Kiwi programmer Paul Hunkin has nabbed US$25,000 in venture capital funding to create a travel booking platform for the east African tourism industry and been accepted into an accelerator programme to kickstart the idea.
Originally from Tauranga, Hunkin is a University of Waikato computer science student currently on a working OE, recently undertaking freelance work through Asia and Africa, and currently living in Kenya.
Prior to that, he developed software while at Waikato that is now is used by Google, NASA, and other organisations worldwide. His software ClusterGL was created for the university’s display wall in 2008 and joins multiple computers together to make one huge display screen. The software caught the eye of Google, who offered him a Summer of Code internship in 2011 and 2012 to further develop it.
Now based in the 'Silicon Savannah' of Nairobi, Hunkin is trying to unify the entire east African tourist industry through SafariDesk, a unified searching and booking platform.
Savannah Fund, a seed capital fund specialising in web and mobile start-ups in sub-Saharan Africa, has offered him US$25,000 and a spot in its three-month accelerator programme.
“Nairobi is becoming the tech hub of Africa, so it should be fun,” says Hunkin. “They’re actually calling Nairobi the ‘Silicon Savannah’ as a parallel to Silicon Valley – there’s a lot of innovation going on, and it’s full of tech start-ups.”
He came up with the idea when trying to find a Mt Kilimanjaro climb, when he was forced to Google and email individual companies to get basic information.
While SafariDesk is still in the early stages, he says a couple of hundred travel providers have already signed up for SafariDesk, and he hopes to launch it before the end of the year.
“Savannah is being bankrolled by a major Silicon Valley investment firm, so the Valley people will be watching pretty closely to see what projects succeed.
“Basically Savannah is a three-month programme where they provide initial seed funding and on-going mentorship to build the company, and in January there’s a ‘demo day’ to attract more local and international investment.”
In fact, Hunkin almost missed out on the opportunity entirely, as he was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania when they called and only picked up their messages in the last couple of hours before they had to make their decision.