By Riley Kaminer
Web3 telecommunications startup based in South Florida Wayru has raised a seed round of $1.96 million with a pre-money valuation of $18 million. The round was led by VC blockchain firm Borderless Capital with the participation of 16 other global investors.
Wayru’s goal is to provide Internet access to underserved communities in developing communities. They are building a decentralized blockchain-based network of providers to serve the 65% of households in developing countries that currently lack internet connectivity.
Co-founder and CEO Charvel Chedraui outlined the three-pronged strategy Wayru will follow to deploy these funds. Top of the list: using the money as working capital for the next 12 months that will allow the startup to expand its current team of 7 people. “We are looking to hire eight more people in the next 30 days,” said Chedraui update miami.
Next is executing the startup’s growth and go-to-market strategy. Chedraui plans to spend funds on marketing activities to help the startup further build a community around its community ahead of a planned IDO, a crypto token offering that will help expand its network.
The third use of funds from this seed round will go towards installing the core infrastructure that will unlock the network for future users. “We will deploy the first internet nodes in Latin America,” said Chedraui. “We want to set a standard for how this niche technology works and how others can join our network later on.”
The problem: the lack of internet is a threat to human rights
According to the UN, Internet access is a human right. Yet today there are still 4 billion people who lack access to it. About a tenth of these ‘offline’ citizens are in Latin America, a region where only a handful of legacy providers power the internet. These companies, Chedraui noted, are more interested in selling more to their existing wealthy customers: “It’s absolutely not in their interest to go to any of these low-income communities.”
Of course, Internet access is not just a problem in the developing world. Closer to home, alone 81.5% of Miami households have Internet access, compared to 90% in other major US cities like Washington DC and San Francisco. This presents an economic and social problem in our increasingly digital world.
There is also a business opportunity here. The global market size for Internet Service Providers was approximately $400 billion in 2021. That figure is expected to rise to $1 trillion by 2030, considering population growth globally, as well as increased need to access the Internet.
A blockchain-based solution
Chedraui, an architect by trade with more than a decade in the telecommunications industry, has been working on the subject of Internet connectivity for years. His previous startup helped local small businesses make money by selling access to their WiFi networks. He calls Wayru the “network of networks,” creating the infrastructure to then allow others to develop a mesh of Internet access points in rural communities.
In the first instance, Wayru’s network design is very simple. Anyone can go out and buy a widely available $30 device to connect their Internet access to Wayru’s network and share it. That can be a revenue generator for small businesses like restaurants and Airbnbs, which can charge customers to use the Internet. Wayru plans for users to be able to deploy ‘micro nodes’ within the next month or so.
In the future, Wayru hopes to expand to two other node layers: block nodes and link nodes. Block nodes will provide access to entire communities, while bridging nodes will connect to legacy telecommunications networks.
“The responsibility for operating and maintaining the network is shared with local entrepreneurs, communities and businesses, which significantly reduces the operating costs of operating Internet networks,” the company explains in its white paper. That decentralization means the network can grow faster than traditional alternatives: wait for an ISP or create an illegal ISP.
Wayru’s Algorand-based token, the WRU, plays a central role in its ecosystem. WRUs are earned by setting up a node, sharing an existing connection, or securing network participation (i.e., making an investment to support someone else in network development). These tokens reward users for their participation.
South Florida as a launch pad for growth
Chedraui began researching the idea of founding Wayru almost exactly a year ago. In late June of last year, after creating a landing page that garnered a lot of attention, Chedraui decided to officially found the startup. Later, he joined forces with co-founders Paula Ceballos and Edward Calderon.
A native of Ecuador, Chedraui spent much of his youth in South Florida, having attended high school in Pembroke Pines and part of his college career at Florida International University.
“Being in Miami is very strategic for us,” he said. The company’s involvement in Algorand’s Miami accelerator helped inform the creation of its token. Considering the startup’s deep ties to Latin America and its interest in growing in the region, locating in South Florida also made sense.
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