Startup maps out new terrain
UTS Business lecturer Anna Wright is breaking ground with her startup for the visually impaired.
When Business School lecturer Dr. Anna Wright stands in front of her innovation class, she speaks from experience.
As an accounting and business development expert, Anna has long worked with startups, but had never considered starting her own – until she did.
“The startup world has this image of being 23 year olds living in their parents’ garage eating two-minute noodles,” she says. “That’s quite a challenge to overcome when you have a family and a mortgage.”
But in 2016, she made a last-minute, 4am decision to enter the inaugural SheStarts competition, sponsored by UTS, which aims to encourage female startups.
“You could enter with just an idea, so I thought I would give it a go and the next thing I’m being invited to an accelerator bootcamp. I kept thinking they are going to realise they have the wrong person,” she laughs.
Her blueprint for an indoor navigation system for the visually impaired was born of her own experiences.
Anna’s journey highlights that startups are not just the domain of the young. In recognition of this, UTS has launched a number of programs to encourage staff to tap their inner entrepreneur.
Years earlier, Anna had been diagnosed with an eye condition that could lead to blindness.
While her vision was ultimately saved, the experience gave her an insight into the obstacles faced by those with vision impairment.
"Braille is a common feature in buildings, but have you ever considered how visually impaired people know that it is there?" she asks.
With research showing that those with vision impairment suffer from higher rates of anxiety and depression, Anna believes accessibility to indoor spaces is an issue of equity.
Her company BindiMaps uses a network of beacons, wi-fi, “other cool things that happen in your phone” and the voice of the phone’s digital assistant to help visually impaired people locate themselves indoors.
It can even tell users how the taps in a public toilet operate.
UTS continues to support her initiative through on-campus trials of the technology and potential plans for a campus-wide roll-out of the navigation system.
Anna’s journey highlights that startups are not just the domain of the young.
In recognition of this, UTS has launched a number of programs to encourage staff to tap their inner entrepreneur.
This include the Main Sequence Ventures program, which gives academics access to venture capital funding.
BindiMaps is also one of the teams within the UTS Startups program, which staff can apply to join to develop their venture if they have a student team member.
A side benefit of entering this world, says Anna, is that it can also make you more relevant to your students.
A recent survey shows 40 per cent of UTS students want to create their own jobs or start their own companies.
Academics such as Anna are important role models and mentors for the next generation of student entrepreneurs.
“It’s quite fun to talk ‘startup world’ with students because they are so hooked into the challenges we are going to face,” she says.
“They are also pretty happy when they win prizes in external competitions off the back of the assessment work we do together.”