Jana’s mission: Improving lives in emerging markets through Internet access
The origin of our Boston-based small business lies in Kenya.
During a sabbatical from MIT, while working as a Fulbright professor in Nairobi, my team of students and I built a new texting platform for the Ministry of Health. Blood banks throughout Kenya were unable to communicate easily about the daily status of the country’s blood supply. The platform we created enabled local nurses to send updates on the blood supply levels in rural hospitals to centralized blood banks across Kenya.
At first, the program was a success, but then we saw that nurses stopped sending the texts with information on blood supply after just two weeks. My team and I realized that while the nurses wanted to use the program to help their patients and locate critical blood supplies, they were being charged personally for the texts, which they could not afford.
To keep the program moving forward, we created software that reimbursed the nurses when they sent texts that communicated to the blood banks. The nurses returned to the program with renewed enthusiasm, which helped them do their jobs more efficiently and ultimately save the lives of many who needed the precious blood.
This discovery sparked the realization that sponsored data can support more smartphone usage and provide a solution to the high cost of data, especially for mobile users in emerging countries. With this in mind, we founded Jana, and launched our mobile app called mCent. Today, there are more than 80 people working for Jana in Boston, which is making a positive impact across the world.
When users in emerging countries open the mCent app, they are presented with sponsored content, specifically mobile apps they can download and use. In exchange, they are reimbursed with data that can be used anywhere on the Internet without restrictions.
Gaining Internet access is life changing for users in emerging markets. For every 10 percent increase in mobile broadband, GDP in emerging markets increases by 1.4 percent and the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day decreases by a third.
Still, the mobile data needed to access the Internet is relatively expensive. Approximately 88 million smartphone users in India— 43 percent of all smartphone users in the country — do not have a data plan because mobile data prices are so relatively high. The demand for mobile data is not going away. By 2020, emerging markets will have over 2.5 billion smartphone users and the demand for Internet access will increase by 500 percent.
We strongly believe that fair and open access to the Internet is a basic human right and crucial to building social and economic systems. Access to the Internet not only increases opportunities for education and communication, it can also save lives as in the case with nurses in Kenya texting about precious blood supplies. Our goal at Jana is to meet a real need in the world by using our knowledge of innovative, cutting-edge technology. We are focused on reaching a billion people over the next five years to help them break down the financial barrier to full Internet connection.
With this vision of empowering a billion individuals through access to the Internet before us, we named our company Jana, which in Sanskrit means “people.”
This post is a part of a series of posts written by Small Business of the Year honorees. Stay tuned for more insights from our honorees leading up to the October 6th event.