Solution from startup Mesh++ would bring WiFi to public parks and developing countries
This is one in a series of features on competitors in the 2017 Cozad New Venture competition, a program sponsored by the University of Illinois' Technology Entrepreneur Center that is designed to encourage students to create new businesses. The competition process offers teams assistance in the form of: mentors to help guide them through the phases of venture creation, workshops to help with idea validation, pitching skills, and customer development, and courses to enhance their skills and knowledge. Teams who make it to the final round of competition will have the opportunity to meet with venture capitalists, early stage investors and successful entrepreneurs who serve as judges. The judges will determine teams that will present their ventures at the finals event. Last year, these teams competed for nearly $220,000 in funding and in-kind prizes.
Most people rely on WiFi every day. In developed countries, it's not necessary to think about all the steps that allow users to get WiFi in their homes because the structures for WiFi are already in place. This is not the privilege of developing world, getting Wi-Fi is no easy task because it requires connecting to an electrical grid, which can be impossible or extremely expensive.
Mesh++, a student startup from the University of Illinois, is hoping to solve these problems.
“Mesh++ is a solar-powered mesh node with 16GB of flash storage. It can broadcast a WiFi network 24 hours per day up to 1100 feet in any direction, which is more than most routers, Daniel Gardner, founder of Mesh++, said. “You can throw these things all over the place, and they'll automatically form a mesh network with each other, meaning that you'll be able to access any data stored on any node in the network with any WiFi device.”
The flexibility of Mesh++ is what give it its advantages. The Mesh++ team has completely redesigned the router making it low power.
“There have been solar powered routers before, but they took a full sized solar panel, which is four-feet wide and put a regular sized router inside,” Gardner explained. “That is also expensive and difficult to move, so once you've set these up, you need to reinstall these massive solar panels every time you want to reconfigure the network.”
Mesh++ started as a senior design project for Gardner but has developed into something much bigger. Mesh++ has expanded to a team of six engineers and seven business developers. Mesh++ hopes that the Cozad New Venture Challenge will help them develop a plan to make money to support their ventures and bring them notoriety.
Sebastian Gaik, business development team member and senior in finance and information systems, added, "Exposure is critical because right now we have a product, but building a business around it, getting some partners, and figuring out how we can make it sustainable is essential to our success."
Mesh++ went to India and Tanzania as a market research to better understand how their product would impact the people in developing nations. According to Gardner, “there are still a lot of people in India who refuse to use the internet, and we wanted to figure out how cellular infrastructure became so pervasive and how we can maybe mimic that.”
The team plans on piloting and doing all the hardware testing on the nodes in Chicago and on campus. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel came to Illinois for ThinkChicago, he offered Mesh++ a park in the city to start testing their product. “We hope that Mesh++ with reinvent that space and bring the new age of the internet and bring more social gatherings back to parks,” Gardner said.
From parks to third world countries Mesh++ is hoping to connect the world one node at a time.