RBC Impact Entrepreneurs 2014: Komodo OpenLab

With a week to go until the Social Finance Forum, we at SocialFinance.ca are excited to share with you the first-hand stories of our 2014 RBC Impact Entrepreneurs. This impressive group of social enterprise leaders has been selected by the MaRS Centre for the Impact Investing and generously supported by RBC to attend Canada’s premiere impact investing event based on their innovative and ground-breaking work. The aim, as always, is to shine a light on leaders in the field by hearing their (awesome) stories. Dig in! And see you at the Forum!

At Komodo OpenLab we make mainstream technology inclusive by developing hardware and software to make smart devices accessible for people with disabilities, specifically those with motor impairments.

Both Jorge Silva, my co-founder, and myself worked in the world of assistive technology after studying Biomedical Engineering in Mexico City; Jorge as a researcher and myself as a clinician working directly with people with disabilities. During this time, we grew frustrated over the state of technology for people with disabilities. We saw how they had to depend on expensive and cumbersome devices that segregated them from their able-bodied peers, as these devices were usually outdated or incompatible with mainstream technologies.

With the irruption of smartphones and tablets, Jorge and I saw an opportunity to provide access to the multi-functional and convenient capabilities of these devices to users with limited mobility. For the able-bodied, it is typically very convenient to access eBooks, send texts, make calls, or use one’s smart device to control other devices like the TV or stereo. For users with limited mobility, the options  available to accessing these same conveniences are costly or non-existent. Just to give some context, a page-turner, a device that turns physical pages automatically, can go for more than $3,000. Or a speech-generating device, like the one Stephen Hawking uses, can cost upwards of $10,000.

Our hardware, the Tecla Shield, is a universal interface device that accepts a wide variety of input tools (switches activated by light touch, blinking or blowing, or wheelchair drive controls) to access and control any iOS, Android device or computer. With the Tecla Shield, all a user needs is a smartphone or tablet, along with a switch or their wheelchair control, to access the majority of functions their smart device has to offer. This includes the many apps that are available, as well as all the communication capabilities that were previously inaccessible.

We currently have over 1,000 users in 22 countries and the feedback we receive from users couldn’t be better. From Todd in Seattle, who can now run his software business from his iPhone; Marshall in Toronto, a teenager who now can text his mom and siblings; Maggie, an older lady who can now independently email and communicate with her relatives; to Owen, who started using his smart device with a single button using his head and then got inspired to study computer science to develop apps that can further benefit users like himself.

Komodo OpenLab was the first company in the world to open up the iOS and Android platforms to users with alternative access needs. We’ve collaborated with leading mobile platforms to now include these accessibility options as part of their built-in features, while still requiring our Tecla Shield hardware as the alternative input to touch-screens.

Our goals are not only to make our hardware even more available worldwide by establishing partnerships that could help reduce any barriers for adoption, but to build a version for developing countries. It would come at a lower cost and similar to an all-in-one device, it wouldn’t need certain assistive components that typically aren’t available in developing countries, like power wheelchairs and switches. These goals are encompassed in our overall target to reach 10,000 users by the end of 2016.

Komodo is looking forward to attending the Social Impact Forum for a variety of reasons, but at the forefront we aim to network with fellow social entrepreneurs, as well as meet organizations and investors who may be interested in helping us not only increase our impact worldwide, but change the daily lives of each and every one of our users.

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