4 years ago, on the 3rd of September, the Global Disability Innovation Hub was born. Coming out as a legacy project of the London 2012 Paralympics, we have come far to advance our mission of making the world a fairer place for disabled people.
We are now active in 15 countries across the globe on an ambitions goal to reach 9 million people directly with life-changing Assistive Technology through our flagship project AT2030.
My name is Bernard Chiira, the Director of Innovate Now-Africa’s 1st assistive technology accelerator and inclusive innovation ecosystem. It’s the part of AT2030 project that tests what works in supporting innovation-driven startups to solve Africa’s assistive technology access barriers! A little bit over a year ago, we launched Innovate Now at the Nairobi Innovation week with our amazing partnership between the Global Disability Innovation Hub, Amref Health Africa, University of Nairobi and the Government of Kenya-the state Department for Social Protection.
We believe that African persons with disabilities, innovators and entrepreneurs can be at the centre of leading a revolution-making assistive technology accessible and affordable to everyone that needs it in Africa! Innovate Now is not just an accelerator program, it’s an ecosystem. One stakeholder at a time, we are building a village that will raise the next generation of assistive technology entrepreneurs and innovators.
Making the world accessible for all cannot happen without innovation. In a world where only 10% of 1 billion disabled people have access to assistive technology, innovation is imperative. More so, where it is needed most-in low and middle income countries. Nairobi Kenya has been over the last decade the pulse of Innovation for the African continent. With a boom of startups and innovation hubs disrupting industries and opening markets for the most underserved in sectors such as energy, financial services and agriculture! This backdrop has inspired us to lay the foundation of Assistive Technology Innovation through programs such as our active learning virtual accelerator program, disabled people live-lab network and demo days! These programs have quickly validated our thesis that startups in Africa can accelerate the provision and access to assistive technologies in Africa, and the need to invest further in creating the best enabling environment to help assistive technology startups validate and launch into market across Africa, starting in Kenya!
The following is a new narrative that inspires a resounding YES to the question: Can we achieve an accessible world for all?
Hope Tech Plus
Is there hope for blind people to move with total freedom and safety? YES! Brian Mwenda from Hope Tech Plus, an AT startup based in Nairobi is helping the world re-imagine movement and freedom for blind people through the Sixth Sense, a world’s first wearable technology-based navigation system for the blind. Hope Tech is currently raising a seed round to take this technology to clinical trials and mass production.
Can wheelchair users in Africa enjoy safe and powered mobility to help them navigate rough rural and slum terrains or the inaccessible urban transport systems at a fraction of the cost? YES! Lincoln Wamae is disrupting the electric mobility marketplace in Kenya and putting disabled people at the fore-front of that disruption! Using circular economy to recycle almost 80% of materials needed to build an electric wheelchair, Lincoln has built more than a dozen electric wheelchairs for Kenyans! With very limited resources, Linccell Technology has transformed mobility for wheelchair users in Kenya, accelerating their participation in economic and social life tremendously. Linccell Technology has received a 20K sterling pounds grant from Innovate Now to catalyse the company’s traction and growth, prioritising product user and safety standards, talent acquisition, product efficiency and design improvements, production operations and logistics. Linccell is currently seeking partners to help its many customers who can’t afford to buy an electric wheelchair at a one-off purchase. Lincoln’s story has taken the world by storm with his wheelchair demos and website receiving hits from across the world and TV broadcasting houses staring off with this BBC video that went viral: video
Is it possible that one day, across Africa eyeglasses and vision testing services will be accessible and affordable? YES! Vision Vijana a startup out of Mombasa, Kenya is combining the power of technology (portable vision testing and eye glasses assembly kit) and a youth network to provide on the spot vision testing and eyeglasses fitting in Kenya. The startup has tested and fitted eyeglasses for truck drivers and intends to go into other working sectors such as farming and security companies to provided clear vision for working-age adults with failing eyesight or undetected vision problems. Using their vast network of youth across the country, Vision Vijana hopes to expand their services to the masses through an interesting business model that pays youths on commission for testing and fitting eyeglasses using their medically approved mobile vision testing and eye-glasses assembly kit!
Can people with limited mobility and the elderly across Africa enjoy a more decent and sanitary toilet experience? YES! Across the continent, pit-latrines are the de facto toilets in every homestead across low income urban settlements or the vast rural villages. Syna Consulting, a startup by two brilliant young graduate water engineers from Egerton University in Kenya, Silvia and Sharon have developed the Utu Luv- the mobile toilet commode for the ultimate toilet experience! Utu Luv uses advanced, patented technology that enables comfort and hygiene toilet experiences anywhere! From odourless waste disposal to minimum water usage that guarantee 10+ toilet experiences before disposal, Utu Luv is the solution for any disabled or elderly persons stuck with limited options such as the pit-latrine or bedpan! Syna is seeking investment to mass-produce and rollout Utu Luv in communities for disabled people and the elderly in institutions and homesteads.
Can IOT and AI provide security and freedom for AT users in Africa? YES! Totosci, a startup based in Kenya has tested the use of embedded IOT in assistive devices to provide AT users with a channel to request for emergency help or remotely keep in touch with caregivers while visiting new environments or get help in-case of an emergency. Totosci has tested their technology on a special white cane that uses an embedded GSM sim-card to send and receive messages at the touch of a button. The startup is conducting research and trials to test the use of IOT and AI for AT products in Africa. The research will help them build smart AT and test new business models that equip disabled people in Africa with affordable smart assistive technology solutions.
July-October 2020: Innovate Now Cohort 2.0-Mobile and AT
What if mobile technology could help increase access to Assistive Technology products and services in Africa? Mobile technology is transforming Africa in incredible ways. Contributing to putting products and services on the palm of every hand in Africa, the technology has accelerated the rapid digitisation of product and service delivery across the continent.
Startups in our current cohort (running through July-October) are using mobile in incredible ways, potentially unlocking access to AT for millions on the African continent, starting in Kenya:
Nancy Maina co-founded Lugha Ishara to give the gift of language and literacy to pre-school kids born deaf. ‘Lugha Ishara’ which is Sign language in Kiswahili is developing learning content in the form of animations and online classes for deaf pre-schoolers in Kenya. The content is consumed primarily on any mobile device or computer and is helping parents and guardians with no sign language knowledge learn together with their kids at home. Lugha Ishara is working with corporates and Gertrude’s Children Hospital in Kenya to support children and parents from poor backgrounds access Lugha Ishara learning content. The startup is gaining great popularity among hearing kids through the Lugha Ishara cool kids signing competition that encourages hearing adults and kids to learn sign language!
As the world strives to be more inclusive, events, schools, television, training programs etc. are scrambling for few verified and certified sign language interpreters. Hearoes on Demand is a Kenyan startup building the Uber of sign-language interpreters. With all the features or rating and building a verified public resume of sign languages professionals, finding a verified and qualified sign language interpreter is soon going to be as easy as ordering and Uber! HOD is the brainchild of Silvia Muturi.
Mobile-based AT Messaging and outreach platform
The Kenya NGO Alliance Against Malaria (KENAAM) is building and testing the use of mobile messaging to run marketing and awareness building campaigns around assistive technology products and services in Kenya. Coming from a very strong background of public health messaging to tackle malaria, KENAAM believes a text message-driven CRM solution can help disabled persons organisations and other clients reach disabled persons everywhere with targeted messaging around Assistive Technology products and services.
Persons with albinism and family around them in Africa go through various struggles such as lack of access to information about self-care and self-care products. Discrimination and stigma also sets them up for isolation and lack of a voice in society. Positive exposure Kenya is changing all that through the Albinism and I one-stop shop for information on albinism self-care, e-store for albinism skin and eye-care products as well as community of persons with albinism. Albinism and I is accessible through web and mobile. Positive Exposure Kenya is founded by Jane Waithera, a prolific albinism champion in Kenya.
Due to rapid urbanisation and pressure on resources, access to postal services for delivery of parcels is a major challenge in Africa. Most postal offices are also centralised and serve particular zones set as early as pre-independence in most of Africa. The old infrastructure around postal offices was not build with accessibility in mind. The lack of proper physical addresses in most urban cities in Africa also make very difficult for customers to receive parcels. MPost, a patented mobile-based addressing system by Taz Technologies, serving more than 2000 customers in Kenya is testing last mile delivery for assistive technology. Disabled people anywhere in Kenya with access to a mobile phone will be able to have parcels, including assistive technologies delivered to their doorstep. Mpost is the co-founded by Abdul Aziz.
Are you interested to invest or partner with Africa’s leading AT startups? Get in touch with Innovate Now to learn how we can collaborate to expand our accelerator program, live-lab network, mentoring and investment community. Get in touch with me via email on email@example.com
Are you an AT startup in Africa looking for support? We’d like to help!
Get in touch with kitawa Wemo, our new Accelerator Manager. Kitawa Wemo has for the past 5 years worked actively with early-stage ventures in Kenya and the greater East Africa region. With a Public Health background, she has been instrumental in building innovations that are impact centric, and has designed channels and pipelines for investment of growth-oriented ventures. Kitawa is a well-known ecosystem builder and has been vocal in addressing the biases that exist in the startup ecosystem across the continent. Her vision for the continent lies in levelling the playing field for underserved sectors by creating a support pipeline for sustainable growth. Get in touch with Kitawa on firstname.lastname@example.org