We sat down to speak with Harvey (Larry) Nkeng of Cameroon-based Traveler to discuss his love of technology and his goals to make it more accessible to people in his community and beyond. Larry is a Fellow in the 2017 Startup Mentoring West Africa + Europe programme and is a member of the empowering people. Network  from the Siemens Stiftung (Foundation).

I have always taken it upon myself to build something exciting that would make a significant contribution to society, because I never felt that government or other sectors would provide me with opportunities to address the issues that our society faces. Access to the Internet and technology has given me the superpowers to build whatever I want.  

My motivation through all of my work has been to develop technology that is accessible for people who may not know how to use it.

In some areas in Africa, there is a saturation of mobile/smart technology, but many still don’t fully understand the benefits it can provide and what’s possible with it. I want to bridge this gap so that people can use the technology available to them to create more value that will improve their lives.

I have worked on various projects since IceTeck, including a video and image compressor with a 97% lossless compression rate for Android apps – which is 3% better than Whatsapp’s video compression. It’s a project we like to get back to from time to time in order to make it even more awesome. My most recent venture, however, has been co-founding a company called Traveler where we use mobile device technology to keep people safe on the road.  When a person starts their journey, they can put their route into our Traveler app, and in the case of an accident, it will detect the impact and immediately inform all relevant emergency services, as well as other drivers on that route.  Over time, as the Traveler app continues to collect data about specific roads and driving conditions, it develops the ability to predict future risks and accidents and ultimately, initiate preventive actions.  

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All of my co-founders and I have engineering backgrounds.  This can be really helpful because the key to solving problems is first having curiosity and then having the hard skills to execute interesting solutions.  But no one on our team is as strong on the business side of things. The Startup Mentoring camp has provided us with tools for scaling up, tailoring our product to target groups, business development, and presenting the value of our work to others.  By the second day at the camp, I had already reworked my pitch based on my mentor’s insights, which is the most important piece because it is the key element we need to get support and funding for our work.

It can be hard to stay motivated while working on a topic of such great magnitude when you see the big guys also going at the same issue,  but I believe we can build equally great tech that would have the same magnitude of impact. This is motivation enough to keep on with the project. I have to make sure that all of the time spent on my projects is spent valuably.

I know that even if I fail, I will not have lost everything, but rather I will have learned how to make my next project more successful. My goal is to build a better version of myself in order to create better technology for now and the future.

If there is a message I’d like to convey to investors it would be that when considering investing in African technology startups, they should look for companies that have a clear purpose. This means their focus should be shifted more towards technology that efficiently addresses a need rather than generates direct revenue. This way, we would have many more exciting things being built to solve local issues and that, I believe, could scale as well.

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Edited by Melissa Berkowitz

Photos by Der Gottwald