Atlanta’s Kenyon Hall is looking to bridge the digital divide.
An electronics engineer by training, Hall is now the founder and CEO of SOIL, a CleanTech hardware and software startup improving power and connectivity infrastructure. His work is helping communities from rural Georgia all the way to The Gambia.
When Hall chatted with Hypepotamus, he said the goal of “ubiquitous connectivity” emerged during the launch of his micro portable power solutions idea. “As we started going to startup pitch events, people were asking for connectivity, specifically around agriculture and last-mile connectivity…people would come up to us after these competitions and say ‘we need power and connectivity.”
Those ‘asks’ at local pitch competitions point to a wider trend.
Upwards of a billion people globally lack access to electricity. Many more struggle to connect to any sort of broadband internet.
The World Economic Forum estimates that 3.7 billion people (about 40% of the world’s population) lack access to the internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says upwards of 30 million Americans still live without broadband access, though many experts believe that number is drastically understated.
SOIL’s GRIOT Gateway, a multi-connectivity platform, is looking to bring IoT everywhere through the use of more traditional terrestrial connections (think Wifi, Bluetooth, and cellular), but also through nanosatellites. Found in Low Earth Orbit, these satellites can help develop low-cost, low-power IoT solutions.
Hall says use cases include managing smart cities, analyzing agriculture, monitoring conservation efforts, and improving emergency preparedness.
And while SOIL’s technology has global application, it is starting in the Metro Atlanta area.
SOIL’s GRIOT Gateway is currently being tested at the Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners.
TESTING AT CURIOSITY LAB
SOIL is the latest local startup to use Curiosity Lab’s real-world infrastructure. Since launching in 2019, the Lab has helped test new ideas about how we drive, ship goods, and automate the transportation sector. Earlier this year they announced a partnership with ATDC and T-Mobile to launch a 5G-specific accelerator.
Hall credits Goodie Nation for helping connect him to Curiosity Lab and Executive Director Betsy Plattenburg. While initial testing rollout was pushed back due to COVID-related challenges around getting hardware, SOIL will use the next six months to test the feasibility of the IoT gateway in real-world settings.
For Plattenburg and the entire city of Peachtree Corners, investing in such transportation and innovation startups is a long-term, economic development play. “We don’t charge people for access to our infrastructure to test,” added Plattenburg. “So we do have everybody testing from very early-stage tech concepts to academic researchers to Fortune 50 companies. But we really tried to provide opportunities for everybody to take whatever it is that they’re working on and take it to the next step.”
CONNECTING THE WORLD
Hall grew up in rural South Carolina and is building his startup in Atlanta. But he sees SOIL’s technology having a global impact.
Hall said the team is also deploying their technology in the West African country of The Gambia.
SOIL’s Zawadi Stone (meaning“gift” in Swahili) is a device tackling “energy poverty” and those who are off traditional energy grids, and the Ecoknode STEM (Standalone Tower with Eco-Management) helps bring the electrical grid to remote areas.