Easy tools for dyslexia
20-year-old founder of Oswald Labs, Anand Chowdhary, made the first web reading tool for people with dyslexia at a weekend hackathon in 2016. Now, he has expanded to Europe focusing on the development of his social enterprise.
Some people may take technology and internet accessibility for granted, but the reality is, not many are able to use this very important tool. People with dyslexia, for example, face difficulties to read and write. To help them with that, Anand Chowdhary, founder of Oswald Labs, built a browser extension to assist users with dyslexia in reading and learning.
The entrepreneur from India is currently living in the Netherlands. He will be sharing his unique experiences setting up his social enterprise at the AKEPT-WIEF Social Enterprise Forum on 22-23 Oct 2018 in the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World (ISTAC), Malaysia.
Anand dropped out of college in 2016 to start Oswald Labs (then called Oswald Foundation) and then joined the University of Twente in the Netherlands, in September of that year, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in creative technology.
His startup began at a weekend hackathon event with his friend. ‘I didn’t have the personal story people want to hear, but as a designer and engineer, I’m very passionate about technology and when I realised how many people are unable to use technology, I decided to spend my time making it more accessible,’ he says.
When Anand and his high school friend, Nishant, put their heads together at the weekend hackathon at the AngelHack in New Delhi, they built a browser extension for users with dyslexia and received significant press attention and feedback. They then decided to continue working on building products for people with disabilities. In 2017, together with another business partner, Mahendra, the three founders expanded Oswald Labs to Europe with a focus on research and development.
Oswald Labs products
Oswald Labs offers three products; Agastya, an end-to-end web accessibility platform which allows developers and website owners to add disabled-friendly features to their websites; Shravan, an Android-based operating system that helps people with disabilities use smartphones; and Valmiki, the browser extension that started this all.
Their disability-friendly products, Shravan and Valmiki, are completely free and Valmiki is also open-source, so developers can use its code as well. Agastya is free for websites with less than 10,000 page views per month. ‘Larger websites pay us based on the number of users they have, so it’s completely free for users. Organisations who can afford to pay for the service pay us on a monthly subscription,’ Anand says.
Valmiki users can simply download and install the Valmiki extension on their web browsers then customise the design of all their websites like colour, font size, letter spacing and others. Agastya users can click on the ‘accessibility’ button which opens up a variety of options to pick from. The options include a dyslexia-friendly mode and night mode. The dyslexia-friendly mode redesigns the website in a learning disability-friendly format. It’s night mode allows to browse in the dark, increase the font size and allows for article to be read out loud. All these products can be found on the Oswald Labs website.
Starting up a social enterprise
Initially, Anand and his team wanted to raise funds from investors for their startup, but realised traditional venture capitalists weren’t keen on investing in social enterprises. ‘We’ve since grown to become sustainable without raising money,’ he says.
Oswald Labs is also working on smaller, feature-specific apps like Eventa11y, a physical event accessibility tool; Augmenta11y, an augmented reality (AR)-based text recognition and accessible reading app and more. This year, Oswald Labs is extending its expertise to help early-stage startups grow through their remote equity-free programme, Oswald Labs Accelerator.
There’s a lot of support from startup communities, but Anand thinks there should be specific communities to help social enterprise development and help founders learn. ‘There are some great accelerator programmes for social enterprise development, but I think mainstream investors and programmes should also see the value of doing real groundwork and solving problems,’ he says.
It’s definitely essential for societies and universities to evolve to develop social entrepreneurship among students who are passionate, energetic and capable of solving problems. Anand had to drop out of college to focus on his product and a year later actually joined a programme he was excited about. ‘There will always be opportunities to do other things, but as students our time is now and we should use it to solve the problems we care about,’ he concluded.
To meet Anand Chowdhary and over 30 other speakers and social entrepreneurs, join this year’s AKEPT-WIEF Social Enterprise Forum on 22-23 Oct 2018 in the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World (ISTAC), Malaysia. Register here.