Rugged Communications

Rugged Communications: Solar-Powered Internet Community Centers

Bocas Del Toro, PanamaBoston, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We have developed a solar-powered telecommunications system and community center comprised of telecommunications technology, light, and computer stations that sustainably connects rural populations to health, economic, and educational opportunity via access to internet and phone service.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if everyone in the world had access to economic, educational, and healthcare opportunity?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Rural populations, like the indigenous Ngobe of Western Panama, lack phone and internet service, light, and computers. Without these basic resources, emergency medical services, a modern education, and a healthy life are not possible. Installing a new telecommunications tower costs approximately $500,000 USD. For telecommunications providers, small, dispersed communities living in rugged terrain make tower installation unfeasible.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our solution is to use smaller-scale, solar-powered telecommunications technology that we have developed. This solution allows us to operate a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), basically our own phone company. In this way we can approach markets in rural areas that larger telecommunications companies have deemed unprofitable. With the system being solar-powered, we can also provide energy for communities without it. We can charge rural peoples low rates on a pay as you go phone plan in order to make a sustainable profit.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In Panama, for $20,000, a community of 500 indigenous Ngobe villagers received a solar-powered telecommunications system and community development center. Locals were hired to construct the center and educated about the technology being implemented. As a result, they can now make emergency medical calls to a local NGO, they have a source of clean water and electricity, light allows students to study at night and students as well as regular community members can access information on the internet for school or self-education. The ability to make a phone call allowed a local artisan group to organize over the region and sell their products at fair prices to gift shops in a local center of tourism. Sustainable energy and economics flourished.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

I believe this is answered by the example.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We are targeting developing countries in Latin America. The people being helped will most likely be living without electricity or reliable connectivity to the outside world. After we are done, they will have these resources - the basis for developing the economy, education, and health of rural communities.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

There are approximately 100,000 indigenous Ngobes in the region where we are installing our system in Panama. With no competition and people eager for this technology, we estimate that 25% will begin or increase phone usage. Even if 10% did, with the average phone usage rate of $14 per month that our research suggests, we could make $140,000 per month once the $200,000 system is erected.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In Latin America, really no one is addressing this issue. The problem is that large telecommunications companies are not interested in these populations because their expensive equipment makes installation of coverage to these areas unprofitable. We spent nearly a year trying to show large telecommunications companies the opportunity they were missing out on with long discussion and little action. Our lean company and affordable technology allows us to do what they can not. By operating as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, we can be our own phone company, and bypass the large telcos.

Founding Story

While living with the indigenous Ngobe tribe in Panama without phone or internet service, Alex met Noah, who was working with The Floating Doctors, delivering free health clinics to the same population. While Alex worked as a translator from the indigenous language to English for the doctors, he and Noah began discussing how much good communications access would do for this population. As such, they began working on designing a solar-powered telecommunications system that could operate in harsh terrain and developed a business model that would support the work.


Alex Blum, Marketing - former Peace Corps volunteer, masters in Global Technology and Development expected December 2014, experience in finance at Merrill Lynch Noah Haas, Operations - co-founder of The Floating Doctors (, solar telecommunications engineer. Kurtis Heimerl, technology - founder and CEO of Endaga (, PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley studying rural telecommunications network design.
About You
Reality Construction and Consulting
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Reality Construction and Consulting

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, Boston

Country where this project is creating social impact

, Bocas Del Toro

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, NGOs.


Improving Nutrition, Fairness in the Workplace, Opportunities for Women, Inclusive Business.

Audience: Who have you identified as your customer/recipient groups and do these groups value your solution for different reasons? How do you engage different customer/recipient groups to deliver your solution?

Our customers are rural peoples, specifically the indigenous Ngobe in Western Panama. The rural peoples value the access to the world that our innovation allows for and the economic, educational, and healthcare opportunity that communications facilitates. Our research in Panama has shown us that the average customer in the region we are working will spend $14 a month on phone and internet service.

Scaling the solution: How would the prize money and publicity help you to achieve your objectives over the next two years?

The prize money will be spent on installing Endaga's ( CCN1 telecommunications systems throughout the region. We have thoroughly mapped out exactly where these installations would happen and gained approval from communities. This would allow us to deliver phone and internet service to approximately 15,000 new people and put our company on stable financial footing. Any publicity from the competition would also be used to strengthen partnerships and work towards installing these systems.

Experience: Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered

Key team members already started the non-profit The Floating Doctors ( from scratch and have grown it to a multi-million dollar annual budget. I also will be finishing a masters in "Global Technology and Development" in December with a thesis on the implementation of telemedicine systems in rural communities.

Are you are eligible to attend the Accelerator event in Cambridge and subsequent events in London, UK in January, 2015?


Will you require a visa to enter the UK?


Are you are a current Unilever employee?