Michigan Ross Alum Is Working To Lower The Cost Of Internet Access In Africa
Connectivity looks very different in emerging markets, and especially in Africa, where historically the cost of internet and mobile devices have prohibited the majority of the population from accessing the internet. That’s now changing, thanks to advances in technology, the falling price of smartphones, and the work being done on the ground by leaders like Alicia Levine, MBA ’11.
In 2015, Levine moved to Kenya and became COO of Surf Kenya, a newly launched subsidiary of EveryLayer, a company that uses its proprietary software stack to deliver high-speed, affordable broadband.
Advancements in mobile digital services, particularly in critical areas such as communications, financial services, and healthcare, are causing a huge spike in demand for access to the internet globally, including in Africa.”
-Alicia Levine, MBA ’11
Director of Business Transformation, BRCK
“In Kenya and much of Africa, people use their mobile devices as their primary means of accessing the internet, oftentimes in one location — such as their local market, a local eatery, or a frequented beauty shop — and we knew that a network of public hotspots would be extremely effective and much cheaper than a large mobile network, said Levine. “We also knew that the network was only half of the equation. We also needed a new way of doing business to ensure affordability for our customers.”
To dramatically lower the cost, Levine said Surf innovated new business models to pay for internet, scaling lower cost networks and subsidizing costs by awarding data bundles in exchange for engagement such as sponsored app downloads, video advertisements, or consumer surveys.
Thanks to a strategic, local approach to technology deployment, by the time Surf was acquired by BRCK in February 2019, the company had 65 employees and was connecting more than 200,000 people a month to the internet in Kenya.
For students considering pursuing similar, more nontraditional career paths, Levine advised:
“Don’t be afraid to jump in and try something new and take a chance on a new technology or business model. If you want to do tech in Africa, take the leap and move to where you want to be. You’ll be energized and inspired by what’s happening around you every day.”