The technology allows those who have difficulty speaking to create sentences by selecting pictograms. Image Credit: Ottaa

Dubai: With the curtain falling on the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi and athletes returning home — some with medals and some without — a number of companies offering technology to help people of determination are leaving their own legacy.

The Argentinian start-up Ottaa is one such. It has developed technology to help individuals with speech impairments talk, and was selected as one of the 12 start-up finalists appearing at this year’s Special Olympics’ Innovation Challenge, from a field of more than 180 applicants.

Hector Costa, who cofounded Ottaa with his brother to help their grandmother talk again, said the opportunity to appear in Abu Dhabi provided a powerful platform for the company to promote its technology.

“We had a booth where people could pass by and test our solutions. We had the heads of many African delegations super interested in the [technology],” Costa said.

Developed in collaboration with speech therapists, the technology allows those who have difficulty speaking to create sentences by selecting pictograms. This is achieved by running large amounts of data collected by mobile phones through an artificial intelligence algorithm.

The company says there are around 67 million non-verbal people worldwide, caused by a variety of reasons that include autism, post-stroke aphasia, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and ALS. Costa, a biomechanical engineer by training, said he was inspired to “create something totally different” when he saw how his grandmother dealt with her impairment. “We ended up with Ottaa, which is a software that enables speech impaired people to voice out sentences in a really fast way,” he said.

The company’s success in Argentina saw Ottaa garner international recognition. The organisers of Dubai Expo 2020 offered the firm a grant of $100,000 to develop its technology, as part of the Expo Live programme. (Expo Live is a $100 million fund set up by Dubai Government to invest in socially impactful companies that pledges to “improve lives while preserving our world).

“The money allowed us to grow worldwide,” Costa said, adding that he was excited at the prospect of showcasing the technology during Expo 2020.

“Our product fits the needs of people of determination, and especially for athletes who are used to high-performance solutions,” he said. “They need it fast and they need something that can work.”

The company says its software has created 1.4 million sentences for people with speech impairments, assisting 7,000 people in 11 countries. “As soon as we are ready to roll out our Arabic language software, we’ll start selling it in the UAE.” The Arabic-enabled one would be ready by April or May, and would likely be deployed in the UAE by June.

To fuel further growth, Ottaa is embarking on an investment roadshow on the US East Coast in mid-June. “We’ll be visiting places like Boston and New York where most of the health care venture capital funds are located,” he said.

The company aims to raise $1.5 million over the course of the roadshow. As for actually getting its technology out in to the market, the co-founder said that going through public sector entities would be preferable.

“We would love to deploy our solutions through the Community Development Authority and reach people in the UAE who are in need. But if that can’t be done, we would love to talk to the hospitals and deploy through them.”