Entrepreneur preaches web access for all

Marlin Jenkins, founder of Neture Inc.

Marlin Jenkins, founder of Neture Inc.

Port Morris startup helps low-income residents log on

A Port Morris startup is looking to ensure that low-income Bronx households aren’t left behind by the area’s technology boom.

Neture Inc. was founded in 2014 by Marlin Jenkins, a 42-year-old Peekskill, NY native, with a guiding hand from another local business, MetaBronx, which was designed to help area startups take off. Jenkins first approached that company’s co-founder, Miguel Sanchez, with his idea two years ago.

“He came to me and wanted to give internet away for free, because a third of the Bronx doesn’t have internet at home,” said Sanchez. “So I worked with him for a few years on his idea and now we are testing the third phase of his startup.”

MetaBronx provides assistance for local minorities and women looking to launch small technology startups.

“The gurus of the world are going to see the cheap real estate and are going to bring in all their employees. But if a kid from the community can learn this, his family can stay here because he or she will make enough money to keep them here,” said Sanchez.

Neture is one of many companies taking advantage of already existing internet infrastructure around the city, and developing models to create Wi-Fi access from it, said Jenkins, who comes to the idea of helping the disadvantaged naturally. He and his two brothers, one of whom has cerebral palsy, were raised by a single mother and endured periods of homelessness, leaving him with a drive to work hard to help the family.

Now a father of four, he studied business administration, with a concentration in information technology, at Fordham.

“I would go to the library and find out what were the best careers. My inspiration was that I needed to make as much money as possible out of college,” he recalled.

Early on, Jenkins worked for telecommunications and internet companies before embarking on other projects, including a video game entertainment facility.

But the 9/11 attacks changed the entrepreneur’s perspective on making a living.

“I will always be able to make the money. What is most important is to get the most people connected,” he said. “I cut my profit to give more back.”

Neture’s revenue model allows advertisers to access an underserved market, a high click-through rate, and ads.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide free internet,” he said, adding that the company is looking into different business models, such as one where a host or partner invests in the equipment and gets a share of the revenue. The company is also looking to provide its customers options in price and internet speed, ultimately making Wi-Fi faster and cheaper.

The New York City Economic Development Corp. has been cheerleading for Port Morris’ role in the city’s tech business startup plans since Mayor de Blasio took office.

“The de Blasio administration is working hard to support New Yorkers who want to launch a startup and create good jobs in all five boroughs,” said the EDC’s president Maria Torres-Springer in an email to The Herald, adding that the city is “deeply committed to making sure these jobs are accessible to people in areas like the South Bronx.” EDC’s LinkNYC initiative also attempts to broaden easier access to Wi-Fi.

One of Neture’s initiatives is well underway in a Melrose housing complex.

“The purpose is to help them become more computer savvy, but to work with them where they are,” said Ana Melendez, community development and programs manager at Nos Quedamos, the Melrose Avenue non-profit that works with tenants at El Jardin de Seline on East 158th Street. Melendez recalled the project’s early days three years ago, before Neture was officially incorporated, when Jenkins planned to install Wi-Fi and free computers in 20 of the building’s 84 apartments.

The computers are equipped with practical tools and programs such as Microsoft Word, and links to social services tools such as Access NYC. Those same computers remain in the original 20 apartments they were placed in, as amenities for new families that move in.

El Jardin de Seline resident Shauntee Byron enrolled in the pilot program last year. As the mother of two kids,16 and 7, who works full time while studying for a second masters degree online, she said the program provides big benefits.

“It’s a good concept that they have come up with and it even helps people who are not computer savvy. They even have free sites where you can do typing tests and other classes,” said Byron.

Though connectivity problems occasionally mar internet access, Byron said the computer is especially handy for homework. Being limited to 30 minutes of computer use at public libraries make that an unattractive option, she said.

“In this day and age, technology makes things so much easier,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t even have to leave your house.”