From Apps to Africa: Wes Students Use Technology to do Big Things

kwakuAnyone who goes here knows that Wesleyan has no shortage of exceptional students. Just recently, Wesleying caught up with one who is making serious waves in the tech community. Read on to learn about HushCal and JóòMah, two revolutionary ideas with potential to change the world.

I met up with Kwaku Akoi ’14 at 9am on Wednesday morning in Pi Cafe, an hour before his Classic French Comics class.  Originally from Ghana, Akoi actually spent most of his high school career at the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, which is only 45 minutes north of Middletown. Here at Wesleyan, he is majoring in Economics and French, so when people learn about his true passion, it always comes as a bit of a surprise.

“I love Software Design. And I do a little bit of Programming.”

Akoi is tall, thin, and well spoken. As we talked, a few people approached him, gave him nods or high fives, and then continued on towards their coffee and bagels.

RevioSync

 Last February, Akoi started a company, called RevioSync, which consists of Wesleyan      students and a business partner at Microsoft Corporation. When I asked Akoi who this  partner or what he did, he told me that he couldn’t disclose that information.

“Alright,” I said. “Can I just call him Morpheus?”

Kwaku laughed and told me that I could.  Although I didn’t learn his name, I learned that Morpheus represents Microsoft when dealing with it’s many clients, and is also helping RevioSync find its way.

Kwaku described RevioSync  as a “family of  fantastic people who believe technology should be cool, simple and yet highly resourceful.” The company consists of the following Wesleyan students:

Kwaku Akoi ’14: CEO of the Company.

Aileen Yeung ’14: Chief Operating Officer (COO)

Aaron Rosen ’15: Lead Applications Developer, or, as Kwaku calls him, the “God of Programming”, but in some (bigger) companies, his position would be called “Senior Vice President for Software Development”.

Gerard Liu ’15: Lead Software Designer (Specialist)

Marco Martinez ’15: Chief Marketing Officer.

Max Dietz ’16: Lead Web Applications Developer (God of Programming no. 2)

Denise Francisco ’16: Marketing Officer, also a budding programmer.

The company is working on their first app, an app for Android called HushCal, which is still in development but able to be downloaded from their website.

“It works for Android because Apple is not very nice,” Akoi tells me.

“Why is that?”

“Apple restricts access to the vibrate and silence settings on the iPhone using code. The only way you can get to those settings is to physically use your hand, but our app uses code to access those settings and then, using the events in your calendar, it puts those settings into action.”

So essentially, HushCal is an app, developed by Wesleyan students, which will tell your phone to silence itself when you are in class, or at a meeting, or in any event that is synced up in your calendar. Once the event ends, the phone will go back to its original presets. So if you had your phone set on jet engine-loud to your favorite mmmBop ringtone before class, it will automatically go back to that as soon as your class is over.

I asked Kwaku if he had thought of a slogan for the app.

“Don’t be that guy,” he told me.

technologyDon’t be fooled into thinking that starting a company and making apps is enough to keep Akoi busy. He is also in the process of developing a web-based application with Morpheus and two other Wesleyan students, Brian Macharia ’14 (Programmer), and Geoffrey Yatich ’16 (Design and Business Strategy).

The name of the application is JóòMah (Joo-mah), based on the word for “Work” in Kwaku’s native language Ashanti Twi, and its goal is to serve as a job-finding platform for sub-Saharan Africa.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Akoi explains, “We’re bringing order to the complexity of finding jobs online.”

Traditionally, people have searched for jobs using the classified section in newspapers. But the age of the Internet brought with it a new platform for job seeking, a platform that brings its own difficulties.

“The problem with big data,” Kwaku says, “is that when you have, maybe, 10,000 jobs on a database and people are left to figure out how to navigate the job search themselves, with no guidance, it can be very overwhelming and inefficient. JóòMah will approach this problem from the other way around. We are not just leaving it to people to find jobs; we are making the jobs find them.  When an employer uploads a job posting, JóòMah will use a special algorithm to find users who fit the criteria for the job listed and then send them a notification.”

This is where web-based platforms such as LinkedIn fall short, especially in Ghana and other sub-Saharan African countries.

“The people who use LinkedIn in Ghana are typically people with a Master’s degree looking for work in multinational companies. When we release JóòMah in Ghana, it will be filled with Ghanaian users and Ghanaian employers, and we will connect them to each other.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, the unemployment rates range from around 13.5% in Ghana to as high as 40% in Kenya. There are two main factors that contribute to unemployment, and they are 1) a lack of jobs and 2) a lack of accessibility to the jobs that are available. JóòMah addresses problem number two.

“The most exciting thing about JóòMah for me is that we are going to be able to leverage the SMS platform such that people are able to receive job postings via text message. We are pushing for this because not everybody in sub-Saharan Africa uses a smart phone. This allows someone who is miles away from any urban area to still be able to receive that critical piece of news: A company is hiring someone in your field, go online and apply.”

That’s the beauty of JóòMah. Armed with its SMS job notification system and employers-find-employees methodology, Kwaku and his partners hope to make a serious impact on unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa.

I ask Kwaku how he plans to get people to use the application.

“That’s the hardest challenge,” he says. “We are putting teams together in country. Already we have put one together in Ghana, which has been very easy because I am Ghanaian and I know a lot of people, including some Wes alums who are living there. My partners [Macharia and Yatich] are from Kenya, and [Macharia] also has some family ties to South Africa. So those are the countries where we will start.”

Through the promotional team approach, the web platform that finds job is also, to a lesser extent, creating jobs.

“The point of teams is to create a group of locals who can work with JóòMah inside that country. They will work to spread the word, talk to employers, and help get the application off the ground. Morpheus is also helping by talking to employers about using JóòMah. He already has a couple of firms that he has talked to who are very excited for it.”

JóòMah will be launching in Ghana by this December, and within the next year, the goal is to have it everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. From there, who knows where it will go.

At this rate, JóòMah could be a word-wide job-finding platform by the time the class of 2017 is ready to graduate, and after using it to secure an interview, the job-seekers of  tomorrow will use HushCal to silence their phones.

hackathon 2Kwaku encourages people to get involved with the Wesleyan Tech Boot camp and Hackathon, an event  that IMS, together with the Patricelli Center, created to teach people about technology and host an app-making competition. Many of the students behind RevioSync and JóòMah will be involved, and so attending the festivities will be a great time for students who are interested in the projects to ask questions.

 A note from Kwaku: Big shout out to my teams, and thank you to Makaela Kingsley ’98, the best mentor anyone could have.

5 thoughts on “From Apps to Africa: Wes Students Use Technology to do Big Things

  1. troy7352@mail.ru

    Akoi Originally from Ghana, really spent most of his high school career at the City of Westminster faculty in Simsbury, Connecticut, that is just forty five minutes north of Middletown. As we have a tendency to talked, a number of folks approached him, gave him nods or high fives, then continuing on towards their low and bagels. once I asked Akoi World Health Organization this partner or what he did, he told American state that he couldn’t disclose that data.

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