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Assistive Technology for Deaf Children and Learning Disabilities dominate Innovate Now’s 5th Demo Day.

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Demo Day on the 5th of August 2022 in Nairobi. The Demo Day was the first one under the digital assistive technology and entrepreneurship project-a partnership between GDI Hub, ICT Norway, and the Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD).

In a hybrid fashion combining in-person and online demos, eight assistive technology ventures from across the US, Uganda, and Kenya pitched to demonstrate new digitally powered assistive technology solutions enabling persons with disabilities to overcome barriers within education, transportation, information technology, tourism, health, and wellness, providing solutions to everyday challenges for disabled people in East Africa and beyond.

The event kicked off with keynote remarks from GDI Hub and Norad followed by back-to-back pitches where founders from each venture pitched for 5 minutes in front of a virtual and in-person audience in Nairobi. This was followed by a 7 minutes question and answer from a panel of judges.

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Assistive technology solutions for children with hearing impairment, learning disabilities, and speech disorders dominated the Innovate Now Cohort 5.0 awards. The winning innovation was Kenya Christian School for The Deaf, a social enterprise that introduces deaf children and their caregivers to sign language through an alphabetical puzzle board game, also accessible through a mobile app with added resources. Learning Differently, a Startup that provides methods and tools for students with learning disabilities came in first runners-up position while EZSpeech, a startup that provides affordable AI-driven speech therapy worldwide came in second runners-up position.

Other promising and captivating pitches included: Datsuns, a Startup from Uganda providing access to on-demand assistance for persons with disabilities, Disability Innovation Suite, a web-based personalized wheelchair provider, Knock Knock, internet of things Startup that helps deaf users identify important audio-based sounds, Uptyke Consulting a Startup that helps curriculum developers create accessible content and Accessible Travel a Startups that uses web and mobile to give persons with disabilities accessible travel experiences.

Joram Mwinamo, a member of the judging panel and the director of SNBX Capital said, “We had a difficult job identifying the awardees, but traction was one of the key attributes that stood out for us. Seeing Startups in Assistive Technology, a sector that is still emerging in Africa, demonstrate paying customers, leverage on both digital technologies and technologies that do not depend on connectivity to include everyone was very outstanding. We have seen some of the best in the Kenya Startup Ecosystem here today”.

Speaking at the event, Bernard Chiira, Director- Innovate Now and Country representative, GDI Hub said.

“Congratulations to all our cohort 5.0 finalists. The last 12 weeks have been intense, and we have seen their dedication to the last day. Our commitment to AT founders in Africa is long-term and we are happy that this marks just the beginning of our journey together. All the finalists are now one of the world’s largest and fast-growing ecosystems of assistive technology Startups. With a growing network of partners locally and across the world and the commitment of our funders Norad, the support towards investment and scale will continue, through our new alumni programs”.

Suparna Biswas, CEO-Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa said,

“As an implementing partner for Live labs, we mobilized more than 700 participants within our rich networks and community of persons with disability. The live lab sessions have enabled the ventures to validate their innovations. A good example is Knock Knock which came in with a door ‘knock’ solution that targets deaf persons. Through the feedback received from the live lab sessions, the innovators have been challenged to iterate and advance their technology to meet the market needs. The startups with platform solutions are also currently working on accessibility of their web and app platforms to ensure all persons with disabilities are catered for based on the feedback received from the live lab sessions.”

Catherine Holloway, Co-founder, Academic Director of GDI Hub said

“We know that innovative approaches matter, and that local solution, delivering appropriate AT to those that need it most can change lives. Innovate Now is part of GDI Hub Accelerate, our mechanism to propel ventures as they transition through innovation cycles, from Start-up to Scale. We look forward to watching the next steps for today’s entrepreneurs, as they put into practice the expertise gained through the Innovate Now curriculum and move into the next phase of their innovation journey”.

Mehraz Rafat, Senior Advisor, Department for Partnerships and Shared prosperity, NORAD said.

“We are excited about this partnership with Global Disability Innovation Hub on Innovate Now. The area of assistive technology is an area that is of high priority for the Norwegian Government.  We are keen on seeing innovations and tools within the new digital world i.e., the internet and the metaverse that will make it easier and possible for this large section of the global population to take active and equal participation. The Norwegian development assistance is moving in the direction of being more catalytic meaning for every dollar of development aid spent attracts private financing. We would like to see more private capital mobilized to support aid money.”

Cohort 5 was launched on 16th May, the same day as the publication of the first Global Report on Assistive Technology by WHO and UNICEF, co-sponsored by GDI Hub. Cohort 5 is part the first of three cohorts under the theme of digital Assistive Technology and entrepreneurship. Applications for cohort 6 are still open until 15th August 2022.

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