Emerge ventures focuses on building large scale education systems, accessibility, and venture capital for differently-abled people.
The world is the same for everybody, but everyone does not experience it in the same way.
For example, there are 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss. When I discovered that most of the deaf community in my country is jobless, and their average education is class 5 with no opportunity to learn or work in tech jobs, it opened my eyes. I decided to spend more time learning about their struggles and helping them "get ready for work" where they would otherwise never discover their talent. I've since then helped 20 deaf students within the last year obtain creative jobs, as well as training them in software, design, accounting, and an array of skill sets. This year the number of students has grown to 40.
The journey has been surreal. I came across several problems and opportunities while on this path. I kept wondering why so few people saw these issues. That’s when I realized there is a huge lack of representation for this community. Almost all under-represented communities have someone who talks for them, stands up for them, and fights for them. But this community is so underrepresented, they don't even have anyone to speak for them.
Everything begins with education. A lack of education is the root of all problems, and that is where we will start.
The challenge is building scalable systems. The online learning opportunities for the deaf community is close to zero. In fact, 99% of consumable content is targeted toward hearing people, while deaf people need more content in sign language to get them started on fundamental concepts and in-depth learning.
In India, the average education qualification is class 5. This means most deaf people will be jobless or doing jobs defined by their disability. Hearing is only one of the senses, and it certainly doesn't define a person's ability.
One of the biggest challenges is the content. Instead of trying to build a whole new set of content, our idea is to build an open-source bridge that will connect normal classes with the deaf community. The bridge system would translate speech into sign language and vice versa. The technology bridge will connect the deaf and non-deaf people to exchange ideas, thoughts, and knowledge. This also means experts in all areas will be able to easily interact with the deaf community.
These will be open-source education systems accessible to the mass. We leverage open source communities and make use of large talent and research facilities at colleges.
It's interesting how the world is designed with hearing people in mind. I'll share a few experiences from my personal life.
It's 2020, and when I am on a flight, I still can't understand any or most of the in-flight announcements. I've been struggling with this for a long time now. There are simple solutions to such problems. For example, we could build an app that provides closed captioning in real-time to show all announcements as text on our phones. This could be used for flights, in airports, on trains, and in stations.
Last year, as a part of the Reach Award by Erik Weihenmayer Foundation, I was in New York City and visiting the Statue of Liberty. There were two options: I could go with a guide, or I could pick up headphones that provided a live audio tour of the all important historical facts. As a deaf person, neither worked for me. Instead, I just wandered around and then came back.
These problems are not difficult technical problems to solve. Rather, most people don't think about these issues because these don’t affect them.
There must be a better way to make this world more accessible to everyone.
I opened a Google Play store account (for $25, yes) and helped any student who wanted to upload their apps to the Play store for free. (They could move it to their own account when they make enough money to open their own account). One of the school teachers in a local school launched his app this way and later garnered over 250,000 downloads, inspiring tons of teachers and students to utilize technology. All this with my $25 investment.
My friend Jay and I found an interesting entrepreneur named Jolly who is paralyzed from the hip down due to a spinal injury. Together, 10 of our friends pooled $4k each and invested $40k in this company. Jolly is a designer and creates beautiful wooden art, and he now has laser engraving machines, other woodwork machinery and runs a company employing four other people who are paralyzed. The company is about to break even now.
Emerge Ventures will be investing in companies and supporting differently-abled entrepreneurs across the world. Most of them might not IPO or become unicorns, but like Jolly, they will be empathetic and employ more people like them. They may also feed many families who otherwise find it hard to gain employment.
This accelerator, coupled with educational support, will be a blooming ecosystem for the differently-abled.
I Have a Dream
- I see 10,000,000+ students learning and graduating from our educational programs.
- I see 10,000,000+ differently-abled people enjoying the world like everyone.
- I see 1,000+ companies started by differently-abled people touching millions of lives.
More importantly, I see us giving a new hope to people.