In the US, the UK and Australia, March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. Here at Google, we’re excited to celebrate women from all backgrounds and are committed to increasing the number of women in the technology industry. Over the last few weeks, we have shined a spotlight on women-led startups and how they use Google Cloud to grow their businesses. Today’s feature highlights speech recognition technology company Imanyco and its co-founder, Saida Florexil.
Imagine that you are a young girl in Haiti for whom the world is a profoundly silent place. You’ve never fully heard your mother’s voice or the laughter of your siblings. You cope by teaching yourself to read lips, interpret vibrations through your fingertips, and judge the meaning of body language. Even after you move to the United States, you compensate so well that nobody is able to tell that you cannot hear well.
Then one day your fourth-grade teacher finally understands why you don’t respond when she calls your name, why you don’t raise your hand or join in group discussions. But despite the efforts and good intentions of your teachers, doctors, school administrators, and even eventually your college professors, you continually face obstacles to participating fully. Yet you adapt, because that’s what you do. And you learn. And you commit yourself to removing those obstacles.
As you may have guessed by now, I was that little girl. And my experience is why I’ve founded Imanyco (from the Swahili word Imani, meaning belief, hope, and faith).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults has some form of disability. One in four! Just imagine how much creativity and value we’ve all lost through the largely inadvertent barriers that society and the business community place in our way.
Luckily, we live in an age in which technology holds great promise to assist people with disabilities to unlock their full potential—in life and in business. That’s why I’m proud to be working with Google for Startups, 2Gether-International (2GI), and Verizon Forward for Good to help bring quality communication and connectivity to the deaf and hard of hearing through assistive technologies.
For those of us with hearing loss, being able to understand–much less participate in–group discussions can be exceedingly difficult: think of a college seminar group project or an industry panel discussion. We find that following the conversation flow and parsing the comments of the various speakers is nearly impossible, even when we rely on sophisticated recording and transcription technologies.
That’s why Imanyco developed the Comunify web application, built with Google Firebase and leveraging other Google Cloud solutions. Comunify uses digital signal processing and voice recognition technologies to break down group discussions into text bubbles in real time, color-coded by speaker, and delivers them to virtually any device. The result is that people with hearing loss more easily follow, and contribute their thoughts to, multi-person conversations in easier ways than ever before.
Comunify is currently being beta-tested by hundreds of passionate users around the world, who have already put it to many uses that I never could have imagined (like on Clubhouse and other audio apps). If you would like to try it for yourself, Comunify is currently available for free at getcomunify.com.
It takes a village to build a business, and the story of Imanyco and Comunify is no exception. The journey involved multiple years of trial and error and the generous contributions of countless people who understood my vision and rallied behind it with their time and expertise.
Struggling with imposter syndrome, it certainly took me a long time to call myself an entrepreneur, CEO, or leader. I felt I had not earned the title. As part of the 2GI Accelerator, I had the incredible opportunity to work closely with a coach who help me overcome this.
I have met people in the business world who questioned my abilities, educational background, and accomplishments, and there were moments throughout the start of my entrepreneurship journey where I felt small; I felt like I didn’t voice, or perhaps I should say I felt invisible like my voice didn’t matter.
It took me a long time to be able to speak up. But I knew if I stayed quiet, I would regret it.
As a first-time entrepreneur, I was also lucky to have the early support of accelerators like 1909 and Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway, who provided guidance, training, resources, and connection to local experts who helped me move beyond the idea stage.
Moving forward, I will continue working closely with 2Gether International and Google Cloud to enhance our business model and leverage Google technologies to expand our ability to deliver accessibility to workplaces worldwide. 2GI is an inspiring organization that helps founders like me to channel the strength and ingenuity we’ve developed through coping with barriers in society into entrepreneurial energy that can power the growth of new businesses.
Finding strength in showing up
In some rooms you will be the only woman, the only person of color, the only one working on assistive technology, and the only one asking for accessibility resources. It’s okay to be different. It doesn’t make you any less – know who you are, what you have, what you are capable of. Whatever you do, keep showing up as yourself.
The most costly lesson I have learned is that you should never ignore your instincts and that they should never be the sole basis of your decisions. You have to use your mind and gut to work things out. If you don’t know how to do something, invest in yourself by learning how to do it – you don’t need to master it, you just need to have some fundamental knowledge.
For others who are considering how to turn their disabilities into entrepreneurial strengths and their ideas into reality, I offer some advice:
- Honor your disability. It is part of who you are. Don’t allow your condition to hold you back. I’ve never thought of myself as being less than others and never allowed my condition to limit me, as challenging as that may have been at times.
- Find your network of mentors, peers, and advisors and embrace it. They are out there and want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask. Then turn around and help someone else climb the ladder.
- Don’t wait for the perfect time. There isn’t one. Do it now—launch, then learn!
- When starting a company, don’t spend so much time thinking about what you don’t have or how other people have an easy path. Spend more time thinking about what you have and what you can do to help you get where you’d like to go.
- Great things often emerge from challenge and struggle. If you have an idea you believe in, keep trying. Many people told me no, said my idea was impossible, and told me to quit. But as the amazing Nelson Mandela once famously said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
It hasn’t always been an easy journey but I can say with confidence that it’s been worth it. I’m excited about what Imanyco has accomplished so far and am grateful for all the partners who’ve supported me along the way. Together we are creating new opportunities for more people to participate actively in the life unfolding around them.
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By: Saida Florexil (Co-founder, Imanyco)
Source: Google Cloud Blog