There were two things I thought about a lot when I was interviewing Oded Ben Dov and Giora Livne for a story about their Israeli startup, Sesame Enable. One was persistence, and the other was ambition.
Sesame Enable makes software and a hardware extension designed to help people who are paralyzed control a typical smartphone with head movements.
Four years after its founding, the Israel-based firm has smoothed out a lot of bugs in the tricky technology. It’s taking part this year in a $1 million Google-funded project to distribute touchless smartphones to everyone in Israel who needs one. And, having sold 100 units across the world, it’s planning more expansion in the United States.
Livne, an electrical engineer and former naval commander who was paralyzed 10 years ago from a fall off a ladder, funded the startup with $80,000 after he saw Ben Dov on television demonstrating rudimentary software designed for games. Ben Dov gave up his existing company to work on Sesame Enable. It seemed more important to him than growing his already-successful software development firm.
“A lot of people try to do a lot of cool things with gesture technology but you still don’t wave at your refrigerator,” Ben Dov said. “He brought me a solid use case. I thought, ‘It’s not going to be just another project.”
It hasn’t been. Ben Dov worked on the software for two years and brought a prototype he thought would work to Livne’s house. He thought it would work, Livne hoped it would — and then it didn’t.
“That was the worst moment,” Livne said. He told Ben Dov, “we have to continue.”
“He came with a prototype about three or four months later. It had taken two developers to get it sensitive enough. After two years of development, one day, I could use it. It was sensitive enough … and then I jumped from the chair.”
“Almost,” he said with a laugh.
Considering how powerful mobile phones are becoming — from apps that control switches in your home to those that enable you to run a global business from your chair — technology that enables people with disabilities to use them can make a world of difference.
And indeed, the market for tech for people with disabilities is just beginning to take off. It’s larger than you might think: About 15% of the world’s population, or 1 billion, has a disability, the World Bank estimates. There are 5.6M Americans living with paralysis, the Christopher Reeve Foundation says. Sesame estimates, based on U.S. numbers, that there are 600,000 children worldwide who can’t use smartphones because of paralysis.
Read the full story on Forbes.