Building the Assistive Tech ecosystem, one coffee at a time

Dr Rhys Williams
Jan. 5, 2021

As anyone who has ever set up an investment Fund knows, launching hides months of hard work in the background, requiring a village of people with varied skillsets and backgrounds to bring it to life. As a specialist fund in assistive technology, we have a core team of experts who know all things assistive technology. However, we are also specialists in impact investment and fund management- skills that haven’t overlapped much with AT. So, as we’ve built our Fund, we’ve also been rapidly upskilling and sharing our knowledge of AT with colleagues who are new to the sector.

We also need to attract skills and expertise from people who might not know much about AT but who can positively impact the sector through as a partner. Therefore, this blog post is for people who have just started to hear about assistive technology and want to explore the $100 billion + market opportunity and potential to impact 1 billion people, but who might not know what to do next. You may be a commercial investor in non-AT on the African continent, or you may be specialists in financing, logistics, production and manufacturing. To all of you newcomers, consider this blog post a warm welcome to the sector, where we will share what our newcomers learnt, how we supported them, and how we will support you, including our invitation to meet with us to explore your first steps in the sector (click here to book).

What AT newcomers learn and need:

We asked our newcomers to assistive technology to reflect on their experience over the last few months as assistive technology novices. We especially asked them to focus on what moments and learning opportunities helped them most, so we can replicate those opportunities on an ecosystem level.

A massive sector, with more growth to unlock

1 Billion people, $137 Billion market value, with 90% of people still unreached

One of the most striking reflections when talking with our ‘AT newcomers’ was that they just hadn’t realised how large the assistive technology sector is, and the potential to scale. As the WHO highlights, there are currently 1 billion people in the world with some form of disability, a figure set to double by 2050. Moreover, many in our team were surprised to learn that eyeglasses are included in the priority assistive products list, opening up a $130 billion market opportunity. Even more, ‘conventional’ assistive technologies are still large opportunities; hearing aids and prosthetics are a $6 billion and $1.3 billion market respectively. However, the assistive technology market still has significant potential to grow because, at the moment, only 10% of the people around the world have the assistive technologies they need.

Aside from the size of the opportunity, the market dynamics within assistive technology were also surprising for our newcomers. Historically, different product types have been controlled by a handful of large international companies that have kept assistive technology prices high.

In other sectors, we see CleanTech, FinTech and EdTech disrupting the status quo. In assistive technology, we see clear opportunities for tech to enable similar disruption to unlock untapped market opportunities- in partnership with our larger programme, AT2030, which addresses the sector as a whole. Regardless of AT's potential, our AT newcomers also pointed out that before getting involved with the sector, they didn’t know about the scale of the opportunity and why AT is ripe for disruption.

Therefore, our key insight is that to you newcomers reading this blog, the market for AT is much larger and more valuable than you may have originally thought. For all of us already involved in AT, we need to celebrate the sector's current state and promote the growth opportunity.

Bringing us all up to speed

As we explored the emerging surprises for our newcomers, we also dug into how we worked together to share information and onboard people into the world of assistive technology. We uncovered the key insight that we all learnt in different ways and needed to provide this when sharing knowledge. What worked for our team was:

  • Sharing an internally curated list of key whitepapers, blogs and other resources to read independently
  • Informal presentations which introduced the market dynamics and user journey of how people get products
  • Working alongside domain-specific AT experts (e.g. vision, hearing, mobility) to see what type of questions they asked and what their concerns were

What this means for you newcomers to AT

From our insights, we’ve learnt three things:

  • Awareness of assistive technology is low outside of the AT space, even though the sector is large and valuable, ripe for disruption.
  • To support AT newcomers, we need to create and curate easy to understand content which introduces the sector
  • However, we also need to keep our door open, supporting AT newcomers as they personally navigate the sector.

As a Fund committed to building our ecosystem, we will apply the same principles from getting our team members up to speed to new AT ecosystem members. As we communicate with new audiences, we will share key introductory information. Blog posts such as ‘Assistive technology at a glance’ are a great example of introductions to the sector. For more advanced or academic topics, the AT2030 publications library is an excellent resource- see our product narratives on eyeglasses, prosthetics, hearing aids and digital AT. Over the coming months, we will also create a public-facing curated list of key resources for different audiences.

Getting to grips with a new sector can be intimidating. That’s why we will support the ecosystem's growth through opportunities to meet us through virtual coffee meetings. Our open-door approach means that if you are unfamiliar with assistive technology but are motivated to support the assistive technology ecosystem, we can help you get up to speed. We will work with you to identify what sort of role you could play with our Fund, our portfolio of companies, or other partners we know in the ecosystem.