Entrepreneurs are leveraging the speed of cloud computing to help them both make money and accomplish social missions.
Since companies like TOMS and Pandora have become household names, it's easy to forget they once began as small start-ups with a lone mission: help change the world.
Following the success of these altruistic companies, more entrepreneurs than ever are looking to foster global social change while turning a profit—and investors are interested. The amount of capital invested in addressing global issues such as housing, rural water delivery, technology, maternal health and primary education could reach $1 trillion over the next 10 years, according to JP Morgan's 2010 Investments Impact Report.
Today, most start-ups with the combined goal to do well both financially and socially utilize an important tool to make it all happen: cloud computing.
Good Deeds in the Cloud
Cloud computing is quickly growing; the market is projected to surpass $200 billion by 2018 and consume nearly half of IT infrastructure sales by 2019. As cloud computing becomes more popular among start-ups, global venture capital investors are taking an interest in companies that use the platform to run their businesses.
According to Deloitte's 2015 Global Venture Capital Confidence Survey, investors are more confident in financing cloud computing than other technology sectors, such as the Internet of Things, social media or robotics. With cloud technology becoming increasingly accessible and financially viable, start-ups are able to ease the burden of cost and focus on their social missions—all while making a product to attract investors.
Free Internet for One Billion People
Nathan Eagle, CEO and co-founder of mobile app marketplace Jana, has already proven that it's feasible to do well, both financially and socially, with the help of the cloud. Jana created a mobile application called mCent that provides free data and internet to emerging markets. The catch? Users agree to participate in mCent's advertisers' applications, such as messaging through WeChat.
Jana's mCent app has reached more than 30 million smartphone users in 93 countries, spanning over 310 mobile carriers since its launch in 2014. The company has already exceeded Facebook's Free Basics mission, where—unlike mCent—users don't have full access to the internet. Jana's goal is to provide one billion people with free internet, and with the help of the cloud that will be possible within the next four to five years, Eagle says.
“We operate in 93 different countries. There's no way we can have servers in all of these regions. So we leverage Amazon [Web Services] for the most part for all of our hosting, and they have data centers distributed globally," Eagle says. “We don't have to touch the hardware and it means we can go a lot faster. When you're in a global business like ours, that's critical."
Fighting Cancer with a Smartphone
For companies like MobileODT, cloud computing offers not only a humanitarian opportunity, but also the opportunity to enter an untapped market.
The company created a tool called the Enhanced Visual Assessment System to detect cervical cancer using smartphones. The medical provider attaches their phone to a mobile colposcope to detect any signs of cancer. Once the process is finished, MobileODT's secure app stores the patient's images and data, and offers them referrals from professionals around the world. MobileODT's entire operation has run on the cloud from the start and is trying to figure out ways to continue using the platform in areas like Rwanda, where local data centers aren't yet offered.
Ariel Beery, CEO and co-founder of MobileODT, says a majority of investors haven't seen the potential for market opportunity in remote rural areas. He believes that instead of being a nonprofit charity where they rely on donations as their main source of funding, he can make more of an impact on the world by being a for-profit company.
Beery says MobileODT has focused on working with private investors, such as Mark Cuban and Sari Miller, because it can be difficult to find investors that coincide with their social mission.
“[The cloud] is making things more and more accessible. One of the big barriers to any venture is the ability to actualize ideas, and what the cloud enables you to do is quickly go out in the environment and start up your idea," Beery says.
This story was produced by the WIRED Brand Lab for Comcast B2B.