Three Israeli organizations have joined together to launch what they say is the world’s first accelerator focused on addressing the needs of disabled people. Named A3i, the accelerator is the result of a partnership between PresenTense, a community of innovators and entrepreneurs, and Israeli disability rights groups Beit Issie Shapiro and the Ruderman Family Foundation.
The three announced their intentions back in December 2013 when they put out a call for applications and the first 15 startups, all at early or pre-seed stage, have now been enrolled at the program base in Ra’anana. The batch comprises a broad mixture of venture-types, ranging from accessibility and education software to hardware and general community/social initiatives.
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of the concepts being worked on, if not yet launched:
- Sesame Enable - The mission of this company is to help people who have difficulty using their hands to access technology such as a smart phone that requires touch control. By implementing the Sesame SDK , developers can make their applications controllable by facial movements in addition to the typical ‘touch’ used on iOS and Android devices.
- ABATeacher - An educational application for children with autism spectrum disorders, which aims to help the users develop independence and skills. Teachers and parents can also interact with the app and access reports and updates on progress.
- DeaFix - A tech startup working on enabling communication between deaf people and hearing people who do not understand sign language or cannot lip-read.
With an emphasis on mentorship and training rather than financial support, A3i say they provide guidance in many areas including product, marketing and business development. The accelerator is run by a 15-person steering committee but the participants also benefit from the advice of more than 30 volunteers. When the program ends in June, the startups will present their ventures to investors and other interested parties.
If A3i had been launched even five years ago, it might have been considered somewhat niche. But aside from the obviously worthy goal of improving the quality of life of disabled people, there are two reasons why it makes sense in 2014.
The market for disabled needs may seem niche but it’s a fairly big one and ecompasses devices, software, services etc. According to a report by IBISWorld from February 2014, it’s currently valued at $41bn a year, with no one company dominating.
A greater number of people want to work on challenging problems. We’re now in a world where industries that have been difficult to access in the past, because of red tape or financial firepower, are opening to a wider pool of innovators. This trend is clearly reflected in the rise of specialist accelerators such as Rock Health but also in the growing diversity of startups participating in generalist programs. Among the latest batch at Y Combinator for example is Immunity Project, a bold venture that aims to develop a vaccine platform for preventing HIV.
It’s into this rapidly evolving marketing that A3i escorts its first group. By focusing on disabled needs, A3i could inspire more people to address significant problems but ones that are often overlooked.