Waikato student helps East African tourism

Based in the "Silicon Savannah" of Nairobi a University of Waikato computer science student is trying to unify East African tourism.

Doctoral student Paul Hunkin's skills have sent him jet setting around the world as a freelance programmer.

He has been offered US$25,000 from a venture capital firm called Savannah Fund, to develop a unified searching and booking platform for the East African tourist industry.

The platform he is designing is called SafariDesk, and aims to unify the $3.5 billion a year travel industry under one online platform to make East African travel as easy to search and book as possible.

Paul came up with the idea when trying to find a Mt Kilimanjaro climb. With no centralised information hub he had to Google and email individual companies to get basic information.

While the project is still in the early stages, a couple of hundred travel providers have already signed up for SafariDesk, and Paul hopes to launch it before the end of the year.

"It's quite exciting, as this is the first program of its kind in Africa," says Paul.

"Savannah is being bankrolled by a major Silicon Valley investment firm, so the Valley people will be watching pretty closely.

"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."

He almost missed out on the opportunity, 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.

"Nairobi is becoming the tech hub of Africa, so it should be fun," says Paul. "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."

In the past few months Paul has been doing freelance coding work in countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Seychelles, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Myanmar, South Africa, and Rwanda, and is now living in Nairobi, Kenya.

Before finding himself on a working OE, Paul was studying at Waikato University where he developed software that is now being 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. The programme is now being used around the world.

- Hamilton News

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