By: Lloyed Lobo
Traditional computer and mobile devices are great for exploring imagery like diagrams, maps, tables and graphs if you can see them, but people with limited sight cannot use these products. As a result, the visually impaired community faces serious levels of under employment, reduced mobility and technology exclusion.
Enter Invici Technologies, a startup that’s developing accessible computer interfaces to help the blind and visually impaired easily explore, edit and share digital media and spatial information. Invici transforms images that are normally displayed as pixels of light on a screen into a unique touch friendly format, saving users considerable time, money and frustration.
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Founder and CEO, Doug Hagedorn says they are currently focused on creating technologies to help visually impaired students and their teachers exchange educational content in the classroom. We recently connected with Doug to learn more about how his startup is changing the way visually impaired work, live and play each day.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Was there an “ah-ha” moment?
From previous academic research in Non-Visual Cartography, which is the science of designing maps for those without sight. After validating the market and testing the first proof of concept, it just made sense to start a company to deliver these products.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Getting to a point where the supply of time, energy and funding that we can devote to the company each day meets the demands of a growing new business. No matter how small you start, momentum builds very quickly and you’ve got to keep up. There are so many things to do when you’re starting up and not nearly enough resources to tackle everything at once, so learning to prioritize tasks and keep focus is critical.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, TECTERRA Inc., Plug and Play Tech Centre, AcceleratorYYC and TRTech Inc. have provided tremendous support for our commercialization, research and development efforts.
What’s new with your startup that we can share?
2013 has started off like a rocket! In early January we toured our latest interface prototype around Toronto and southern Ontario for a week of demonstrations with potential customers, suppliers and distributors. The positive feedback we received has pushed us to work even harder on our next version.
Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?
Raising capital when you start out. If your project resonates with people and is meaningful to them, offers of support will emerge. To raise capital, on the other hand, you have to demonstrate that you already have what it takes to get to market and demonstrate a certain amount of traction. Investors will happily fuel the fire once it’s started, but you’ve got to spark your own kindling first. Getting serious customers is the best and fastest way to attract the attention you need from investors and talent alike.
What has contributed to your success to this point?
There are a few simple strategies that have helped us immensely. They all boil down to one thing – you get what you put in.
-Get something done every day, even if it’s a little thing.
-Set aggressive deadlines that are hard but not impossible to meet. Deadlines force you to act and not wait for the ‘perfect’ moment. You’ll face a few more late nights in the end, but there will be more to show for it.
-Know when to say no. If there’s a job to do and your aggressive deadline is looming, trying to squeeze in something else will only compromise your ability to do both things well.
-Participate in as many community events as you rationally can. Some may reward you directly while others will help you network with key collaborators, teach you valuable lessons, or open new doors for growth opportunities.
-Don’t forget about taking a break regularly, you’ll be much more productive for it.
What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?
Making new things that help people is in our blood and to us that’s the essence of entrepreneurship. Creative problem solving is a great motivator, and simultaneously building a new technology as well as a company is a very satisfying outlet for that drive. So leaving the day job behind was almost unavoidable. The opportunities you work so hard to create will leave you behind if you’re busy working for someone else. We’re both pretty fortunate to take this risk at a time in our lives when there’s not a lot to lose.
What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community?
There is a growing wave of energy and collaboration. One of the best things we’ve got right now is a very tight knit population. Familiar faces pop up regularly so it’s easy to get to know people even when you’re first starting out.
I think it’s disappointing how often the time a startup spends in Calgary is seen as just the first step in a journey to get to ‘The Valley’ or other tech hubs. We’ve got everything we need to be competitive in this city, but we can’t keep viewing our startup environment as a minor league where success is defined as making it big somewhere else.
Above all, our community’s biggest strength is the willingness everyone has to just get things done. The people in this city are always ready to roll up their sleeves and produce great things on day one. No one is content to wait around for progress or offload work on someone else. If the right person for the job isn’t available at the time, someone will always put on another hat to fill in and make it work.
What do you and your startup need?
We’re looking for guidance from someone with experience developing and manufacturing physical products as well as funding for materials and fabrication costs. The Calgary startup community tends to be very software oriented so it can be hard to find others who have already traveled down the development path we’re embarking on now.
Lloyed Lobo covers Calgary’s tech startup community. He is a Partner at Boast Capital and the VP of Community Evangelism at Startup Calgary.
This interview was originally published by Startup Calgary, a non-profit organization focused on cultivating the tech startup community in Calgary. For more information, visit startupcalgary.ca.
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