Pacific presence at the Mobile World Congress puts Samoa on the map

The SkyEye Chief Executive Officer, Fa'aso'otauloa Sam Saili, has returned from a nine-day whirlwind trip to Barcelona, Spain for a Start-Up BootCamp followed by the Mobile World Congress.

SkyEye is the recipient of a WST$320,000 grant from the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) Ecosystem Accelerator Fund, which they are using to develop Maua, a GPS driven mobile e-commerce platform designed for the Pacific.

The GSMA invited all start-up fund recipients to a "Start Up BootCamp", which was closely followed by the Mobile World Congress - the largest gathering for the mobile industry, hosted by GSMA.  For SkyEye, the congress was a chance to get up close and personal with mobile operators, device manufacturers and technology firms, which would have been impossible to do from Samoa.

"It was another level of communicating directly with people," said Fa'aso'otauloa. 

"When we were talking people were very responsive and open with ideas."

He gave presentations to executives and investors from around the world on SkyEye's work with geographic information systems (GIS) and more, and already has begun conversations with operators from  Cambodia, Myanmar and Nigeria who want to buy their technology and work together.

The special adviser on ICT to the President of Nigeria attended Fa'aso'otauloa's SkyeEye presentation, and was impressed with how SkyEye addresses the lack of street addresses in the Pacific.

"Nigeria has a similar problem. He was saying it sounds similar to what his tech team is working on, so he gave me his card and said be in contact and he'll direct me to his guys and see if we are working on the same thing, so we can collaborate or learn from each other."

Fa'aso'otauloa said meeting tech companies who have experience developing platforms for rural and less digitally savvy consumers was invaluable for SkyEye's Maua development.

"Things like working with rural people, getting them to use mobile phones, getting them to understand certain standards when they are selling produce, getting them to understand the terms of any agreement they need to fulfill their terms - things like that, they had a lot of tips we've taken on," he said.

In Zambia, an issue one company found was that the technology was too hard for rural farmers to use. So they learned to make it simple and similar to what farmers were already using to sell their products.

"That's something we need to learn," Fa'aso'otauloa said. "We need to talk to the people we want to use the platform and learn what do they use now so we can try and build on top of it, and not introduce something completely alien to them that will turn them off."

As well as potential business partners and investors, Fa'aso'otauloa fortuitously met the head of Digital Inclusion of AbilityNet Robin Christopherson, the organisation advocating for and enabling inclusive technologies for the disabled.

AbilityNet can help SkyEye ensure Maua is completely disability friendly and even be certified for it, something that Fa'aso'otauloa is taking seriously.

"We want to make sure people with disabilities can use it, that's one of our target markets.

"[Christopherson] has a whole lot of resources at his disposal like people who will test the software and certify that it is able to be used by people with disabilities," he said.

While the app is being developed, SkyEye is now armed with resources and knowledge to design inclusiveness into the product from the beginning, thanks to AbilityNet.

"Hopefully we can get that British certification for Maua.

SkyEye previously met with Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA) Disability Advocacy Organisation in Samoa to begin the process of making sure Maua is user friendly for all. They have agreed to test the app for inclusivity as well.

Until SkyEye, GSMA had been working in Africa and Asia, but not yet in the Pacific. Now, with Fa'aso'otauloa and SkyEye in its portfolio, GSMA is turning its attention towards the Pacific.

Fa'aso'otauloa said his presence at the Start Up Boot Camp, and at the congress gave leaders in the mobile industry a chance to think about a sector not yet known to them.

"In terms of my participation, I was really happy that there was a voice from the Pacific in that global scale of things," he said.

"Everyone was talking about millions and millions of people, but when I presented from the Pacific I was only talking about hundreds of thousands. They all came back to tell me it's a really good perspective for them, to not forget about this part of the world, because it wasn't represented in the Mobile World Congress before.

He was even able to put climate change on the table - an issue technology companies and mobile operators weren't necessarily addressing, according to Fa'aso'otauloa.

The boot camp itself was a chance to collaborate and learn from all the different GSMA funded start-ups "under one roof," Fa'aso'otauloa said. He was impressed to see they all genuinely wanted to collaborate, and weren't competitive or secretive. 

"One of the best uses of my time there was learning from the other start-ups, what lessons they had to impart. 

"They were so willing to help, they were so open," he said.

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