Written by Andrew Seale
In 2014, Arjun Mali was approached by his long-term friend Bin Liu asking him if he wanted to build a business in the vision and assistive device realm. Liu’s father had been diagnosed with inoperable glaucoma, a disease where vision-loss was inevitable. Since Mali had grown up helping his family out at a school and orphanage for the blind in India that they supported, there was no question he wanted to be involved.
Unfortunately, neither knew where to begin. That is, until the duo met a man named Rylan Vroom, an assistive technology instructor.
“He’s been blind from birth and he’s 6’5,” says Mali. “This is the type of individual who travels everyday unassisted.” Vroom told Mali and Liu about the challenges of visiting clients houses he’d never been to before and travelling there on public transport.
“We were thinking of creating something a lot more complex that would take time and a lot of money,” says Mali. But Vroom set them straight: why not tackle everyday challenges in a much simpler way? Why not create something to people with vision loss detect whats around them with a simple clip on device?
The pair was inspired by the premise. So the newly christened iMerciv set to work developing The Buzzclip a wearable sensor capable of detecting what’s in front of people with vision-loss and sending them vibrations.
“It gives an individual more information about what’s going on around them,” he says. Even in social situation it seemed transformative.
“(Suppose) you’re having a conversation with someone who is blind and you’re talking face-to-face, and mid-conversation you step away to fill up a cup of water and then come back,” says Mali. “Usually they would never know, but now they’re able to pick up on these little things.”
They launched a crowdfunding campaign.
“We hit the goal with orders from about 26 different countries,” he says. “The money we raised from there allowed us to manufacture the first batch of a thousand units and now we’re almost sold out of the second batch, we have 600 units committed.”
The startup has clinched a number of supporters from the startup community including the Impact Centre, Ontario Brain Institute and Ontario Centres of Excellence. They’ve also worked with vision loss-focused organizations like the Canadian Helen Keller Centre, the CNIB and Balance for Blind Adults.
“There’s a lot of organizations and programs now available that really support new budding companies, especially in the early stage,” says Mali. And, on the other hand, there’s a lot of entrepreneurially-minded people pointing themselves at some of the “inefficiencies of the world around them.”
“It’s a lot of risk to start a business but if it pans out and works for you, it can be very lucrative in the end and have a big impact on society,” says Mali. “I don’t think this is going to be our last business – once you’re in this mindset all you can think about is creating more.”
Anyone who is interested in meeting with Mali and hearing the story of the Buzzclip and iMerciv can attend the Entrepreneurship 100 event on Thursday, October 5 where Mali is going to be a panelist. More information and event registration can be found at http://www.impactcentre.ca/