Innovate Now, the Global Disability Innovation Hub, and Amref Health Africa Kenyan-based assistive technology Startup accelerator held its fourth demo day on Tuesday 14th September 2021.
“We are excited about being awarded the Innovate Now judges award. Our participation in the accelerator was really valuable in validating SafariSeat’s upcoming updates and new services for our users. Today’s win is a big milestone for The Accessibility Institute”, shared an elated Ken Mwarandu, the COO at TAI. SafariSeat is a revolutionary, low cost, all-terrain wheelchair. It’s easy to repair and is manufactured with basic tools, using locally available materials and components. It gives people independence, unlocking access to education, employment, and a life beyond the confines of their own home in some of the toughest terrains and remote villages in Kenya.
Innovate Now unveiled 6 start-ups that had a blended portfolio of hardware and digital AT products addressing disabilities across various functional domains including visual, hearing, and mobility. The startups include:
- Veezaviz [formerly Sekani] (Kenya) is a social enterprise developing leading-edge technology-based solutions—including those leveraging the power of AI and Machine Learning—to address the accessibility and communication barrier for the Deaf.
- One Networking (Nigeria) provides safer mobility enhancements for the elderly and the visually impaired such as the Visually Impaired Electronic Walking Guide (VIEW Guide) among other assistive technologies.
- The Accessibility Institute Ltd (TAI) makes the first truly off-road manual wheelchair designed and made in Kenya, not only providing mobility but also helping mobility impaired people to live fully inclusive lives.
- Vinsighte (Nigeria) is a digital health venture that makes use of technology to aid the visually impaired to live more comfortable lives.
- Ace Mobility (Kenya) provides safe, reliable, and affordable mobility solutions to underserved persons like the disabled people, so as to improve their social and economic participation.
- Batian (Kenya) is an e-commerce startup helping digital workers combat eye strain with affordable eyeglasses and has pivoted to AT distribution under the startup entity “FIGA”.
Over the past 12 weeks, Innovate Now helped the six early-stage startups develop and test AT products and services for market and business validation, helping them get started and on a path for growth and investment readiness. Live-Labs, a six weeks component of the Innovate Now accelerator, ensured that the users of the technology are at the heart of the product and service development. It helped the participants test and get feedback directly from persons with disabilities.
“The feedback and data we gathered from users was extremely valuable and will greatly inform the next phase of our product development. Live-labs was the most valuable experience of our participation at Innovate Now”, said Eli Savatia, co-founder of Veezaviz, one of the six finalists of Innovate Now cohort 4.0 and winner in the Innovate Now Community Award category. Innovate Now also organised engaging keynotes that brought to light opportunities for investing in inclusion for persons with disabilities in Sub Saharan Africa, championing awareness, advocacy, and strategic partnerships to bridge the existing disability development gap that affects every 1 in 4 households in the region.
Innovate Now’s cohort 4.0 finalists were drawn from across Kenya and Nigeria. The entrepreneurs pitched to an audience of expert judges and AT users, enthusiasts, investors, and guests at a hybrid event hosted both online and physically in Nairobi. The entrepreneurs delivered captivating pitches and showcased their solutions in front of a judging panel composed of industry experts in the fields of technology and disability Inclusion. These included Irene Mbari executive director at InAble, Manohar Swaminathan, principal researcher at Microsoft India, Prof. Mbugua wa-Mungai Director at Disability Services Kenyatta University, and Willie Ngumi, Deputy Digital Learning Director, Amref Health Africa.
In her opening remarks, Prof. Catherine Holloway, co-founder and the academic director at Global Disability Innovation Hub intimated that “Assistive technology and solutions which help make the environment accessible are essential if we are to live in fair societies – it is also one of the largest growth sectors for technology – we know that for every dollar invested in AT, you get nine back into the economy – and as Innovate Now shows, there is a great appetite in Africa to drive solutions to scale for people with disabilities, investors, and society”.
Bernard Chiira, the director of the program said, “I have had the privilege of working with some of Africa’s most brilliant and ambitious assistive tech startup founders, taking the AT access gap head-on, from Ibadan Nigeria to Kilifi and Nairobi in Kenya. A big congratulations to all the teams who are pushing the boundaries of technology and design to unlock possibilities for persons with disabilities across Africa. I look forward to growing Innovate Now’s reach across Africa and to grow our inclusive innovation ecosystem”.
The executive director at Kilimanjaro Blind Trust that delivers Innovate Now’s Live-Labs in her remarks shared that “Delivering Live Lab support to the Innovate Now start-ups, was an interesting experience for KBTA with big learning of on-the-ground realities. We believe that on the road ahead, lies a bigger challenge; to develop more affordable and adapted assistive solutions to improve and refine existing assistive technologies and services in Africa. Based on the feedback from the users of the assistive technologies presented, we believe that these challenges can be addressed locally. We wish this innovative program all success in the years ahead”.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be 2 billion people in need of assistive technology- products, equipment, and systems that enhance learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, due to complex interacting factors such as market and systemic failures amongst others, 90% of those needing AT will not have access if nothing is done. Today only 10% of I billion people have access. These, largely located in the global south. Innovate Now was established to address this global challenge in Africa. The accelerator, built on the GDI Hub’s active learning AT entrepreneurs curriculum and toolkit, combined with Amref’s deep understanding of the healthcare sector across Africa, gives AT startup founders a unique and well-rounded opportunity, which includes a variety of assistance such as mentorship, deep human-centered design, user, market and business development from leading AT experts, entrepreneurs and researchers.
About Innovate Now
Innovate Now is part of AT2030, a programme funded by UK Aid and led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub. It is implemented by Amref Health Africa together with Kilimanjaro Blind Trust. More information at www.ATinnovatenow.com. AT2030 tests ‘what works to improve access to AT and has invested a match-funded £20m to support solutions to scale. The AT2030 investment supports projects implemented with partners across 35 countries globally. With a focus on innovative products, new service models, and global capacity support, the programme will reach 9 million people directly and 6 million more indirectly to enable a lifetime of potential through life-changing AT. More information at www.AT2030.org
For more information, kindly reach out to:
Media and External Relations Officer, Amref Health Africa
Accelerator Manager, Innovate Now
Director, Innovate Now