Right now, there are 1.3 billion people in the world living with a disability who are left behind by today’s technology. Pete Horsley, founder of Disability-Tech Accelerator, Remarkable, has set out to change that.
In a fast-paced world driven by smartphones and push notifications, there is one demographic that tends to go unnoticed by the tech world: people with disability. Growing up alongside a sister with a disability, Pete Horsley, however, has always had a personal connection with those affected, a group that makes up 20% of Australia’s population. With over 15 years of experience in the disabilities sector, now he has created Remarkable, Australia’s first disability-tech accelerator, an impact-driven initiative providing seed funding, mentorship and guidance to early-stage, scalable technologies that have the potential to make a real impact on people’s lives.
Pete and Erika (Autism Swim Founder)
“Our startups need to be solving a problem,” Pete explains of Remarkable’s selection process. “It’s not just about recreating technology that’s already there. We want to see people pushing the boundaries and creating great solutions to new problems.”
The accelerator has taken on startups developing technological solutions ranging from gamified therapy through wearables (Lusio Rehab) to pain-free, 3D-printed orthotics for children (Ability Made). Their portfolio startups also expand the range of opportunities available to people with disabilities with Xceptional, a technology services company that gives people with autism the chance to use their unique strengths such as enhanced concentration and pattern recognition in a workplace environment.
Encap Neuroscience Team
Running an intensive 16-week accelerator programme, Remarkable provides selected startups with AUD 35,000 in seed funding in return for 5% equity, grants access to their extensive mentor network and dedicated co-working space, provides weekly masterclasses on topics such as product development, sales, investment readiness and social impact measurement, and offers in-depth disability sector expertise.
Now in its third year, Remarkable has garnered the attention of the federal Australian government. Sound Scouts, a startup from their first cohort, secured AUD 4 million in national funding in 2018 to provide 600,000 children with quick and easy hearing tests at a tenth of the cost. The disability-tech accelerator has also recently partnered with Microsoft to advance a USD 25 million global project titled ‘AI for Accessibility.’ “You have companies like Microsoft and Apple that are talking about the importance of building inclusive and accessible technologies, and we’re trying to amplify those sorts of discussions and make sure that the entire ecosystem – not just startups – is thinking about inclusive technology,” says Pete.
Much like many other startups, early-stage disability-tech enterprises face a whole host of challenges. Pete cites resilience, solid communication skills and the ability to bring a concept through to execution as the top three skills entrepreneurs need. A crucial mistake to avoid is creating technology that hasn’t been tested with the end customer. “The best kinds of products and services are ones that are well suited and well fitted to a customer,” he explains. “So, making sure they’re part of the development journey, making sure you’re testing things and getting that user feedback often is a really critical thing.”
At the heart of it, Remarkable’s end-goal is to build inclusivity into every development process. “We want to make sure that people with disabilities are front and centre in terms of designing products and services with companies, and they need to be doing that from the very beginning, not as an afterthought or an add-on,” Pete elaborates. As things stand, people with disabilities are “severely under-represented in reaping the benefits of digital technologies as both producers and consumers,” according to Remarkable’s 2017 Social Impact Review.
Going forward, the disability-tech accelerator hopes to grow the work it’s doing, whether that’s bringing startups from other countries to Australia, or setting up Remarkables in other places. Their accelerator programme’s next cohort kicks off in the third week of March.
When asked what he’s proudest of, Pete answers, “For me, it’s when I hear about end users being impacted by these technologies. Just on Friday, we got together with some of the startups. Someone’s cousin had a son with autism and they said to this other founder, ‘Have you heard about this company Xceptional? They’re providing a potential future for my son in terms of employment.”
“I’m proud of our startup founders, and I’m proud of our mentor network, but there’s a long way to go. We’ve been going for three years, but I feel this is only just the beginning. There’s so much more potential.”