region…this is an issue somewhere for someone.
We want to make it easy to connect your phone to a new cellular network. Our overall goal is to make an impact.
Can you explain how the solution works?
Arpad: We’re using mesh technology to connect a large number of small devices, known as a BentoCell, to expand coverage across a broader area. And each BentoCell device is inexpensive and requires little power.
You just scan a QR code and then immediately your phone will recognize the network and connect to it. It requires no technical background. There are a lot of algorithms running in the background that just configure everything that usually has to be done by a radio engineer. And all you have to do on the ground is just press the power button and it will configure everything on its own.
What is innovative about the way you are solving the issue? What sets your solution apart?
DC: BentoCell is a cell tower in your hand.
Arpad: We can basically set-up a new cellular network from zero. And whether that is after a natural disaster or in a rural area that has never had solid connectivity before, it doesn’t really matter, because our devices are extremely simple to use. All the hard stuff is done in software in the cloud — you don’t have to think about it.
Mateo: It’s also extremely decentralized in that there’s no set architecture that you have to use to set-up your network. You could have hundreds of thousands of these devices in an area and they would still play along with each other and help create a massive network.
Arpad: Since it is software defined, you can operate completely standalone if you have no licenses. We can utilize CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) or unlicensed frequencies. We can operate a completely independent cell network that can be private, it could be semi-private, it just depends on the use case.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Mateo: We were on the ground in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. A lot of our initial customer discovery was on the ground in Houston, a lot of our initial market analysis and technical modeling.
Then Hurricane Maria happened and it was a complete communications blackout. We weren’t in Puerto Rico at the time, but our solution was informed by a problem that became clear during these hurricanes.
When a disaster hits, one of the first things that will get wiped out is connectivity. Repairing anything, getting resources to survivors in the area, just showing up to the area and figuring out where to go and who needs help, everything to some extent relies on connectivity.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business?
Mateo: We’re hoping to address a lot more than disaster response. Disaster response for us is a beachhead, especially in light of global climate change, but we eventually want to provide mobile connectivity to all in need.
Arpad: In 2021 we entered the Global Problem Solver Challenge and we were a finalist. We didn’t win an award last year. But, as a finalist, for Cisco to simply recognize the issues surrounding digital inclusivity is validating.
DC: We are a networking company, so a name like Cisco behind us is just huge.
Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
DC: We have funding from a National Science Foundation grant for the development of the product. But that only covers the actual development work. We can’t fund anything other than the actual engineering with that.
This funding makes a big difference in helping us run the business beyond just doing the development work. All the things like customer discovery, talking to customers, marketing, human resources, and the general day-to-day.
What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs?
Mateo: I think every problem is different. I would say talk, talk, talk to your customers. Know the problem and know who you are solving it for.
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