Based: Mountain View, CA

Founded: 2006

Why it’s Fierce: Meraki (may-rah-kee) is a Greek word that means doing something with soul, creativity or love. So it’s only fitting that the company’s mission is to bring affordable Internet access to the masses. Yes, we’ve heard that noble goal before, but Meraki is actually doing it through a new approach to wireless networking—namely dirt-cheap off-the-shelf WiFi equipment and grassroots volunteerism. The ad-hoc networks are formed using shared broadband connections and Meraki’s WiFi repeaters that users place in their windows, balconies or roofs. Meraki, funded by Sequoia Capital, has also introduced a $99 solar-powered repeater that can create a mesh network with other similar routers. Anyone can become their own wireless ISP.

Born out of an MIT Ph.D research project that provided wireless access to graduate students, Meraki got its start at a low-income housing community in the U.S. News about the company’s products spread by word of mouth into more than 25 countries around the world. To date, there are approximately 1,000 Meraki mesh networks worldwide with about 40,000 users. Meraki itself is bringing a free WiFi mesh network to parts of San Francisco, where the company is giving away hardware and a free DSL line if users can place a repeater on their roofs. Meraki boasts more than 4,000 users in San Francisco.

What to look for: Watch for Google to leverage its investment in Meraki to provide better in-building coverage. Poor in-building coverage has been a major criticism of muni-WiFi networks. The question is, can Meraki be leveraged in San Francisco, where Google and Earthlink will be building a free WiFi network?