StartUp Spotlight: Tactile

Apr 22, 2018


StartUp Spotlight: Tactile

Apr 22, 2018

Meet Grace Li – Founder and COO of Tactile, the first dedicated printed text-to-braille converter!

GH: What is Tactile?

Tactile is the first dedicated printed text-to-Braille converter to increase information accessibility for the visually impaired community. A lot of the everyday information around us is conveyed through printed text, which is often times inaccessible for people who are visually impaired. With Tactile, users can scan any printed text, such as menus, mail documents, and pamphlets, and read the resulting braille conversion using the refreshable braille display on the device.

GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Tactile get started?

Tactile started at a hardware hackathon at MIT called MakeMIT. We were originally inspired by a concept image of a Braille watch and decided to work on a more generalized project for the visually impaired community. One of our team members was also very familiar with the space through volunteering at a blind school. We had no idea that Tactile would come this far from the first rough prototype at the hackathon.

GH: How are you thinking about building your team?

We’re looking to build our team in terms of business and perhaps electrical engineering, areas that our team has had less prior experience in but quickly picking up knowledge in. We’ve been fortunate in receiving a lot of pro bono help so far through MIT and programs that have paired us up with current students looking to get real-world work experience.

GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?

For both our company product and culture, we are driven by principles of accessibility and inclusivity.

GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?

We’ve probably had too many ‘make it work’ moments to count. Particularly for hardware prototypes, demos would sometimes stop working from an erroneous connection, and it would take hours to debug or figure out another method to achieve the same result. This happened once in the middle of user testing. Our prototype suddenly stopped working, and we couldn’t figure out why. We ended up conducting the rest of the user testing using a feels-like device instead of our functional prototype and having users exercise their imagination in scenarios. We gained a surprising amount of feedback from that session of what users desired from the device.

GH: What did you learn from your first users?

We learned so much from the first people who user tested Tactile, especially usability considerations. We were able to fine-tune features such as size, device capabilities, button placement, and interaction flow. We were also able to better define our value proposition in talking with early users.

GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?

The Boston ecosystem has been a great place to develop technology for the visually impaired community and iterate with user feedback. Large leaders in the visually impaired community have locations in Boston, such as the National Braille Press and Perkins School for the Blind. The Boston ecosystem also fosters a number of startups, and there are a lot of people who are knowledgeable about creating successful companies. We’ve been fortunate to meet many of these people through events and programs like TCN’s.

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?

In general, there is not as much support for social entrepreneurships and assistive technologies. Boston could take a more leadership role in supporting these types of ventures. This is the case everywhere and not just Boston, however.

GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?

The best piece of advice we received was to user test early, even without the device completed and exactly how we thought it should be. There is still learning to be gained, and actually extremely useful feedback that can be incorporated as you are developing and building. I don’t think we’ve received a worst piece of advice yet. Perhaps it is too soon to tell yet.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

We became incorporated last year!

GH: What does the future hold for Tactile?

In the short term, we are planning to run our first pilot program at the end of the summer.

In the long term, we’re looking forward to increasing information accessibility and everyday independence for the visually impaired community.

Learn more about Tactile!

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