Israel accelerator invests in tech for people with disabilities

A network of entrepreneurs is working to improve quality of life for people with disabilities

A young paralyzed boy uses the Sesame Enable phone (Courtesy)
A young paralyzed boy uses the Sesame Enable phone (Courtesy)

The world’s first and only “ability tech” accelerator, as A3i bills itself, is ready for another round of start-ups with products and technologies that not only will make money for their investors, but also improve the lives of millions of disabled people around the world.

The accelerator’s third round is now accepting candidates with tech that can have a positive impact on the lives of individuals whose disabilities limit their ability to see, hear and interact with others physically.

“Technology can enable individuals who suffer from physical limitations to interact, learn, express themselves and become more mobile,” according to Jean Judes, Executive Director of Beit Issie Shapiro, one of the accelerator’s sponsors. “In essence, enabling technology allows them to exercise their rights and achieve personal goals of development and growth. There is a great demand for these technologies, and entrepreneurs who work in this area have the opportunity to reach a large market while having a significant impact on society.”

A3I is a nine-month program that brings together a core group of 12-15 entrepreneurs who want to start new ventures or grow existing ones, along over 50 volunteer coaches, mentors and subject matter experts from a variety of professional backgrounds, said Guy Spigelman, director of PresenTense Israel, another sponsor of the project, along with Beit Issie Shapiro, the Ruderman Foundation,and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The accelerator is located at Beit Issie Shapiro in Raanana.

A network of committed entrepreneurs and dedicated volunteers works together to launch and grow social ventures, which creates community impact, facilitates access to new partnerships, and builds a support network that lasts beyond the initial program, said Spigelman.

“We don’t charge anything for companies in the program, and we do not take any equity. For us, the objective is to use some of the great tech Israelis are developing to make life easier and more pleasant for everyone,” he said.

According to Spigelman, A3i is in the right place at the right time to promote its enabling tech project: “There is a strong international growth in development of enabling technology, and Israel has the opportunity to turn itself into a major force in this area. Among the two rounds of graduates we have had at A3i, several companies have raised large amounts of money and entering global markets.”

One of those graduates, Sesame Enable, developed a specially rigged Nexus 5 smartphone that allows users to open up applications and make calls using their voice only. Designed for individuals who are almost totally paralyzed, the Sesame device is extremely sensitive; it can detect slight head gestures to trigger actions, for apps and activities where voice is inappropriate.

After garnering accolades around the globe, Sesame Enable was awarded $1 million – the top prize – in a worldwide contest sponsored by US telecom giant Verizon, in which the company searched out top technologies to help people live better lives.

‪”Innovation in technology is crucial to further the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “I believe that some of these inventions will change our world for millions of people with disabilities around the world.”

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