Meet Stephanie Cowper, who is harnessing the power of mobile technology to making a difference in the world. This South African entrepreneur and the startup team of BeSpecular Ltd. have created an app to help visually impaired people identify objects and situations and lead more independent lives.
Stephanie recently shared her startup story with Lionesses of Africa....
What does BeSpecular do?
BeSpecular Ltd is a startup that uses technology to solve the problems which visually impaired people around the world face on a daily basis, all the while bridging the gap between the sighted and visually impaired communities. We have developed a mobile application that enables visually impaired people to lead more independent lives.
With subscriptions to our app, Specular, visually impaired people can take photos of the object/situation that they need to be identified and ask a sighted person to answer with a reply via a text or voice message. The Specular app is presently being beta tested by sighted and visually impaired people in over 16 countries. The Specular app will grow in the future to include machine vision functionality, as well as host events for both communities to get to know each other.
"At BeSpecular, we have developed a mobile application that enables visually impaired people to lead more independent lives."
What inspired you to start BeSpecular?
While studying Technology Entrepreneurship at Stanford University we were given the semester project of preparing to start our own tech company. Our team was inspired by the idea of being able to use our technical know-how to be able to help a group of people in society that are often neglected. We found that the daily problems which visually impaired people face around not being able to identify objects and/or situations, could be solved with our set of skills. Our product, the Specular app, was validated when we conducted our market research at the American Council of the Blind's annual conference. When our semester at Stanford University came to an end we realised that that the demand to fully realise our app was too great to pass over. We have since worked tirelessly for the past six months to bring our app to the market.
How will visually impaired people benefit from your app?
Visually impaired people often have to rely on those around them to help them identifying everyday objects and situations. There is not always someone around to help and it means they are always dependent on having someone around them. The Specular app is an innovative, simple and quick way for a visually impaired person to ask their question and have it answered by someone sighted anywhere in the world.
The Specular app enables sighted people to get to know their greater community and put their knowledge and skills to different use. On a monthly basis, sighted people will be rewarded for the number of questions they answered. Rewards will be tailored to the locations of the sighted people so that they might enjoy a dinner at a local restaurant as a token to say ‘Thank You’ for their assistance.
"The Specular app is an innovative, simple and quick way for a visually impaired person to ask their question and have it answered by someone sighted anywhere in the world."
Tell us a little about the BeSpecular team
BeSpecular Ltd. is made up of a truly international team of co-founders who met while studying at Stanford University. Stephanie Cowper (CFO) is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and studied BCom Honours in Strategy & Innovation Management at Stellenbosch University. Zeena Qureshi (CIO) is located in London, United Kingdom, and completed her BA Honours in Art History & Materials Studies at University College London. Giacomo Parmeggiani (CTO) lives in Milan, Italy, and is currently pursuing his Masters in Electrical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
One of my undergraduate majors was Entrepreneurship Management. BeSpecular is my first entrepreneurial endeavour.
What are your future plans and aspirations for the company?
BeSpecular will soon be launching their crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for the professional development of both the iOS and Android apps. We plan to showcase the skills of South Africans and develop our app locally.
BeSpecular is involved in the Expo Milano 2015 which is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, is hosting. We will be inviting sighted and visually impaired people to come enjoy an evening of entertainment and dinner in the dark.
Why LoA loves it….
At Lionesses of Africa, we love this new generation of techpreneurs led by African women such as Stephanie Cowper, who together with her global colleagues, are finding innovative solutions to real challenges in our society and communities, and as a result, changing people’s lives for the better. We think Stephanie Cowper and her company, BeSpecular Ltd, are ones to watch in 2015. --- Melanie Hawken, LoA founder and editor-in-chief