By Daniel Trenton, AP
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Two tech companies have launched rival ventures to build Android tablets in Haiti, a country with little recent experience in electronics manufacturing.
Startups Surtab SA and Handxom SA began production last month and plan to sell the 7-inch touchscreen devices to phone stores nationwide and markets overseas.
Surtab says it has already sold hundreds of tablets to customers including Haiti's education and planning ministries and mobile phone giant Digicel, which sells the tablets in its stores.
Handxom plans to open a showroom next month in the Port-au-Prince area and project manager Jimmy Jacques said the company has already sold 300 units in the past two weeks.
The owners of both companies say their businesses show that Haiti is capable of manufacturing more than just clothing, while also paying people decent wages.
"We can do high quality products here — not just T-shirts, but something with a little more value, which can allow us to pay our workers better and create a different type of economy than what's been the case," said CEO Maarten Boute, a Belgian businessman who worked until 2012 as the CEO for Digicel's Haiti office.
Haiti once had an electronic assembly sector, but a U.N.-imposed embargo in the 1990s forced many of the companies to close.
Founded by a Danish couple, a prominent Haitian family and Boute, Surtab began with the help of a $200,000 grant from the Pan American Development Foundation. It now employs 50 people, 20 of whom assemble the units in an air-tight production room.
Surtab employees earn a base salary of $6.81 per work day with a bonus per unit that can push pay above $13, said Diderot Musset, Surtab's operations manager.
Haiti's minimum wage is $4.54 a day.
Handxsom's Jimmy Jacques declined to say how much the company pays its employees but said it hopes to hire as many as 400 people.
The most basic tablet sells for about $100 and comes with a Wi-Fi. Prices rise to $280 for a model with a high-definition screen and 3G phone connection. All come with 7-inch screens.
The baseline Surtab machine has a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor with 1 GB of RAM. The high-definition model carries a quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM.
Most Haitians cannot afford the devices. Three-quarters of the 10 million people live on less than $2 a day and half of the population earns less than $1 a day. But Surtab executives say they hope to reach the country's tiny middle class.