By Pam Hersh
Has anyone noticed the change in the air quality of Princeton?
You can’t smell it, see it or hear it. But you can sense the definite improvement – particularly if you turn on your computer, while sitting on a bench in the Parklet, the temporary outdoor seating area created in the parking spaces in front of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street.
Last summer, while hanging out in the Parklet, I was one of several loungers trying unsuccessfully to get WiFi. This year however, I am able to enjoy my coffee, while emailing or downloading a new e-book without moving from where I am parked in the Parklet. The miraculous improvement in high-tech air quality is due to a one-year-old tech startup called Andrena, one of the corporate sponsors of the Parklet.
Andrena is a Princeton and New York City-based Internet provider that fundamentally changes how the Internet reaches your home or business. It utilizes wireless technology, instead of relying on utility poles and typical cabled infrastructure, Andrena’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Neil Chatterjee said.
An experienced and locally renowned technology entrepreneur, Neil went on “an extended leave of absence” in 2014 from Princeton University, where he was originally a member of the Class of 2015 and majoring in electrical engineering.
“My parents, who are both computer scientists, weren’t real happy with my ‘leave’ situation at Princeton, but I was determined to take the vision for Andrena and convert it to success,” he said.
His vision was based on simplicity, quality and cost savings.
“Andrena beams Internet around the rooftops of town. Eventually, that wireless signal reaches your doorstep. Leveraging existing fiber networks, Andrena deploys a series of antennae to blanket a geography with internet access,” he said. “Using previously deployed infrastructure or Andrena’s proprietary in-home router, we allow individuals and businesses to tap into our network bringing Internet to our customers wirelessly.”
The idea of using wireless to deliver residential internet saw initial success in the rural parts of the country, where pulling cable was too expensive.
“Now, Andrena is among the first companies to take that hardened technology to the urban landscape. You get high-speed, reliable service at a fraction of the cost of what you normally would pay,” said Chatterjee, who reported that Andrena is providing free outdoor public WiFI service not only to the Parklet, but also to Palmer Square and the Arts Council of Princeton.
“If you’re in a building powered by Andrena, you don’t need any hardware in your home. The whole building is covered in personalized wireless networks for each tenant,” Chatterjee explained. “Our business plan goal was to make signup a seamless process and when you don’t need a router in your unit, it doesn’t get much simpler than that. In buildings that don’t yet have Andrena, you can still get internet service through a unique router designed specifically for this purpose. In the shape of an Amazon Alexa, this router sits on your shelf while grabbing a wireless signal from outside.”
Andrena’s co-founder and Chief Operating Officer James Smits is a Princeton native, who graduated from Princeton University in 2012 with a degree in economics and a certificate in environmental studies. Smits’ contribution to Andrena is his role as a venture capitalist, business developer and business operations manager.
A founding partner at Tigerlabs, a Princeton-based venture capital fund, co-working space and entrepreneurship center, Smits met Chatterjee when Smits was in his last year of Princeton and already involved in investing in tech startups. He was immediately impressed with Chatterjee’s tech genius (Chatterjee kept winning the Hackathons at Tiger Labs) and he saw the potential in the concept of providing “low-cost, high quality, seamless connectivity Internet service,” Smits said.
Andrena, operating in Princeton for about one year, has quickly built its subscriber base among businesses and individual customers. It also has just launched service in Hoboken.
“We always are looking for appropriate urban settings for providing our service, but are focused on making Princeton’s service a model of success,” Smits said.
He explained that the company is named after Andrena, the mining bee, which is nearly worldwide in distribution and known as important pollinators of economic plants. And in Princeton, Andrena the Internet provider is generating a really good buzz.