Cebu-based startup that seeks to connect rural areas wins ‘geek’ contest

By Edd K. Usman

A Cebu-based startup composed of foreigners that calls itself “engageSPARK” was declared on Friday, Aug. 26, as the grand winner of the 4th Geeks on a Beach (GOAB) 4 startup competition in Panglao Island, Bohol.

Aside from taking home the $1,000-cash prize, engageSPARK will also get mentoring assistance from renown digital incubators.

Photo shows GOAB organizer Tina Amper (left) with engageSPARK developers Murat Knecht, Avner Mizhrahi, and Nick Brown

Photo shows GOAB organizer Tina Amper (left) with engageSPARK developers Murat Knecht, Avner Mizhrahi, and Nick Brown

Over a thousand technology leaders, adopters, enthusiasts from abroad and the local startup community came to join the event held at Bellevue Resort on Panglao Island, Bohol.

Judges were impressed by engageSPARK whose project has the lofty goal of connecting people around the world, particularly those in the rural areas who have no internet access.

The peoples behind engageSPARK are Murat Knecht, chief technology officer (CTO); Avner Mizhrahi, chief operations officer (COO); Nick Brown, director of Business Development; and Ravi Agarwal, chief executive officer (CEO).

“engageSPARK is a perfect solution for engaging people that don’t have internet access, and we still have a lot of people in the Philippines and around the world who don’t have access to the internet,” said Brown.

Brown said he hopes their initiative would be adopted and scaled up in the next five to 15 years. “The base of the pyramid is the largest market in the world,” Brown said.

The startup founders said they will try to be “disruptive” in their pricing model, including having no subscription fees, no upfront fees. It will be entirely pay-per-use, they said.

The founders said they developed engageSPARK for four years and launched it 18 months ago.

“We plan to really grow and scale it up. Part of our customer base are NGOs who help provide and send information and educate poor people who don’t have internet access but have feature phones,” said Mizhrahi.

He said the digital platform was developed after super typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) slammed Eastern Visayas on November 8, 2013.

GOAB 4 received several entries from around the world, with the finalists eventually pared down to seven.

Tina Amper, founder of TechTalks.ph, which organized the startup contest, said the two-day event successfully gathered startups and funders. “I think GOAB 4 was the best so far, not just for the venue, everybody loved the venue, but I have more organizers who pitched in to help,” she said.

Monchito ibrahim, one of the officials of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), noted the relevance of the winner, engageSPARK, which was created by foreigners who are based in Cebu City.

“The winner today is actually a social enterprise. Their solution is for the rural areas, which is the same with the objectives of our programs in the DICT. They are those who we say are not included in the digital revolution,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim predicted that five to 10 years from now, “everything is going to be about technology and how we make use out of technology.

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