A Small Tablet Company Brings High-Tech Hopes to Haiti

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Peter Granitz (NPR) reports on what he considers to be a boost to Haiti’s economy and entry into the high-tech race: the appearance of Surtab, a Port-au-Prince-based company that makes Android tablets. Now, explains the company’s Belgian-born and Kenyan-raised CEO, Maarten Boute, the Caribbean diaspora can buy tablets “Made in Haiti.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article and radio report below:

Haiti has struggled to rebuild since a devastating earthquake more than four years ago. Most of the population lives on less than $2 a day and there are few open jobs for the millions of unemployed. But there’s a bright spot: The Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is getting into the high-tech race thanks to Surtab, a Port-au-Prince-based company that makes Android tablets.

“Last month we [produced] 2,500. This month, as soon as we get components, we’re now going to have a run rate of about 3,000-3,500,” says Maarten Boute, Surtab’s CEO. “So we’re gradually ramping up.” Before the tablet business, the Belgian-born and Kenyan-raised Boute headed up Haiti’s largest mobile company, Digicel. He says the combination of a booming population and the country’s decent 3G network make Haiti a prime market.

“It wouldn’t make sense in the smaller Caribbean islands, where your local market is not that big and where your diaspora is not that big either. One of our key next growth factors is that we’ll start exporting from Haiti, fulfilled … directly in Haiti … to the diaspora,” Boute says. “A lot of demand has come from there because people want to show that ‘Hey, Haiti can do this.’ ”

Boute says Surtab, founded last year, won’t make a dent in the global tablet industry. He’s honing in on the developing world. One of his first orders was for 600 tablets for a Kenyan law school. About 90 percent of Surtab’s sales have been in Haiti thus far.

Smartphones do exist in Haiti, but you’re much more likely to see a stripped down mobile unit on the street. Tablets exist here, too, though they’re prohibitively expensive.

Surtab offers three models: a low-level Wi-Fi version that retails for about $85. A step above is a 3G model that Boute likens to an iPad Mini in both look and function. It retails for about $150, and it’s been the best seller. At the top of the chain is a 3G model with an HD screen, which sells for about $285.

The initial investment in the company was bolstered by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. government. And the Haitian government gave the company a five-year reprieve from duty taxes.

For full article and radio program, see http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/04/15/302983746/a-small-tablet-company-brings-high-tech-hopes-to-haiti

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