Remarkable Insights: Varun Chandak


[0:00] Viv
We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we record this podcast, the Gadigal people. This is their land never ceded always sacred and pay our respects to the elders past present and emerging of this place.

[0:17] Viv
Coming up on Remarkable Insights…

[0:19] Varun
So when you talk to the people for whom you’re designing there’s no substitute for that. You’ve got to figure out if you are actually solving for the right problem. The problem that you want to solve is that problem that needs to be solved.

[0:36] Viv
Viv Mullan here for the Remarkable Insights podcast which is all about disability driving innovation. On my screen in front of me is Varun Chandak, a disability entrepreneur who almost as excitedly might have a special guest join us on the podcast but I’ll let you give a visual description of who and where you are and who might be joining us.

[00:55] Varun
I am a South Asian male, I am wearing glasses, a hat, a sweatshirt and behind me there’s a couch. At some point during this podcast, my dog might make a guest appearance, so I’ll just be sure to call that out if he does.

[01:12] Viv
We welcome all dogs on this podcast. Big thank you for joining us. I had the absolute pleasure of being able to meet you in person last year. But for everyone who maybe doesn’t know of you yet, would you mind just giving a bit of an introduction into how you got to where you are at this point in your life?

[01:28] Varun
For sure. So just to set some context, I’m the founder of ‘Access to Success’, which is a not-for-profit in Canada that is. How I got here is that I have a couple of disabilities myself. I’m hard of hearing and I have what’s called ‘Erb’s Palsy’, which is a form of partial parallelism of my left arm, and a lot of the work that I do, pretty much all of the work that I do with Access to Success stems with my own lived experiences with disability, and I guess that’s what got me to where I am today.

I’m originally from India, but I came to Canada in 2016. I was in an extremely privileged position, to have access to those accommodations and offer a fact that not everybody’s experience is like that. And I’m about to answer how my experience was very much not like that when I was in India. And there, this is a unique situation, I used to attend a class, a daily class when I was studying to become a chartered accountant. That class was a class of 300 to 400 people at a time. And the guy used to walk around with the mic, obviously, and the mic wasn’t very good. So I couldn’t follow what the speaker was saying very well, and my friends were an instrument in helping me in those situations and yet other times, like in my professional career, it was hard. It was very hard. I had to work harder than every single colleague of mine just to prove that I’m first as capable as them, and then more capable than them. So in the beginning when I used to work in finance and I couldn’t talk on the phone even back then, so that led to some difficult conversations, but I worked very hard to prove to my boss that despite this limitation, I’m better than everybody else in the room, or at least I’m harder working than everybody else in the room.

[03:22] Viv
Does it feel like there was this moment in your life where you started to really understand how technology could allow you to do these things more independently rather than needing someone there to help do that sort of translation?

[03:36] Varun
I’d say that the moment I realized that technology, at least in theory, could be a game changer, was when I was first diagnosed with hearing loss. The day I was diagnosed with hearing loss I started daydreaming of a day when there would be smart contact lenses that would give me live captioning. I wanted my assistive tech to be completely invisible because that was my mentality at the time. Anyway, I still dream of that day, but that’s where it stemmed from, but at least in there, for me, it was about hiding my disability. I didn’t wanna ask for accommodations. I didn’t wanna ask for help cause I thought it would be held against me. When I applied for MBA, I didn’t actually disclose I have a disability for the same fears. But after coming here, after doing a lot of the work that I’ve done, the work that I’m doing, technology has already changed my life massively and I know the potential that it has to change my life in the future.

[04:38] Viv
Wow and do you think that perhaps technology has allowed you to feel more confident to step out and tell people that you identify as living with a disability?

[04:48] Varun
The first, yes, the second, not necessarily. Technology has helped me become independent. To give you an example, I lip read and yes the lack of technology at MBA was the catalyst and me inadvertently subconsciously picking up lip reading. I call myself extremely lucky that in a way, the pandemic hit when it did because live captioning only came into being around 2017, I would say before that it wasn’t very common, and it wasn’t very accurate. From 2017 onward was a turning point in automatic live captioning. So when the pandemic hit without live captioning, I would’ve lost all ability to communicate with people on my own, people who were wearing masks. But with live captioning, I could do that. It was, as I said, life changing for me.

[05:48] Viv
So Cool. And now can you speak a bit to the work that you do at Access to Success?

[05:53] Varun
For sure. We support the development of future leaders with disabilities and assistive technology. So in the future when kids like me search for corporate leaders with disabilities to have a good long list of people to look up to. So we do that through the Access to Success fellowship for MBA students with disabilities. Which provides up to $90,000 in annual scholarships to MBA students at four of Canada’s top business schools. We provide, in addition to that financial contribution, a lot of support, resources, mentorship opportunities networking opportunities and stuff like that to not just the recipients of the fellowship, but also any MBA student at one of our member business schools. The second part is supporting the development of assistive tech. It’s a nature, very similar to the amazing work that you and your team do at Remarkable, which is to support startups that are building products for people with disabilities.

[06:53] Viv
So Great, and what have you learned about the size of the assistive tech market in Canada and then the world?

[06:58] Varun
So speaking of people with disabilities in Canada, people with disabilities are estimated to command 82 billion dollars in annual disposable income. This is according to the research done by a Canadian Rich Donovan whose research is now world famous in this space. Globally, this market, depending on numbers, we look at, there’s several hundred billion dollars of income. If you include, for instance, friends and family of people with disabilities, caretakers for instance, that’s estimate to be a total of over a trillion dollars. Long story short, people with disabilities have a lot of money to spend.

[07:34] Viv
What do you think is the missing piece in the education systems that we are teaching people about how to build a business and build a product? What is missing from that?

[07:45] Varun
The biggest thing, the first thing really is to start with what we call ‘Co-design’. Co-design is the idea is that you design your product, your solution with people with disabilities, that means that you talk to the people for whom you’re designing that product. Far too often what happens is that really well meaning innovators coming from a really good place in their heart, make assumptions about what people with disabilities might need, and create a technological solution that might not really serve a purpose. A very prominent example is Sign Language Gloves. The idea of sign language gloves has existed since the eighties, since the 1980s. And every single year news comes out of another researcher PhD candidate who’s working on new Sign Language Gloves, and consistently the thing that they miss is actually talking to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community about ‘what do they actually need?’. So when you talk to the people for whom you’re designing, there is no substitute for that. You gotta figure out are you actually solving for the right problem, the problem that you want to solve? Is that a problem that needs to be solved?

[08:58] Viv
And do you have examples of maybe even technology that you use in your daily life that does have that ripple effect where it is, it’s something that you use that benefits everyone else that you interact with, and then that has a flow on effect?

[09:12] Varun
Yeah, absolutely. So I have hearing loss and I rely on live captioning, so that’s the one I can talk about at length right now, for the purpose of this conversation, I’m using Google Chromes inbuilt captioning, and that’s the reason we’re able to have a fairly smooth conversation. I also use this app called Otter.ai, that’s Otter like the Animal. And it’s a great live captioning and note taking app that I’ve been using ever since I first heard of live captioning. One other technology that I want to talk about. Even though I was diagnosed with hearing loss when I was 18 or 19, I’ve never been able to speak on the phone my entire life. My family, and I just didn’t know that it’s because of my verbal cognition limitations because of certain technical limitations that I won’t bother with, essentially live captioning until very recently, didn’t work directly with phone calls. So if I want to wear my hearing aid and have the phone audio go directly to my hearing aid or my earbuds, for example, live captioning, wouldn’t pick that up because for that to work, the audio needed to be on speaker and it wasn’t very accurate cause the audio quality was very poor, until recently. Google’s Pixel phone was the first phone ever to come out with the functionality to have live captioning for phone calls. And last year I had my first ever conversation with my wife that lasted for longer than five minutes on the phone, and at the end of the conversation she goes, ‘Varun do you realise this is the first time we’ve had a real conversation on the phone?’ And I was like, ‘oh, dang! You’re right’. I’m probably never going for another phone because I’m just so attached to Pixel now because of that memory.

[11:02] Viv
How wonderful! What did that feel like in that moment?

[11:07] Varun
It was amazing! It’s the same thing, one was just like emotionally it was… so great. For the first time in my life, I can independently make phone calls by myself. It wasn’t something I could ever do before, literally to talk to my doctor. I needed to have my wife with me to talk to my bank! My bank wouldn’t talk to me on the phone because I told them that my wife is helping me, and they said ‘she’s not authorised so we can’t talk to you anymore’. I can actually have those conversations now.

[11:40] Viv
That is so cool, Varun. And at the end of these conversations I like to ask the guests that we have on our show to leave our listeners and the people enjoying this podcast with a remarkable insight. And that can be a piece of advice, words of wisdom.

[11:56] Varun
Perseverance was what did it for me, it’s what always did it for me. Like a lot of people with disabilities, I have received a lot of No’s in my life. A lot of disappointments. A lot of rejections, a lot of times things don’t pan out, where disability had a direct and real impact on those decisions and having that thick skin to take that punch. Take a day after you recover from the punch, but then the next day I get up and keep going. That perseverance was instrumental in helping me not just get where I am, but also continue going where I’m trying to get to. Times when perseverance doesn’t help is the second piece of advice, which is a sense of humor. When perseverance doesn’t help, when you’re trying and you’re trying and you’re trying and you keep getting a no, you just laugh about it, right? Maybe it’s not for everybody, but it’s what helped me a lot.

Remarkable Insights: Minnie Baragwanath Part 2


[0:00] Viv
We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we record this podcast: the Gadigal people. This is their land never ceded always sacred and pay our respects to the elders past present and emerging of this place.

[0:17] Viv
Coming up on remarkable inside…

[0:20] Minnie
I was called back into the principal’s office and she genuinely looked devastated and she said look, the organisation said you can’t do this now because you’re disabled you’re blind. and that was the first time I realised the world might see me differently.

[0:35] Viv
Surprise! We had so much fun talking with Minnie that we couldn’t continue to one episode so here is a spontaneous part 2. In this episode we Speak about how Minnie accidentally became the first person in the world to have an eBook and her experience growing up with disability.

So firstly Minnie I understand you received your diagnosis at quite young and soon after you met a doctor who changed your life by introducing you to new technology?

[1:02] Minnie
No, you’re so right. Absolutely. I was so lucky that when I was given my diagnosis, I was sent to the hospital. So I grew up in a town called Palmerston North in New Zealand. The ophthalmologist who diagnosed me then sent me off to a specialist at the hospital Leslie Bolton. I still remember this so vividly, walking into this beautiful room, cause hospitals on the whole aren’t. Known for their beauty, but I think it was because I remember there was sunlight coming in and she had this sunny personality and she was all about what I probably now call possibility thinking. She was only focused on what was possible. She was always looking for different ways at different solutions, different technology that could support her patients, and in this case me as a 15 year old and This was in about 1985, and so it was really pre-computers in a way. There were probably a few emerging, but she had the most extraordinary array of magnification equipment and some of the most extraordinary technology. For me to try out, particularly in the classroom, because the big issue for me was as my site deteriorated, by this stage I was virtually unable to read books and I certainly couldn’t see anything on the blackboard, and I couldn’t see using overhead projectors, which are a thing of the past now. And so you can imagine that made accessing schooling really difficult. I was a very keen student. I loved learning, but. I felt sort of these barriers were coming into play, and so we tried all this equipment, which she had sent me back to school with magnifiers and like little telescoped kind of things to look at the blackboard with, and this piece of technology that was like a handheld device that I could run across my books. Because it was just like this red light and it was a single line of text, but you had to keep your hand really still because you were actually literally running this camera over the page one word, one line at a time drove me absolutely bonkers, insane. Because it was so slow and cumbersome. But nonetheless, these were all the precursors to the technology that we now have available. So some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Look, it’s fair to say none of it could bridge the gap of my site loss. So everything took me maybe incrementally closer. But none of it unfortunately was like that, and here’s the thing that will really put you on a level playing field. But as I said, it was a process of elimination. It was also at a time where technology was evolving quite rapidly. Certainly today, if I was a 15 year old getting this diagnosis and heading into the classroom. The kind of tools that are available are just, oh, they’re in a different league. There’s no comparison. When I was studying, I went to university quite young, and one of the ways we got around the fact that I chose to do English literature, goodness knows what I was thinking. There is so much reading in English literature, but my darling mother would read. As many books as she could. She brought us up pretty much on her own at that point and was working full-time. So it wasn’t easy for her. But she would sit in her bed and read the novels I had to read onto an audio cassette and post them to me at university, which was extraordinary. My earliest audio books were my mother reading to me and there were these funny moments. We should spill tea or something and she’d go, “oh, bugger. I’ve just spilled the tea!” or something in the middle of the book.

[4:50] Viv
That’s such a good example of how your mum would record her voice and essentially give you the first prototype of an audiobook.

[4:50] Minnie

[4:51] Viv
Was that something that you told your classmates or your teachers that you were doing?

[4:45] Minnie
Oh my God, no. Isn’t that funny? I don’t think it would’ve occurred to me. Isn’t that interesting? I think it’s possible. I didn’t tell anyone. Probably my flatmates would’ve known… no. And I think a lot of that was I felt that I had to nut a lot of this stuff out on my own. It was tricky. It was very tricky. And I think part of the way I probably responded, and probably to some extent still do, although hopefully I’ve learned a few other strategies to ask for help now, is to go inward and think, now how can I do this? What do I need to do to get through? So I think what I’m, I feel lucky that I seem to have a disposition that is focused on. There’s gotta be a way, there’s always gotta be a solution, there’s gotta be, I’ve just gotta look at this differently. And I have always had the ability to think laterally, I guess in terms of a situation. Sometimes I think I’ve had to wait until I was nearly at the breaking point to discover what that was. But that sort of desire inside of me to persevere, to keep on trying and trying must have been instilled in me somewhere really early on in my life.

[6:16] Viv
And is that a narrative that you experienced a lot? When you had your diagnosis?

[6:22] Minnie
So yes I did. And I noticed that the world quickly fell into two categories. There were the people who. Couldn’t seem to imagine for one moment what I could now do or what they perceived I couldn’t do. And I really stressed that cuz I think that was more about their limitations and their worldview than mine. But the problem is if they are people in power, if they’re our teachers or employers or whomever, That limited worldview can be incredibly destructive. The other side of it is the my doctor Leslie Bolton worldview, which is the possibility, let’s, it’s just a matter of looking at this differently and using some imagination and being creative. And so I talk about the people who have a possibility, worldview and the people who don’t, or I talk about the people who are with you as an access citizen and the people who are not with you. The first time that really happened was when I was selected to represent the school on this amazing boat adventure that high school students would be selected for, and there was often only one student per school. And you’d go away with a group of other students for a week and sail all around in New Zealand. And I’d been selected, which was just extraordinary. And then about a week later, I was called back into the principal’s office and she genuinely looked devastated. And she said, ‘look, the organisation says you can’t do this now because you are disabled, you’re blind’. And that was the first time I realised that the world might see me differently and in that moment, limit my opportunities. And so that was gutting. I just, yeah, I’ve never forgotten that moment and thinking, how am I gonna navigate this if other people are so unimaginative?

[8:14] Viv
I know language is super critical. And just for people listening, you like to use the term ‘access community.’ I would love to unpack what that term means for people listening. And you think if people with disabilities or impairments were given the right , access that they wouldn’t experience disability in many ways.

[8:30] Minnie
That’s it. Probably the first thing I’d say is I think language is so powerful. Every social change movement comes with a shift in language. Language is how we make sense of the world around us, and we communicate ideas and how we create shared frameworks for understanding and meaning creation.It’s vital. So when we set ‘Be Accessible’ up, back in the day, everything in the world was around disability. It was ‘disability’, this ‘disability’ that. Absolutely fine. And I understand the social model and I’ve researched and studied the medical model, so I really get all of this and I also respect, if that’s the language people choose to use.
‘Be.Accessible’, we didn’t call ourselves ‘Be Disabled or ‘Be Disability.’ We called ourselves ‘Be Accessible’ ; it was a call to action. We want the world to be accessible. So we felt as a social change movement, it was vital that we had language that mirrored our intent, and I wanted us to work in a worldview that we were calling an ‘accessibility worldview’, and that was a worldview that believes that equality is possible. It’s a worldview that actually sees all of us at some time in our lives will have a disability, or what I would call an access need. If we live long enough every single one of us on this planet is likely to have some kind of impairment through ageing. I also wanted language that was inclusive of everyone because the challenge I see with disability is that we often use it to denote a particular group over there. And I think it runs the risk of keeping us very binary, us and them, disabled, non-disabled. So accessibility was an endeavour to create a more spacious environment that can hold all of us. And I also noticed that one of the largest communities who have disability is the ageing population. Baby boomers, I haven’t yet met a baby boomer who has happy to call themselves disabled. They’ll say, ‘oh dear, I can’t hear very well, (this is my mum) or I can’t walk, or whatever. But I’m not disabled, I’m just getting older’. And I thought, okay, so we need some language that invites them in. So this was an invitation to smooth off some of those edges. By making it a universal experience. That was also a critical part of our argument that by creating accessible businesses, schools, education, workplaces, customer experiences, we are actually creating a better world for all of us.

[11:09] Viv
Minnie, thank you so much. You have been absolutely brilliant.

[11:15] Minnie
Thanks, Viv!

[11:16] Viv
Thank you for coming.

[11:17] Minnie
It’s a pleasure.

Remarkable Insights: Minnie Baragwanath


[00:16] VIV
Coming up on Remarkable Insights…

[00:19] MINNIE
We had this announcement at the launch of our organization announcing that we had been granted a million dollars a year to set up this social change organization and I remember the entire room just went absolutely silent.

[00:34] VIV
Stick around to see if I ask for a small loan.

[00:37] VIV
Hi everyone I’m Viv Mullan, host of Remarkable Insights, a podcast about disability driving innovation. Minnie Baragwanath joins us to tell us why being human is the greatest innovation in technology today.

Minnie, welcome to Sydney. Thank you so much for coming here and joining me today. How are you?

[00:54] MINNIE
Oh, look I’m fantastic. It’s just such a treat to be here, actually. Been up swimming this morning, 7.30 in the pool.

[01:06] VIV
24 hours in and she’s sunburnt.

[01:09] MINNIE
First thing I bought this morning was a sun hat and some sun lotion as well.

[01:15] VIV
I think that’s how every trip to Australia should work though, right?

[01:18] MINNIE
That’s true.

[01:19] VIV
Now I remember last time we were together in person was in San Francisco and when we were there I took the chance to ask you about visual descriptions and saying at the start of our podcast episodes we would ask a lovely guest to come in and give it a visual description for anyone that was enjoying the show via transcript or video. And I would love to know if you would like to give one and also if it’s something that you find useful or enjoy in podcasts.

[01:46] MINNIE
Look, do you know it’s not something I had really encountered. You introduced me to the visual descriptions – in terms of, in this context, I do now listen to audio description on films and things and actually it’s quite entertaining and I sometimes do think, what movie are they watching? But anyway it’s like in the things they don’t describe. 

But anyway I’m very happy to do that. So I describe myself or do I describe you? I’ll describe myself. So I’m wearing a… I think it’s called Cali Green, I think is the green, which is like an Irish green dress and I have creamy white skin, which is looking a little pink today after the early morning swim. I have on a gold necklace and I have on bright red lipstick and I have blondish hair and I have green eyes. Is that enough?

[02:44] VIV
It’s beautiful. And do you find that information useful for you when you’re at events and things? And if you were going to listen to this podcast would that be useful for you?

[02:54] MINNIE
If I was at an event and there was a speaker presenting and I thought, oh gosh, I’d really like to go and talk to them afterwards, it probably would be helpful to have some idea of what they look like. I am partially blind, visually impaired but I do have some vision. 

In other contexts I probably… it might not be something I’d worry about too much? I’d be, so I’d probably just be interested in what it was they were there to talk about. So it probably is all about context actually.

[03:23] VIV
Thanks for your perspective on it. For the people that are listening that don’t know you can you just give a bit of a description about what it is that you do and how you started doing the amazing work that you do.

[03:36] MINNIE
What do I do? Yes, and this has become a more difficult question rather than… Sometimes I think if only I was a lawyer or an accountant, you know I’d have a one word answer. I have to write an entire book, as it were to explain it. We’ll get to that later.

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with a rare sight condition called Stargardt. And Stargardt is a form of macular degeneration, so I have no vision in the center of both my eyes.

And leap forward several years and I guess now maybe I would say I’m a social entrepreneur, an accessibility innovator but I think the common denominator is everything I’ve done, particularly of the last 20, 25 years has been really focused on finding and exploring multiple different ways of trying to advance accessibility and at the heart of that, it has been really how do we engage mainstream society in different conversations and ways of thinking about access.

So I’m always interested in exploring different ways to get people’s attention around why it’s so important that we level the playing field.

[05:04] VIV
Can you speak to your journey opening up Be.Labs and then that evolving?

[05:09] MINNIE
Absolutely. So it’s funny because people sometimes say, ‘what led you to set up what was originally called Be.Accessible?’ It rebranded about 10 years later into Be.Lab and people are thinking, ‘oh, there’s gonna be some very inspirational story’.

But I always say it was probably equal parts desperation and inspiration, which is a really powerful combination. And I think it was a mixture of realizing that I could not stand the kind of employment situation I was in any longer and I kept thinking there’s gotta be a way for me to have a better experience of being employed. And I was also incredibly frustrated with the slow pace of change around accessibility that I was observing internationally, but in this case, particularly in New Zealand. And I felt I had something slightly different to offer into the mix. I felt maybe there was a way of approaching accessibility that maybe had some value.

I’d never employed anyone. I had never managed anyone. I’d never run an organization. There were a lot of reasons why people… quite a valid reason this time have said ‘Minnie, that’s maybe, a bit out of reach’, but luckily for whatever reason at that moment in time all my guardian angels rallied around me. And all the right people showed up, all the ‘possibility people’, all the ‘with people’ started to show up in my life and before I knew it, there was a team of us with this vision for this organization called Be.Accessible.

All of a sudden we seemed to have funding. It was extraordinary and I remember going down and I’d been invited to present down at Parliament and I walked into this room and I’d never been, I’d never presented to ministers before and I’d completely underestimated the magnitude of that moment and realizing that it was now or never. And I just had that feeling of Minnie you’ve gotta jump and trust, you’re gonna fly or flop. But as it were, I think I flew.

And then finding out I don’t know maybe, it must’ve been three months later that we had this announcement at the launch of our organization announcing that we had been granted a million dollars a year to set up this social change organization. And I remember the entire room just went absolutely silent because first of all, disability organizations, new organizations just never got funding so this was extraordinary. Secondly, it was during the global financial crisis. So it was a zero budget. There was no money, new money going to anything yet, somehow in that environment… oh my God, it still makes me quite emotional now thinking about it, this had happened and it was, it truly felt like a miracle.

And that was when you felt we had this incredible belief and support for this vision for Aotearoa to become the most accessible country in the world.

[08:22] VIV
You speak about the excitement when you found Remarkable and finding people working in the same space, what are some of the risks that you get scared of in this moment of excitement as well? When we see people becoming interested and wanting to put money into this space?

[08:38] MINNIE
Oh, that’s such a good question too. What we need to be asking ourselves and other people coming in is ‘why are you working in this space?’ Or ‘why do you want to invest in this space?’ Or ‘why do you want to make a product for disabled people or access citizens?’

I look at the access space and I feel some of this excitement that’s going on and I start to think people with a lot of money don’t just invest out of the goodness of their hearts usually, that might be one of the motivations. If they’re seeing a business model in here, there’s a business model in here. Why would we, as the ‘access community’, allow ourselves to be exploited for others to make money out of our suffering? Because that’s actually what it is at its worst.

Then you go, okay, we live in a capitalistic world, what’s an appropriate business model that values the ‘access community’ as we invest in products and services with that community? Is there a business model that means ‘actually if I’m developing something for the blind community, how do I make sure that a certain return from the profit of this product actually goes back into the blind community, not just into my shareholders?’, because we wouldn’t have even designed it had it not been for the blind community and their lived experience. Do you see what I mean? I’m really interested.

I think one of the areas of innovation we must be thinking about is, what is the business model we would be proud of in 10, 20, 30 years time that our ‘access ancestors’ can say, thank goodness people were thinking about this 30 years earlier, so that we’re creating products and services in a way that are affordable for us because a lot of the products and services are being designed at the moment are actually designed at a price point that many people can’t afford.

This space needs money. This space needs investment. It’s critical.

[10:39] VIV
You’ve released a book and I’m so excited for you but the people that need to read it are certainly the people in the startup space building technology with and hopefully by people with disabilities because it holds a mirror up. And as part of that, you talk about both people outside the community and in the community holding a mirror up to themselves and what the word disruption means in relation to that. Can you shed a light about that concept of disruption?

[11:10] MINNIE
Yeah it’s funny, ‘disruption’ is one of those words that gets used a lot these days, and particularly marketers love it. If we want things to change, if we really want an accessible future, if we want a future full of possibility where we celebrate and value ‘access citizens’ as the extraordinary innovators, creators, designers, citizens that they are. Then we adopt a ‘with’ approach to everything that we do. It’s that simple. That’ll be in my second book.

[11:43] VIV
Your second book will just be that. Those few words, end of!

[11:49] MINNIE
Exclamation mark! Exclamation mark! My poor editor had to remove all my 10 million exclamation marks.

[11:56] VIV
She’s an enthusiastic person! And one of the last things we like to ask people and you’ve left, I’m sure people listening with a bunch of insights that they can walk away with but what would you like people if you were going leave a remarkable insight for the people enjoying our show to go and think about and ponder and hopefully carry with them after this, what would you like that to be?

[12:21] MINNIE
The most extraordinary technology, if we want to use that phrase and the broadest sense possible, are human beings.

So in this sort of scramble to design the next greatest thing, let’s not forget to keep investing in human beings and in our capacity as humans to imagine different realities, different possibilities and to really show up as the best person and people we can be.

Because this revolution, this possibility revolution or change that we are talking about today can only happen if we choose to show up as people who deeply care about equity, about fairness and about the wellbeing of all humans.

So my little soapbox is all about investing in humans as the most remarkable technology I think we will ever experience on this planet.

[13:26] VIV
Thank you to our guest and hopefully you’ve found your own remarkable moment. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow our Instagram @remakable_tech for unheard moments from this episode.

Talk with you all on the next one!

Indii | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Pete Beckett, Founder of Indii.


Indii is enabling independence for disabled and older people by unlocking the potential of the smart home.


[00:00 – 01:28] Pete

This is Sofii, the adaptable switch for your home.

And this is Sophie, my youngest sister. Sophie is a genuine ray of sunshine who finds her joy in good food and singing Christmas songs all year round. In 2001, Sophie experienced a severe brain trauma, and as a result, now requires one-to-one care on a daily basis. Sophie’s experience is what inspires our vision.

Hi, I’m Pete Beckett the founder of Indii and we’re developing technology to enable the tens of millions of people with motor disabilities who stand to benefit from integrating smart-home technology into their homes.

Currently, home tech is limited by its input devices. In a world ruled by phone apps, quick and universal control is not a given. Voice assistants have been a great step in the right direction, but there are many scenarios where users cannot or do not want to use their voice as a primary input method.

Meanwhile, companies operating in the assistive tech space excel in designing solutions with specific user requirements. Unfortunately, to date, most implementations of environmental control have been prohibitively expensive and limited in both scope and capability.

That’s what led us to develop Sofii, the switch, not the sister. Sofii supports adaptive switches and offers audio-visual feedback and connects directly to the smart home without the need for a mobile device.

[01:28 – 01:34] Sofii

This button controls your bedroom lights. Press the button again to toggle on and off.

[01:35 – 02:33] Pete

Sofii can act as a Bluetooth switch for iPads, phones and computers and at just $350, is more capable than its nearest Bluetooth-only rivals and for a lower price.

Over the past 18 months we’ve developed the hardware and software and tested with new potential users.

We’re now really close to delivering on our mission of providing new and improved ways to enable independence at home. But the next 18 months is set to be even more exciting. This spring we’re welcoming interested parties to evaluate our hardware and explore commercial partnerships as we move towards a launch, selling into the NDIS early next year. And this is just the beginning.

In the future, we want to take our tech out of the home and into public spaces, providing more convenient ways for our customers to interact with the world around them.

And all this thanks to Sofii, the switch and the sister.

The Care Co | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Brianna MacDonald, Founder of The Care Co.


The Care Co teaches kids aged 5 to 12 mental health habits in the classroom and beyond.


[00:00 – 3:29] Brianna

I’d like you to imagine a primary school class. This might be your child’s class or a child you know and there could be about 30 kids.

If it’s a classroom of 30 kids, we expect about 1 in 5 of those children to have already experienced a traumatic event.

We expect 1 in 7 of those kids to already or soon to be struggling with their mental health.

And on average, about 1 in 10 of those young people is disabled.

I’m sure you can imagine, in a classroom of 30 children, that’s a lot of need. And unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

We know that 1 in 3 adults struggles with their mental health. We’re losing about $5 trillion in the workplace and 1 in 5 sick days for the same reason. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorder are three of the world’s leading disabilities. And it’s expected that almost all people will face at least one significantly traumatic event in their lifetime.

The problem isn’t just our declining level of mental health and wellbeing. The problem is that we’re not learning the skills needed to manage these challenges and we simply don’t have enough supply to meet the need.

My name is Brianna and I’m the founder of The Care Co. I’m a Canadian First Nations woman studying a Masters in Psychology with Harvard. I’ve worked in the trauma-informed education space, am a two-time entrepreneur, and 20 years ago, I was a Care Co kid. Now a flourishing, healthy adult, I’m just one example of what can be achieved with early intervention. And I spend a lot of time looking for where the opportunities are.

Chances are you or someone you know is a parent or guardian and you’re probably pretty busy. While you may not feel like a mental health expert, you’ve got one silver lining. Chances are you send your child to school. If you’re an educator, you might feel plagued with questions like, “How do I teach mental health in the classroom?” Again, an opportunity. You’re teaching fundamental life skills every day. Psychologists are a fantastic, effective model, and while they’re hard to scale in their current form, the psychology community gives us an evidence-based best-practice way to work with kids.

And this brings us to The Care Co. The Care Co is an in-classroom software that teaches kids between the ages of 5 and 12 mental health habits. A self-paced learning tool, we offer easy lesson planning, agency, and a unique way to build mental health habits from day one. One of the features we’re super proud of include our ability-based, evidence-based model,support for school disability funding reports, and activities that are mapped to health subject teaching needs. So where do we go from here?

We’re beta testing our app with 5 schools and 1,500 students. Next we’re partnering with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and positioning The Care Co in front of about 1,200 schools in September 2023, and officially launch in October. Our future plans include the psychology,
disability and social work communities, as well as an app for parents and guardians at home.

And we have one really audacious goal – “every child, every school.”

To get there, we offer subscriptions priced per student per month. Schools can choose a 6-month or 12-month licence. And considering the 2 billion kids worldwide, we’re just getting started. First targeting 1 million students, we’ll be grossing $60 million in annual recurring revenue if we reach that goal.

For those ready to see mental health skills taught in every school, I ask that you scan this QR code to view a product demo, visit our website, or join our product updates and investment opportunity newsletters.

And if you’re onboard with our North star, join our mission. We would love to have you along.

SpineX | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Kara Allanach, Director at SpineX.


SpineX is a clinical-stage bioelectric MedTech company committed to delivering spinal cord neuromodulation technologies to improve the lives of people with neurological conditions.


[00:00 – 04:05] Kara

Imagine if you or someone you love was unable to move their body as they pleased or control bladder function on their own. For millions of people in the US living with neurological conditions, this is their reality.

Here at SpineX, we are developing incredible new technology to treat these conditions by using electrical impulses to retrain the spinal cord. Our technology is built on groundbreaking research from the top scientists in the field of neuromodulation and is done non-invasively, without needles or surgery.

Although our technology has many potential applications, we have chosen to focus our first two commercial products on conditions with huge unmet clinical needs, movement disorder in children with cerebral palsy, or CP, and incontinence in adults with neurogenic bladder. These conditions together affect more than 2.5 million Americans.

Existing treatments are simply not good enough because they don’t fix the problems, they only reduce symptoms. At best, they’re short-term solutions, like drugs that cover up symptoms but have unmanageable side effects. And at worst, they’re invasive treatments, like Botox injections or nerve-severing surgery, causing irreversible long-term reductions in function.

With SpineX, now there is hope for these patients and their families. This is a three-year-old child with CP. Before SpineX, he was unable to take steps on his own but when we provided SpineX therapy, within five minutes, he was able to take steps. We have seen similar results, in line with their functional level, with nearly all of the more than 40 children who have undergone treatment with SpineX therapy so far. The really exciting part? We see durable improvements that last for several months beyond the final SpineX therapy treatment. Nothing else on the market can do this.

Neurogenic bladder, or NB, is common in spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and stroke. NB often involves incontinence, frequent urinary tract infections, loss of sleep from night-time voids, and use of catheters to empty the bladder. For some people, catheterisation can take 20 minutes each time and must be done anywhere from four to more than ten times per day, including several times through the night.

With SpineX therapy, we’re able to reduce incontinence episodes by 70%. And if leaks do happen, they’re smaller. Patients report feeling more in control, they don’t need as many catheters and they can finally sleep through the night.

How does it work? The common thread between all of these conditions is that messages between the brain and the spinal cord don’t get through clearly. SpineX acts like a hearing aid for the spinal cord, amplifying the signals that need to get through while cutting out background noise. We deliver special electrical pulses through the skin to rewire brain patterns and encourage neuroplasticity, producing long-term results.

What’s next? Our team of highly-experienced medtech professionals is excited to bring these technologies to market. We expect to receive FDA approval for and launch the first of our products in late 2024. We will reach our target customers by working directly with our collaborators in the hospitals, rehabilitation centres and physical therapy clinics where they are already being treated so that we can make sure that we reach as many potential users as possible.

We’ve been told by our patients and their families that the impact of our technology
is magical, and we agree.

Join us in our quest to bring this amazing technology to market. We’re launching a financing round, recruiting for clinical trials, and interested in talking to people with lived experience with any of these conditions.

Please reach out to us. We would love to talk to you.

Aurie | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Souvik Paul, Founder and CEO of Aurie.


Aurie is building a reusable no-touch catheter system to help intermittent catheter users avoid urinary tract infections.


[00:00 – 03:24] Souvik

Nine years ago, my sister-in-law Carina sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident. As she began her rehab, I learned that people with SCI would rather improve their bladder function than be able to walk again. That’s why I started Aurie. My name is Souvik Paul and our mission at Aurie is to prevent life-threatening infections for intermittent catheter users.

Carina is one of 600,000 people in the US who need to use six to eight single-use intermittent catheters a day. These catheters are basically plastic straws with holes on either end. To use them, users go into the bathroom, insert the catheter into the urethra and leave it in until urine stops flowing from the bladder. Afterwards, these catheters are removed and thrown away. And altogether, over $2 billion worth of catheters are purchased in the US every year.

The problem is that urinary tract infections are a leading cause of death for people with spinal cord injuries and other intermittent catheter users. There is a 50% annual chance of a severe complicated UTI due to the use of standard catheters. The average user experiences one to two UTIs a year, and an annual supply of these catheters is about $5,000. There are safer no-touch catheters that reduce infections by over 30% because of their insertion sleeves and introducer tips that reduce contact contamination. Because they cost almost $20,000 for an annual supply, they are covered for less than 7% of Medicare patients.

Aurie uses a tech-enabled approach to make intermittent catheterisation safer, more convenient and more sustainable. Our reusable no-touch catheters have the same features that help reduce UTIs, but are designed to be reused 100 times with our patented portable smart catheter case, which completely automates the cleaning, disinfection and lubrication of catheters with tap water and pre-packaged supplies.

When we surveyed catheter users, 81% wanted to switch to our system. Why? Because our system allows us to provide infection-reducing features of no-touch catheters at the same price point as standard catheters. We provide a cost-effective means to reduce urinary tract infections for our users.

We’ve demonstrated repeatable and robust disinfection efficacy with early prototypes at the University of Notre Dame. We’ve further developed the prototypes and are preparing for FDA submission in early 2024. We have four issued patents, one pending patent, and additional planned submissions. We have FDA sign-off on our testing strategy and the FDA has even granted us the Safer Technologies Designation after reviewing our early test data. We’re expecting expedited review once we do submit.

The team at Aurie has over 75 years of experience in healthcare, has commercialised 17 medical devices, and has sold over $50 million in durable medical equipment.

We have a broad coalition of support from investors like Lakehouse Ventures and grant-funders like the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Disabilities, all of whom believe in our mission.

We’re always looking to connect with like-minded investors and innovators. Join us in making infections and preventable death a thing of the past for catheter users.

MEMORehab | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Kyle Cortesi, Director at MEMORehab.


MEMORehab is an online platform on a mission to build better memory habits.


[00:00 – 03:33] Kyle

Hi, everyone. We are MEMORehab and our mission is to enhance the experience of cognitive rehabilitation so we can make it more accessible, supportive and data-driven. We are a post-revenue company looking for partners to help us increase our outreach and grow our platform.

Globally, one in six people will live with a neurological condition, resulting from things like stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and more. Sadly, many patients cannot access cognitive rehab due to the inability to travel independently, their distance from the clinic, or the lack of clinicians available with the time or space to run interventions.

Even when interventions are available, patients often lack the tools to practise newly-learned skills or establish new habits. And clinicians are often unable to monitor how their patients are engaging with the program outside the clinic, leaving them unable to provide support when it’s needed most.

At MEMORehab, we support both clinicians and patients through the rehabilitation journey. For clinicians, we allow them to reach patients from anywhere using telehealth and track their patients’ progress with data analytics. For patients, we help them better understand their condition by providing educational resources and reinforce newly-learned skills using computerised training and automatic reminders. Imagine the efficiency. Weekly, group-based telehealth sessions, practice with digital tools, and consistent feedback.

We have begun our journey by adapting a well-established, group-based memory intervention to our platform with over ten years of clinical research backing its efficacy. And in the future, we aim to expand our services by adapting additional well-established interventions to our delivery model.

Right now, we are working on several projects to support MEMORehab, like building a dedicated research platform to test our materials, training and education programs for clinicians via accredited workshops and seminars, and a clinician registry to help patients find the right professional.

Since our incorporation 2021, we have worked with organisations, universities and hospitals. For example, we have partnered with both local and international organisations in the neurological injury space. We have teamed up with universities such as Monash to conduct clinical research, showing that patients using our platform increased in several key areas related to memory. And we are proud to say that major hospitals, health districts and clinics across the country have purchased our annual licences, with dozens of patients successfully using MEMORehab.

Our team brings a wealth of passion and experience, including Laurie Miller, a clinical neuropsychologist with 30 years of experience, Kyle Cortesi, that’s me, with experience in program management, and Pranshu Midha, a skilled front-end developer.

Today, we’re seeking partners who believe in our vision. So if you can help us reach more clinicians, link them with patients, or add interventions to our platform, we would love to hear from you.

So if you are interested in joining us to revolutionise cognitive rehabilitation, use the QR code to visit our website and let’s schedule a call.

With MEMORehab, we’re not just imagining the future of cognitive rehabilitation, we’re building it.

Hominid X | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Thane Hunt, Founder and CEO of Hominid X.


Hominid X develops transformative assistive grasping devices to help individuals with hand disabilities to gain greater functional independence.


[00:00 – 02:45] Thane

There’s probably an object next to you right now. Pick it up, but without squeezing your fingers. It’s impossible.

I’m Thane Hunt, founder and CEO of Hominid X. We build wearable tools that help people to reclaim the use of their hands. Why?

Because there are over 200 million people who can’t use their hands, making everyday tasks difficult or impossible. Physical therapy can help, but often takes years and won’t result in a full recovery. And in the meantime, the adaptive solutions are either specialised to one task or too expensive.

So we designed Fiber, our easy-to-use, adaptive grasping tool that empowers its user with a secure and versatile grip around almost any object. A user can put it on in under 30 seconds and wear it comfortably all day to help them complete any task that requires grip strength. Our design guides the hand into a variety of different grasps, and it does this without any cumbersome motors or batteries. That’s right, our solution is entirely mechanical. There is no other product like it and we’re patent-protected.

Our early testers have held thousands of different objects and the results are clear. People with hand disabilities are riding bicycles, preparing food and getting back to doing what they love.

Let’s take an example, Megan, who loves to bake. Megan suffered a stroke when she was younger and lost the ability to use her left hand. When we met, she was using just one hand for her baking projects. Now with Fiber, she’s using both hands. She’s been able to focus more on her recipes and less on her grasp. She recently opened a bakery and summed up the magic of her experience with Fiber to her followers on TikTok.

[01:34 – 01:42] Megan

Dude, it works! I did it! Easy-peasy. Oh, this makes me so happy! I haven’t been able to do this for years.

[01:42 – 02:39] Thane

Stories like Megan’s are everywhere. Millions of people needed help with grasping and holding and they haven’t been served until now. We sell our products directly to the users or through their occupational therapists.

Since launching Fiber last year, we’ve worked with clinicians and users all across the United States. Once someone wears Fiber, they understand.

We have a strong team. With my background in prosthetics and hardware development, I invented Fiber. My co-founder, Soniya, did the marketing for a $200 million revenue business. And our manufacturing leader, Junior, brings 20 years of experience in scaling new products to mass production.

Try to imagine someone you care about being unable to pick up the phone when you call or giving up on their hobby because they lack the grip strength to do it. With Fiber, we’ve already been able to put the most fulfilling moments of people’s lives back into their own hands.

So visit us online at HominidX.com to purchase Fiber or to schedule a demo. And together, we’ll create a world where no hand is left behind.

Thank you.

Possibility Neurotechnologies | 2023 Demo Day Pitch


Dion Kelly, Co-Founder and CEO of Possibility Neurotechnologies.


Possibility Neurotechnologies is bridging the gap between BCI and everyday life, empowering individuals to control the world around them with just their thoughts.


[00:00 – 04:08] Dion Kelly

I’m Dion Kelly, Co-Founder and CEO of Possibility Neurotechnologies, the company that’s empowering the future of inclusion with our assistive technology solutions that convert thought to action.

This is Claire. Claire is a six-year-old girl with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. She can’t speak or move, which hinders her ability to use current assistive technologies. Though she’s very smart and capable, her physical limitations often make it difficult for her to communicate and express her abilities. Around the world, there are millions of children like Claire who face similar challenges. Their access to basic human rights, including self-expression, play and independence, is often restricted.

Brain Computer Interfaces, or BCIs, allow users to control devices using their brainwaves, including household appliances and power mobility chairs. However, BCIs and their applications are not yet readily available to the end-users like Claire because the middle component enabling control of these external devices has been confined to research environments.

Our proprietary technology, the Think2Switch, fills this gap in providing a bridge between BCIs and the devices that they can control. Using a BCI headset, a user can think about a desired intention and use that thought to control a switch-adapted device through translation of the thought to action by the Think2Switch.

We’re packaging our Think2Switch with a commercial BCI headset and environmental control device to provide a ready-to-use, plug-and-play solution for children to immediately access their environments and participate in life activities.

We’ve innovatively filled a significant gap in the market with our user-friendly, portable Think2Switch system. Unlike existing middleware solutions that are typically restricted to lab environments, our unique system is portable and ready for immediate plug-and-play application.

Our initial target market is children with quadriplegia, of which there are 36,000 resulting from CP in developed countries alone. Our entry into this market will leverage specialised healthcare networks, therapeutic communities and targeted marketing strategies. Subsequently, we plan to expand our reach to adults with quadriplegia, a demographic of more than nine million individuals in developed countries. This will involve partnerships with rehabilitation centres, adult care facilities and relevant healthcare providers.

Our long-term strategy involves penetrating the mass market of able-bodied children, a demographic of approximately 80 million in North America. In this phase, we’ll leverage mainstream retail channels and broad-based marketing strategies.

With our Think2Switch technology, Claire is actively participating in activities that were once impossible, from baking cookies with her little brothers, to blending her own meals, making lemonade, and even participating in their family tradition of pickling. Claire’s mom said, “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The possibilities are endless.”

As one of the few teams globally focused on researching BCIs for children, our multidisciplinary group of clinicians, engineers and business development specialists are leading the way in this untapped market.

With a shared passion for making a difference, we’re driving forward the development of integrated BCI solutions. We believe that everyone deserves equal opportunities and our vision is to foster an inclusive society where this is possible.

Our next goal is to significantly expand access to our product to better serve our primary target market of children with quadriplegia. In order to achieve this, we’re planning to raise a $2 million funding round later this year.

If you’re a passionate investor who shares our vision of an inclusive society, we’d love to start a conversation. We’re also interested in connecting with potential partners and customers who could benefit from our technology. With your support, we can bring BCI to the millions of individuals who need it most.

Let’s work together to create a future where everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, has the chance to express themselves, to play, to create and to live independently.

Are you ready to join us on this journey?