Paul Meyer, 33
Brings database and Web-like services to remote areas through touch-tone phones
There are about 2.5 billion phones worldwide but only 600 million computers. Knowing this, Paul Meyer, a Yale Law School grad and former speechwriter for President Clinton, founded Washington, DC-based Voxiva in 2001 to help isolated communities access computing power through touch-tone telephones. Because phone use requires neither literacy not much electricity, the system benefits regions that are short on both. Launched with funding from the Markle Foundation and the World Bank, Voxiva enables users to input and retrieve information by tapping phone buttons, listening to messages, and speaking responses. In Peru, health-care workers can call a Voxiva server to submit reports about patient symptoms or disease outbreaks. Peru’s Ministry of Health has already collected 50,000 reports on threatening diseases. Meyer’s ingenuity has benefited other countries as well. Working with the international Rescue Committee in 1999, he built a wireless network that became Kosovo’s first Internet service provider. He also set up a Lotus Notes system to help reunite refugees in Guinea. Impressed with Voxiva’s performance, the U.S. government hired the company to track the effect of smallpox vaccinations on U.S. soldiers.