Post-doctoral student Kurtis Heimerl started a company that provides cellular power to rural areas.
Post-doctoral student Kurtis Heimerl started a company that provides cellular power to rural areas.

At 30, Kurtis Heimerl has held many titles. Computer scientist. Ex-Googler. Postdoctoral researcher. Humanitarian. CEO. This year, he created a new technology that has the potential to provide low-cost, community-owned cellular networks to the estimated 1 billion people currently living in rural areas without coverage.

Recently, Heimerl would earn another title as “MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35” in the Humanitarian category.

“[It] feels great! We’ll see how useful it is for getting more research impact, but it’s always nice to be appreciated,” he said about being recognized by MIT.

His startup company, Endaga, built a GSM “network-in-a-box” that allows users to have access to a cellular network — free of corporate providers — including SMS, voice and data services. The tool box-shaped Endaga CCN1 runs on solar power and can even be latched onto trees.

In 2013, Endaga built their first community cellular network in Papua, Indonesia, which brought coverage to some 350 users.

“I have always had an appreciation for the rural condition,” said Heimerl. “Being outside of the signal and hacking together solutions.”

It was that attitude that led him to accept a position working at Microsoft Research in Uttar Pradesh, India in the summer of 2007. There, Heimerl discovered he no longer wanted to just do computer science for the sake of money, but to help improve cellular conditions in underdevelopment regions.

“I loved leveraging my technical skills for rural or developing regions, and changed my focus to that,” said Heimerl.

In addition to helping run Endaga, Heimerl works as postdoctoral researcher in the TIER lab (UC Berkeley’s Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions) with Professor Eric Brewer.

Next up, Heimerl will work in partnership with Rhizomatica, to test out their GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) white space technology, which allows for cellular networks that automatically scan and detect existing cellular networks and broadcast on the fallow bands available.

Read more about his ongoing projects on Kurtis Heimerl’s website.