Earlier this year we organized a Startup Weekend at sektor5. One of the winning teams of Startup Weekend Vienna was Bat Suite. They developed a (super)sonic wearable for the visually impaired helping them navigate using sound bites, making the cane obsolete. After three months we now talked to them again.
From #swvienna to an accelerator in Berlin and to the first sold product, here’s their story:
First of all please describe the product you are working on!
Peter Zildner: During Startup Weekend Vienna our Bat Suite team developed echo sonar based equipment which is supposed to improve the life quality of visually impaired people by providing them extra sense. If somebody would not be familiar with echo sonar, then the best thing is to imagine bats and the way how they navigate in an environment. A bat emits sound waves which then hit the objects and creates echoes that the bat receives and uses to navigate itself in his surroundings.
Our device and idea is based on a similar principle. Our bracelet/glove is fitted with hardware which constantly emits sound waves and receives its echoes. Thanks to this technology we are able to allow the visually impaired better sense their environment because they know exactly how far the obstacles are. Our device can translate echoes into sound, vibration and pressure and thus deals with several problems of the white cane – mainly with decrease functionality in the loud environments and possibly dangerous object which are about waist height.
Moreover the device is going to deal with orientation issues and we plan to integrate it into smart cities and systems for visually impaired which already exist. Integrating all these features into one device, we strive to improve mobility, safety of people with limited sight and let them explore their surroundings more precisely.
How many people are in your team?
The Bat Suite team counts 5 people. However at the beginning there was Maxo – our team leader who found out that Startup Weekend Vienna is going on again in Vienna after a couple of years. It was Thursday. The day before SW Vienna was supposed to be happening, when I got a message from him whether I wanted to join his team.
At that time, he did not know what he would be working on exactly but he was sure that he wants to work on hardware. However the whole idea of getting that Startup Weekend experience sounded really great to me. During that evening Maxo found two other guys eager to join the team. So when we came to Vienna it was 4 of us.
The whole team was well balanced (hardware, software, business developer and project manager) but we were still missing a designer. Aware of this issue we started immediately looking for one. It was not that easy as it might look because there were only four of them at the event. However one caught our attention.
Keith turned out to be on exchange in Finland and traveling across European startup venues in order to utilize his skills as much as possible. He proved to be a great designer as well as a fit for our team. Unfortunately, Keith and Matej are quite occupied with their studies and own activities and so our team has shrunk to 3 members.
Therefore we had to look for a new member in order to keep our traction and have the best opportunity of participating in the Hardware.co accelerator in Berlin. So right now we are 4 again.
What was the best moment of Startup Weekend Vienna?
It is hard to decide which moment was the best. Although I cannot speak for the whole team, I have to say that there were couple of moments when we were quite thrilled, excited and insecure at the same time. The first was whether our idea will be selected out of the other pitches. We knew that the idea was cool and thoughtful but on the other hand we were not sure whether others would get excited about it as well.
Luckily it got much positive feedback and we could start working on it. Then it was the time when we all were working on it till 5AM in my apartment. Although it was time to go to bed, we were trying to make our hardware work properly while the rest of us was further developing our business idea.
And last but not the least the moment of the announcement of the final results, which was a bit nerve wracking. We knew that we had great working MVP in our hand but we could not underestimate others which worked hard on the development of their ideas as well. First when I heard that we ended up third, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed but then I realized what a great success it is for our team and I was really enjoying the rest of the night as well. And so did the rest of the team.
What did you like?
I have really enjoyed the overall atmosphere and the mindset of people who were there and tried to have fun and in the same time to work on something meaningful. This experience was new to me. Even though I have visited couple of startup events – mainly presentations.
However experiencing it from inside and being a part of it was definitely something unique.
Do you already have further plans for your project?
After SW, we are still working on improving our prototype, the website and we are gathering expert feedback from people who operate in the field of hardware and from our customers as well. Although SW was useful experience, we knew that it is not going to be enough to bring our product to the market. Therefor we started looking for an accelerator which would help us with our challenges. One of the accelerator program for which we applied was ‘Hardware’. They gave us the opportunity to participate in their program and to improve our product further.
In the Hardware.co program we have learned a lot from intensive couching sessions with professionals in the field of hardware, PR, and business development. This helped us to extend our network and gather valuable contacts which can help us to enter easier the German market. However, what is more important, we were able to develop a new prototype, sell one product and find our first salesman more than happy selling our product across Germany. He personally is partially blind and is surrounded by a community who would appreciate our Bat Suite product a lot.
There is more good news which we have. After we came back to Bratislava from Berlin we got in contact with Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union and they agreed to start a cooperation with us. Thanks to this cooperation, we are going to start with focus groups and customer testing of our product next week. This should help us to finalize our product, get a deeper understanding of our market as well as spread the word about our product. In addition to this we are starting to work with one of the team members of the Slovak Paralympics team who is going to test our product.
We have made major progress since we left SW and we hope that our product is not far from being brought to the market and will help millions of blind people who struggle with their daily mobility and commuting. If you’re eager to learn more about our progress then make sure that you like our FB page, follow us on Twitter and that you sign up for the newsletter on our website.
And if you like to test the product, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and we make sure that we will send you one working prototype for a production price!