Subtitles alone aren’t bridging the gap for the Deaf Community; content accessibility is ripe for disruption.
Kara Technologies, founded by Arash Tayebi, Farmehr Farhour, Sahar Izadi, and Ken Erskine, have a vision and they've already begun to address this huge market opportunity, creating a new normal for content accessibility.
Today, we’re excited to share an insight into our recent investment in this visionary founding team, and the New Zealand-based company—the 16th company in the Investible Early Stage Fund 2 portfolio. Investible participated in the oversubscribed Seed round alongside a number of local investors including Te Pae ki te Rangi, Quidnet Ventures, Icehouse Ventures, STILL, Flying Kiwi Angels, and Startmate.
An absence of infrastructure
For the Deaf community, there is a huge shortfall of communication infrastructure significantly precluding their access to information and social connection. In meeting the demand for sign interpreters at scale, several challenges present themselves. These include staffing shortages, barriers to certification, availability at short notice, and the expensive cost of resource support. To compensate for these barriers, subtitles have become the dominant communication infrastructure for the Deaf community.
There is a general misconception that closed captions are an adequate solution for Deaf people. In fact, when Deaf people see closed captions, they are forced to switch to a second language, as sign language has its own rules for pronunciation, word formation and word order. Further, it is difficult to learn written English with poor or no capacity to hear, resulting in low literacy within the Deaf community and difficulty reading subtitles.
Kara Technologies is seeking to provide a more equitable global communication system for the Deaf community. Through Motion Capture (MoCap) and Automated Translation, Kara Technologies have created digital humans, avatars with high-fidelity faces and emotional expressions that are easily comprehensible to their audiences. Their proprietary self-developed MoCap technology cleans up dimensional errors and translates motions onto a specified avatar of different proportions in real time, improving the accuracy and accessibility of information to the Deaf community.
The journey to date
Officially launching in 2017 after winning a major prize in the Velocity 100K Challenge, a competition run by the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Kara Technologies joined the university’s first incubator programme, VentureLab. Now taking their technology to market, the Kara Technologies team targeted the already-validated emergency services mass alert market in the United States, deploying into this niche with their highly-realistic avatars that can translate pre-scripted text into sign language. This partnership will also support the further development of the vocabularies and technology behind their signing avatars.
The next step for Kara Tech is to build on their current technology, creating a plug-in to real-time content translation such as video conference platforms and social media. The solution will be akin to turning on subtitles for any content. In time, it is expected that sign language accessibility will be mandated and replace closed captions. Kara is well positioned to service the increasing demand for more scalable signing solutions, with comparative solutions providing cartoon-style avatars that lack coherent movements and facial expressions.
The business has also demonstrated considerable traction through keystone partnerships with blue-chip corporate tech and media businesses around the world. We’re excited to see the results of these partnerships take shape, and can’t wait for them to be made public.
A true founder-problem fit
Where we gained conviction was the co-founders’ alignment with their impact-driven solution. Dr Arash Tayebi’s (CEO) background in Telecommunication Engineering and Electronics and Communications Engineering, coupled with his own personal experience of suffering partial deafness from Meniere’s disease, has motivated him to find a solution that improves communication for the Deaf Community.
Dr Sahar Izadi’s (COO) background in research, Farmehr Farhour’s (CTO) background in Software Engineering and Ken Erskine’s (CBO) experience in marketing and sales rounds out a compelling founding team. The co-founders are strong believers in working collaboratively with the Deaf community to ensure the platform is ‘built for purpose’. With strong conviction in the founders and growing market demand for such transformative technology, the trajectory of thrivability is significant once their product is fully developed.
We are excited to support the Kara Technologies team as they seek to make sign language more accessible globally.
You can take a look at one of their digital avatars below. Read more about Kara's raise round in StartupDaily.
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