June 16, 2015

Building a Startup for the Greater Good

It’s not easy to just get a startup going - especially one that’s geared towards a niche audience. And helping people in need comes with its own set of challenges and rewards as well. We spoke with three startups that have tackled the challenge of building technology and running startups that help those in need. First, let’s meet the companies:  

VoiceItt has developed a technology that will impact approximately 1.5% of the western world. While 1.5% may look small, VoiceItt’s impact is huge. Their technology helps those who suffer from a speech disability due to diseases like ALS, Cerebral Palsy and Autism. VoiceItt's language translation technology is changing lives by allowing these people to communicate vocally, as well as creating an easy dialogue for listeners.

Sesame Enable has created a smartphone for people with severe disabilities that aren’t able to use their hands. Of the 5.6 million paralyzed people in the USA, 150,000 of them are children who are not able to use their hands. Sesame Enable’s life-changing technology allows these people to use a smartphone with their head movements.

Books that Grow is an educational technology implemented in over 1,000 schools across the USA that changes and adapts a book’s text to each user’s reading level. It allows a classroom full of students to simultaneously read the same book, with each book altered to the individual user’s reading level.

We spoke with the CEOs of these three companies to learn more about the obstacles and opportunities faced when getting started: 

Proving Your Worth

When it comes to running a startup focused on a niche market, one challenge is speaking with investors and proving your worth. These social impact companies are working extremely focused markets, and proving their product has a viable customer base can be challenging.

Danny Weissberg, CEO of VoiceItt says, “We’re trying to solve a powerful answer for a specific population of people. Because it’s not the mass market, people typically avoid providing solutions to this niche population. But, we feel that harnessing technology to the benefit of this population is the best thing we can do for them. We have an amazing solution that gives people their voice back. Of course, investors will still ask how big our target market is and proving our business plan will remain a challenge. Although VoiceItt is focused on helping the speech disabled, which is a very niche market, the technology can be leveraged as a mass market solution by helping people improve their accent or enhancing speech recognition engines." 

Social Impact Startups is a Growing Category

While these social impact startups do face some challenges, this niche market is also one of their most desirable attributes according to Oded Ben Dov, co-founder & CEO of Sesame Enable

“As a social impact startup, you need to work extra hard to prove commercial viability, but on the other hand we’re seeing a surge in social impact being relevant around the world. It’s like the ‘green energy’ trend that was happening ten years ago, but in contrast you're not saving the world in 50 years. You're helping someone right here, right now, and changing their life in many cases. Of course, I encourage my friends with high-tech jobs to pursue a similar path of making people's lives better rather then creating games or utilities you can live without. What's better than pushing through the harder times by the good we're bringing?"  

It’s All For the Greater Good

The most important part of these social impact startups is that they’re helping people. The idea that their company would change lives and the world, is what lead to these companies’ inception. This is what these three CEOs all agree on, that helping others is what drives not only them on a personal level, but their companies on a global level.

Daniel Fountenberry, CEO of Books that Grow said, “We have a mission that people want to rally around – unlock learning for people that struggle, from children to adults. Sometimes people have reading deficiencies, learn slowly, or English is their second language. Everyone knows someone like this and because what we do touches an area so fundamental, people can see the impact.”

All three of these companies were winners in Verizon’s 2014 Powerful Answers Award program, which asks technology developers to submit ideas – and answers – to some of the world’s biggest challenges.

For all you innovators out there, head over to powerfulanswersaward.com to see if your business could win $1 million dollars from Verizon. The 2015 program is looking for innovative solutions in the fields of Emergency Response, Transportation and the Internet of Things. Submit your idea by June 18, 2015.  

Tags: Matt Schwartz , Startup , VoiceITT , Sesame Enable , Books That Grow , CEO , Powerful Answers