Beyond apps, Innovate for Good

By Shubham Banerjee, Founder, Braigo Labs

Shubham Banerjee, Founder, Braigo Labs

Braigo Labs Inc. was founded in 2014 by Shubham Banerjee, the then 12 year old inventor of Braigo - The low cost Braille Printer. His science fair project evolved into a full-fledged seed stage startup with initial investment from Intel Capital, making him the youngest entrepreneur to receive venture capital funding. Braigo Labs mission is to bring "Humanely Optimized" technologies that are innovative, affordable simple and catering to solving life's problem.

As they say, necessity is the mother of all inventions. Across the world many non-profits and labs in universities have come up with many assistive technology solutions, but very few have made it into the real product stage worldwide. But a lot of patents have been filed or papers have been published showcasing amazing technological advances or new methodologies. If everybody focuses on the next cool apps, then there are less avenues for the differently-abled to benefit from advances in technology. Many companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have been advances in assistive technologies through OS level integration benefiting the visually impaired. A lot of work needs to be done in this social benefit space where physical devices need to be available to make lives of differently-abled individuals easier.

The Industry's Future

The IOT and Wearable technology space has opened up new possibilities for innovators to grab on these opportunities with cloud integration and apps on mobile devices. Development platforms have become cheaper and open source software is readily available, for example Arduino, raspberry-Pi or Intel's Edison development platform. This has opened up massive opportunities for developers to come up with new ideas and also potentially crowd fund the products. Hardware by nature needs more investment than pure software. Many hardware collaboration spaces like Techshop or hardware incubators have opened up to facilitate startups or innovators to help them through the process. Even corporate venture arms have opened up to the idea by creating opportunities through incubators. The next level of disrupters in the industry will probably be a teenager or a high school'er who will be able to create something low cost and innovative through 3D printed parts at home, get crowd funded and sell the product online by using the garage as a warehouse. That time is not that far, provided these innovators focus on the right ideas and investing the time to innovate for a good for society. For example, assistive technologies for a wide variety of differently-abled individuals are a great way for young innovators to focus and at the same time learn the startup lifecycle and benefit society.

The Critical Concerns

Science fairs in school are a good breeding ground of ideas, but for many, winning the science fair is a goal for better resume building for college admissions. If young innovators take a step forward and take a plunge into making a real product from a prototype it will create wonders for society. Availability of venture capital for such ideas are tough and requires a lot of work, but many angel investors are willing to support a cause for the right idea provided the innovators have the right kind of drive and mindset to take this forward. Many grants are available, but those are catered to universities or non-profits. A bit more forward thinking by big Venture Capital firms into investing in social benefit projects can encourage a wide variety of young innovators to take the plunge in developing solutions that benefit society, starting with assistive technologies for the differently-abled people across the world.

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