#StartupsEverywhere: New Orleans, La.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Brandon Davenport, Business Development Manager, Servato

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

Bringing Broadband Access to Rural Communities

Based in the Big Easy, Servato Corp. is focused on the difficult task of expanding Internet access across the country — particularly for rural communities, which make up the vast majority of the company’s customers. Brandon Davenport, business development manager for Servato, said the firm’s active battery management systems are critical for helping to increase broadband access and reliability in often overlooked corners of the country. Servato’s more advanced batteries are used by telecommunications companies as they work to build out their existing broadband networks. Brandon and the rest of the Servato team keep a close eye on rural broadband policy developments and work to share the latest developments across the country through a monthly newsletter. Increasing application-based funding for rural broadband access is one of the issues at the top of Brandon’s policy wishlist.

Brandon Davenport Servato.jpg

Can you tell us more about what Servato does?

Servato is a direct current power management-as-a-service company. What that means is we have found a way to make batteries more intelligent, especially lead acid batteries. For context, these are the legacy batteries that have allowed for backup power in telecommunication and utility networks for several decades.

We drive the technology behind these batteries. This is important because these batteries can be forgotten assets as telecommunication companies continue to focus on laying fiber to better serve their customer base with faster service and larger bandwidth. Providers now can put the trust of their backup power assets into the hands of us and our partners. Our technology connects to the batteries allowing us to send health metrics into the cloud for actionable insights.

Can you speak to the relationship between the ecosystem of New Orleans and Servato’s growth?

You can probably see first-hand how this city lends itself to creativity unlike any other place in the country, putting us at an advantage when it comes to problem-solving. We do have significant funding from investors in New Orleans and greater Louisiana, so the support could not be more real from those around us.

And, from a geographical standpoint, look where we are! We have easy access to the rest of the southeast as well as Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. It sound poetic. We could not be in a better place to serve our customers.

How have you interacted with federal, state, and local policymakers around rural broadband issues?

Every month I publish a monthly newsletter on some of the latest rural broadband efforts in varying states across the country. For example, Tennessee committed to contribute $14 million to rural broadband initiatives, as long as qualifying providers add $21 million. These relationships show that state lawmakers recognize  it is important for rural areas to have the same broadband access as urban communities.I am from suburban Tennessee, and my parents are from a rural area about an hour away, so I find myself often comparing the differences between my upbringing and theirs. The most stark difference? Technology access.

I doubt we will find ourselves lobbying on behalf of our customers, but if we can continue to push this dialogue through conversations that we have via the newsletter, then we are contributing. I do believe that new opportunities are starting to develop that will allow us to compete for federal dollars, such as the USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program.

What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to rural broadband in the last year?

It’s hard to pick one thing because there are so many obvious national organizations such as the USDA, NTIA, FCC, and additional application-based programs that have stemmed from the Rural Utilities Service.

The most obvious choice though is probably the CAF-II winners announcement from the FCC. The $1.98 billion dollar plan will set a framework for the next decade on how rural broadband providers create new services and improve upon already existing ones.

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for Servato?

I would like to see more effort put towards application-based funding for rural broadband. The DLT that I mentioned earlier is a great example, as well as the Rural Utilities Service commitment to telehealth funding, agriculture, and school development and resources.

From a provider perspective, I have heard the same sentiment that application processes for funding can be overly complex sometimes. I would like to see a step in the direction of creating opportunities that do not end up excluding some who do not have the available legal counsel to help.

What’s your role in your ecosystem?

About 90% of our clientele are in rural areas of the country. There are two reasons for this.

First, we want to serve this unrepresented population of the country because technology vendors, like some large internet providers, often overlook this market because it is not as lucrative. That may be the case, but our technology conveniently creates more value the more widespread the network is. So let’s take rural provider X in Iowa as an example. They might service 10,000 residential clients and 100 local businesses across 1,000 square miles. They simply do not have the technician bandwidth to maintain all of the batteries in their network. That is where and why we come into the picture.

Second, we like to market this investment in rural network reliability they make for their customers. We collaborate on joint press releases to highlight these efforts creating good publicity for both organizations.

What is the biggest challenge still ahead for rural broadband access?

5G. Rural broadband chases 4G speeds which makes me happy; however, urban areas are already starting to roll out 5G customers such as in Houston or Dallas. These technologies will enable autonomous cars and other intelligent infrastructure to be more present in cities.

Eventually, rural demand will surface as well. How do we go ahead and get ahead of that adoption curve so providers are ready to deploy when the market asks for it. As a power solution provider, we can continue to focus on providing smart solutions that inspire the end-users of them.

Is there anything else you would like to share about Servato and the ecosystems you serve?

I’ll close by saying that what we do at Servato is in the DNA of our people. I work closely with our CEO, Chris Mangum, and he hails from rural Arkansas. We both know what it is like to grow up and see how different it is to live in a town of 10,000 people versus a city of millions. That helps fuel our work ethic everyday so our families and other families can thrive.