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Ian Lester

Founder and CEO, Beyond Wireless

Ian Lester founded Beyond Wireless in 2003 from his garage. Today, the machine-to-machine (M2M) company is operating in 54 countries on four continents. It counts among its clients: the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

Lester grew up in Johannesburg and went to Mondeor High School. After matriculating, he began working in the telecommunications industry. While working for one of South Africa’s leading telecommunications companies, he began to ponder the future of the sector.

“There’s a limit to the number of SIM cards each human subscriber might use, but people are outnumbered roughly 10 to 1 by machines, which, if enabled with a means of receiving and transmitting data, can also communicate,” Lester says. He found himself drawn to the M2M space and investigating the possibilities of the Internet of Things.

Despite having no technical background, entrepreneurial experience or start-up capital, in 2003 Lester decided to pursue his vision and left his job to found Beyond Wireless to develop an M2M remote asset monitoring solution. He hired people with technical expertise and offered them shares in the business. While Lester could see the potential of his business idea, he was ahead of the market. Few people understood the capabilities of the Beyond Wireless solution – there wasn’t anyone else in the local market offering remote asset monitoring and control services.

In 2006, however, Beyond Wireless landed the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) as a client and began monitoring the temperatures in all the SANBS fridges where the organisation’s life-saving blood stock is stored. The endorsement of the SANBS garnered Beyond Wireless credibility, and the company began to attract more clientele.

As the company has grown, Lester’s focus has narrowed from exploring all the applications of M2M technology to focusing on cold chain monitoring, particularly in terms of improving the vaccine cold chain. He has become passionate about developing vaccine cold chain solutions for third-world countries, where fixing immunisation challenges can impact and improve entire economies.

“Our work makes a difference to kids who would not otherwise have access to viable vaccines, which in turn impacts families, then communities and countries. Populations become healthier and the burden of disease is lessened,” Lester enthuses. “This has positive social and economic ramifications for whole nations, and it’s quite humbling to be a small part of that.”

Lester has worked to build partnerships with international health organisations like UNICEF and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), part of the Clinton Foundation. In 2012, Beyond Wireless obtained its PQS (performance, quality and safety) certification from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been key to its expansion.

With Beyond Wireless recently having signed its first deal with an OEM, meaning its remote monitoring technology is available within factory-made fridges, Lester’s vision for the future of the company is to pursue an “Intel inside” model. “We’re looking to continue partnering with OEMs to make it easier to get our technology to the people who most need it,” he says. “It’s good for business, but more importantly, it means getting effective vaccines into regions where that has not been possible previously.”