• A social enterprise changes the consumers’ culture in Russia

    charityshop2It all started with the Social Impact Award 2014
    CharityShop is a new type of social business that becomes more and more popular in Russia. Daria Alekseeva, owner of CharityShop, was a finalist of Social Impact Award in 2014. She was interested in fashion but also wanted to make this world a better place. Daria looked at different kinds of charity shops and developed her own version.

    CharityShop in Moscow sells donated second-hand goods, for example, clothes and jewelry. It builds new infrastructure and consumer culture. People donate things they do not need anymore, and others buy them for a lower price. They collect donated clothes and other items that the owner does not need anymore. All donated items are categorized in three groups: the ones that are of the best quality are sold in the shop, the ones that are still good enough for usage are sent to poor families, the ones that are of the worst quality are recycled.

    Up to 140 tons of clothes
    CharityShop operates not only in Moscow, but also in Adygea, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Saint Petersburg. They started to cooperate with famous brands and big malls. For example, CharityShop places special boxes for collecting goods in SELA shops and MEGA mall, and got 140 tons of clothes, shoes and jewelry one month. CharityShop team also often works in partnership with big corporations. For instance, during one #UberSpringCleaning day, Uber drivers collected 3 tons of goods by picking up donated clothes from families who wanted to participate in this campaign.

    Profit goes to charitable foundation called “Vtoroe dyhanie”(Second breath). It organizes special programs that help people from social vulnerable groups to find a job. Part of revenue goes to Equal Opportunities Development center “Вверх” (Up) that helps children from correctional orphanage to adopt to life outside.

    CharityShop also offers job opportunities
    Furthermore, Daria gives job to people who have difficulties in their life so they can start over. CharityShop helps them to get legal registration, if they do not have one, recover documents and pay related fees. Once Daria hired a homeless man. As she mentioned in her article in Forbes “his hands were shaking so intensively so he couldn’t even tie a bag with the stuff. However, employers usually do a great job. The team looks after them and is very happy when to see that instead of rotten food they have stew and potatoes for lunch”. In addition, CharityShops organizes special events. For example, they run workshops on developing personal look for homeless people and free-shopping days for employees of nursing homes.

    CharityShop is the first social enterprise of that kind in Russia. It changes consumer culture and people’s mindset.

  • Will we finally manage to make children interested in chemistry?

    The number of students interested in studying natural sciences is still decreasing. Obviously, something’s not right! Chemistry is definitely the least favorite, despite the fact that nowadays, it’s the foundation of all our consumer areas. The children don’t see the logic in it, the volume of “pointless” theory bores them. The two Slovakia’s SIA winners 2015, Adrián Hegedűš and Ivana Kravárová, came up with an original way how to change the situation. They realized that the simplest way to study and learn is to do so by playing games. The result is their brand new didactic game ChemPlay.

    Chemplay_1“We spent more than a year developing the game. Then we spent another one testing the game at Slovak and Czech both middle and high schools. We also presented it at various official conferences, aiming to get the most valuable feedback – from the professors. Fascinating and motivational was the interest it aroused. It was an indication that the desire to solve the question of children tuition isn’t important just to us and that the game is truly demanded amongst the teachers. The teachers, children and parents value above all the fact, that the game allows no plain memorizing. It requires parallel use and development of logical, analytical, combinatorial and creative thinking while also improving teamwork skills.

    The probations proved this way’s effectiveness. The children were suddenly much more active and the boring theory was suddenly neither boring, nor theory. It managed to keep them focused for the whole 45 minutes long class, which, until then, required the teacher to have unachievable skills and authority. Numerous kids got more than just motivated, they began asking questions to unravel some more advanced curriculum.

    Thanks to the success at various conferences, presentations and probations we gathered the courage to attend some competitions. The award of the Faculty of natural sciences of the Comenius University at the festival of science and technology, organized by AMAVET and advance to the international expo ESI 2015 in Brussels were an immense encouragement, followed by more awards and victories, for example the victory at the Bravo vědě competition, which took place in Pardubice, Czech Republic.

    Chemplay_2However, we also wanted to gather some feedback from the businessmen concerning the market success potential of our project. Therefore, we attended some business-related competitions, such as Social Impact Award Slovakia 2015, which we won, and the prestigious competition Nápad roku 2015, where we were scored the special EKONOM Student podnikatel award and got the 5th place overall.

    A huge experience was also the summer SIA bootcamp in Vienna, where we got to see other amazing projects from all around the Europe and get some other valuable feedback. Another great success of our project is being featured at the Slovak map of social innovators, accompanied by such names as our president Andrej Kiska, Zuzana Wienk from the Alliance Fair-play or the pals from OCTAGO, who won the SIA as well.

    We closed the 2015 with 2nd place which gave us free membership (and much more!) at Impact Incubator, organized by Impact HUB, Bratislava. Meanwhile we attended dozens of amazing mentoring events that helped us a lot in the terms of organization, project realization and a general idea what should our next steps be. We also have a new webpage with the order form thanks to the mentors. It was the next stage of our project’s evaluation and verification whether it can survive on the market.

    It was a correct step. Within the first two verification weeks we acquired orders both by schools and individuals. With the verified demand for ChemPlay, the thought of starting the production and distribution came to our heads. We already gained the theoretical knowledge by the mentors, but it was a great challenge anyway. We had to apply the theory, find the correct sponsors, get them excited and interested. It’s not easy, but we’re almost there. What brought us even closer, was the decision to try the crowdfunding via Center for philanthropy in Bratislava.

    Chemplay_3Our tiny project has grown a little throughout the time. We got contacted by Czech companies that want to distribute our game in Czech Republic. Given this, and the excited reactions of Czech teachers, we couldn’t but recreate the game to be bilingual. This, however, caused a little more ambitious budget as the starter pack of money needs to be a bit bigger. We’re proud and happy that in 50 days of the campaign, we managed to have raised 112% of the goal amount, which brought us one more step closer to the finalization and first production. Having circa 170 orders sure bears obligations and responsibility, but also an encouragement that our effort is not just wasting time.

    It is overwhelming to hear these reactions of teachers, like “the change of mood is evident. The bored youth is all of a sudden overflowing with questions, they contemplate, they help each other, but mainly, they think creatively…”, but to know that the game will travel to over 40 Slovak schools is even better. Our goals, however, exceed the boundaries of Slovakia. Chemistry works the same all over the world, thus we aim to expand within Europe and maybe once even within the whole world.

    ChemPlay is just the beginning. Our objective is to build a set of didactic games able to playfully teach the basics of natural sciences and motivate children to study them.

  • “If you have something in mind, simply give it a try.”

    Interview with David Zistl, founder of “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” and SIA winner 2015.

     

    The vast migration of refugees has become one of the most complex challenges for European countries since many years and triggered a broad discussion about how the refugees can be integrated into our society. While politics are still struggling in offering proper solutions to this topic, a few students from Vienna, Austria have been faster. In the beginning of 2015, they developed the project “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” (“Refugees Welcome”). The project’s concept is as easy as impactful: Whoever has a free room in his or her shared apartment, reports this on the online platform of “Flüchtlinge Willkommen”. The project then acts as an agent by connecting the interested person with a local NGO and one or more refugees. Before a contract is signed, the refugee(s) and his or her potential future flat mates meet and get to know each other.

    In May 2015, “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” won the Social Impact Award in Austria. We talked to David Zistl, initiator of the project about this exciting year, the challenges he has been facing and why the Social Impact Award has been an important step for the project.

     

    David ZistlDavid, almost one year ago you and your colleagues started “Flüchtlinge Willkommen”. What was the driving motivation for you?

    “Simply because the situation of asylum seekers in Austria has been and still is terrible! The immigrants are being kept out of city centers, they have almost no possibilities to get in touch with locals. You have to consider that the Austrian authorities support refugees with 320 € per month, out which 120 € are supposed to be spent for housing. You simply can’t get a room in a shared flat at that price! Moreover, with the dramatic increase of refugees coming to Austria more and more of them become homeless. In Traiskirchen, a large refugee camp close to Vienna, refugees were sent away and being told that they should take care of housing on their own. And even for legally approved refugees the situation is very difficult as they need a pay slip in order to be able to rent a flat on their own. So, there was definitely an urgent need for a concept like ours.”

    So you started to work on it in January. Just five months later, at the end of May, you won the Social Impact Award in Austria. How did this influence the project’s development?

    “Oh, it definitely helped us a lot. Even more important than the direct financial support has been the fact that this award brought us in touch with ERSTE Foundation and other important players that later invested into the project.”

    How did you use the prize money?

    “First of all, we were able to pay two team members a small salary in order to grow the operations and to bridge the time until we were able to raise higher funds from ERSTE Foundation and others. But we also used part of the money to create and print flyers and other PR material to increase publicity.”

    Now, about half a year later, what is the status quo of “Flüchtlinge Willkommen”?

    “Well, most important to mention is that we have already provided more than 200 refugees a room in a shared flat! But it is not merely about the numbers, but the people. It is incredible to observe how much the matching of locals and refugees affects both sides! I just want to give you one example: A successful entrepreneur approached us and offered a room in his apartment. So, we put him in contact with a immigrated teenager. But the entrepreneur didn’t stop there. He organized him access to school and offered him an apprenticeship position in his own company as soon as he finishes school.”

    Reflecting on everything that has happened this year, what has surprised you most?

    “The success of our financial model is one of the greatest surprises. It is based on micro donations by flat mates, family members or friends of the locals. Thanks to their solidarity we were able to raise enough money for each and every flat room that we got offered. Once, we raised more 2.700 € within two days, just from micro donations of ten to thirty Euros.”

    In a few weeks the Social Impact Award 2016 kicks off in more than ten European countries and again thousands of students will participate in workshops, work on their ideas and try to put them into praxis. With your experience from this year: What would be your key advice to them?

    „Simply do it! Try it out and then you’ll see if it works or not. If you have something in mind, simply give it a try. Probably, we are often too pessimistic that things might not work in the end, but our example should show that it can happen. But of course, you need to work for it and you need to be very flexible.”

    Dear David, thank you for the interview and all the best for your project!

  • Promoting social inclusion and active citizenship

    Between four and ten thousand people live in the streets of Prague, making homelessness an issue that has to be addressed on a social level. That’s why Pragulic cofounders Tereza Jureckova and Ondrej Klugl came up with an idea for a project that allows people living in the streets to become tourist guides, contributing to the reduction of social exclusion and stigmatisation.

    “It all started after SIA kick off in Prague in 2012,” Ondrej says of the idea, which by now has transformed into a social business. “At that time we were three students who decided to connect and run a project.” Today, besides the two managers, the team consists of external psychologists, bookkeepers, and volunteers who translate the city tours. “Although most people overlook the homeless we learned that they have big potential and we hope that we can help them restart their lives with our service and what is even more important also educate the public,” Tereza adds.

    Tereza and Ondrej found out about the SIA competition through their university and having dived deeper into the concept of social entrepreneurship they decided to take part at the kick off at Imapct Hub Prague. “For me it was a great chance to finally start something,” says Tereza who aims to help a marginalised group gain acceptance and respect by giving them a place and purpose in society.

    What doesn’t kill you…

    While the beginning was tough, both cofounders proved they had the will and the ambition to deal with challenges. When Ondrej had a knee surgery during the launch of Pragulic, all he could think of was keeping the business going. “I remember the first thing I did when I woke up after the surgery was that I had to deal with some phone call connected with Pragulic. It was both mentally and physically difficult for me and it influenced me a lot.” Tereza, on the other hand, won’t quit the project before she’s 100% sure that it can be run without her. “Sometimes you lose your energy with people who are not worth it. But whatever I do I never completely forget about work and I am looking for social enterprises, homeless or inspiring people. I think that this is a sign that I am really passionate about what I do.”

    Setting high goals

    With its lovely bridges and numerous historical sites Prague is a must-visit for tourists from all over the world. Pragulic tours, however, offer a different perspective on city life and allows you to experience a place through the eyes of a homeless person. „We have proven to ourselves and also to people around us that we were able to set up a sustainable social business,“ says Ondrej.

    “When you grow you are setting up higher and higher goals. I compare it with what we achieved over time and I can be really proud. For us, every small step counts,” Tereza concludes.

  • Bitcoin to the People

    In Croatia, a small startup project called Coinsulter aims to link the digital currency Bitcoin to the world of the consumer-market.

    When Luka Klancir comes home from his regular job as project manager in a digital agency in Zagreb, Croatia, he hardly ever calls it a day. His second job and primary passion, Coinsulter, still awaits. The app shall change people’s money matters and will allow them to use the highly talked-about digital currency Bitcoin. Moreover, a personal financial advisor is included in the service.

    Together with his former fellow students Filip Rafajec and Vinko Horvat, Klancir runs www.crobitcoin.com, a Croatian Bitcoin information portal. They founded Coinsulter in 2014 as an “extended arm of the portal, that is now in the project phase and will be launched in the summer of 2015.”

    Bitcoin or bit-what?

    Bitcoin is a digital currency not issued by a state. It operates by a “virtual ledger” called the blockchain. To use Bitcoin, e.g. to make payments or investments, you only need a key-phrase and an app on your mobile device or computer.

    Luka Klancir first got in contact with the idea when he lived in Graz as an exchange-student in 2013. “Back then, Austria already had a good community of digital currencies – unlike Croatia at that time,” remembers Klancir who returned to fill the gap.

    The three entrepreneurs financed Coinsulter by keeping their day-jobs and are still not looking for investors. “I think waiting until we have more things accomplished will make us more interesting to investors.” And while the young entrepreneur admits that working two jobs does take its toll on his private life, he says he is willing to make that sacrifice.

    Social Impact Rewarded

    Besides the prospect of financial success, Coinsulter proposes a financial and social revolution, as the founders are well aware. “By excluding the banks, digital currency gives people more freedom. In countries where the banking-system is underdeveloped, this can be a way of getting paid or financing your business.”

    Winning the Social Impact Awards in 2014 added to their insight into the business-world. “On the way to the SIA we attended workshops, learned about pitching and proper business-planning. If you propose an abstract topic like Bitcoin, you have to learn to speak plainly about it. And of course, winning the award boosted our motivation,” he adds.

    The next goal after launching the app is to establish a company. The Coinsulter-app will only be the first in a line of a series of services. “We are already talking about possible applications and ideas around ‘the internet of things’, which I think is going to be the next big trend.”

    Whereas Klancir does not believe Bitcoin will replace the euros one day, he thinks that digital currencies will become increasingly important for international online-payments and for professional currency-investors.

    What would you say to others like you?

    Do not think starting a business will be an easy ride. It is going to take some sacrifices, but these can pay off nicely and maybe make the world a better place.

  • Empowering children through sports

    Croatian project Allegria aims to make sport accessible to children from low income families. Read here about how a strong-willed Croatian set out to improve the life of her community.

    With a serious dose of determination and lots of good will, the one-time European Taekwondo champion and aspiring social entrepreneur Mateja Pančelat (25) made it all the way to the finals of the Social Impact Award in Zagreb last year. Even though her idea of using sport to empower underprivileged children wasn’t awarded a prize, the setback hasn’t affected her faith in her project or her convictions.

    Inspired by her own roots

    Growing up in a rural village, Mateja Pančelat had no access to sport till she turned 15, when she finally started to train in Taekwondo. “My parents had a tough life working in agriculture and had neither money nor time to enroll me in the sport course I wanted,” she laments. With passion and relentless effort, she nevertheless earned her black belt and won an international competition in 2009, a path that forged her character and conviction.

    Through her experience, Mateja came to believe that sport nurtures a positive mind-set by teaching children to be self-confident and persistent. “My goal is to use sport as a ‘remedy’ for underprivileged children, especially those in rural areas, to help them grow up in better conditions and give them equal chances in life” she says.

    Venturing into entrepreneurship

    The idea of connecting social entrepreneurship with sport came to Mateja during workshops at Impact HUB Zagreb, where she learned about the first Croatian Social Impact Award competition. “We didn’t have such student competitions in Croatia and social entrepreneurship isn’t very popular here yet, so it was a big learning opportunity,” she explains.

    After extensively researching legal matters related to the sensitive topic of poverty, Mateja pitched her concept of Allegria – an organisation that would organise sport camps for tourists and corporate workout packages in order to subsidise athletic training for rural children. Her idea got to the finals, but did not convince the jury in the end. “I did the whole project all by myself and I think this was bad idea: my SIA journey taught me that having a team is a better way to develop a plan,” she concedes.

    Pursuing her goal

    After graduating in sport management at the University of Zagreb last summer, Mateja is now conducting research with the Red Cross and local schools about children in need. She is still eager to realise her project. “People praised my idea and I received a lot of positive comments, especially because the situation in Croatia is on a downward slope, so there is a lot of work to be done,” she says. “We need to become more aware of others in our community, it will help to improve the quality of our lives,” she concludes.

  • Koala Phone makes a smartphone even smarter for challenged users

    Josef and Tomáš Slavíček founded the Koala Phone app – a simplified Android phone interface that elders and others can control easily. Koala Phone won a prize at the Social Impact Award in Prague in 2014 – now the app is available in 24 languages and has a huge potential to help millions to better communicate with their families and friends.

    Is it true that people over 65 are too technophobic to bother with those “newfangled contraptions?” The reality is that elders are using smartphones to communicate with their families and friends, and many more would use them if they were easier to handle.

    Two brothers from the Czech Republic, Josef and Tomáš Slavíček, decided to challenge the elder stereotype with hard research. They looked at some basic demographic data that showed a sizeable, growing market of elderly smartphone owners. As the population ages, it is becoming increasingly tech savvy and demand will rise steadily.

    Finding a balance between usability and functionality

    The brothers also found out that “seniors, like our own grandma, are frustrated when it comes to actually using touchscreen smartphones and their numerous features,” explains Josef. “Some find it difficult to see the small icons, text and buttons; others are confused by labels, unfamiliar terms overwhelming options and the complicated interface.”

    Up till recently, the answer was a “senior phone” – a push-button device with large buttons and readout. But it’s embarrassing for many elders to buy or own such a device – it makes them feel old and feeble – and they lack functionality that many elders want: alarms, notifications, calendar, camera and photo-sharing. However, 80% of people over 50 think their smartphones have more features than they would ever use. Users are often overwhelmed and just give up.

    A launcher is launched

    The brothers developed an App called Koala Phone. Josef describes it as “an Android launcher with an easy to read and operate interface. The users can manage their contacts and write texts, as well as access the camera, calendar, alarm and flashlight without leaving the Koala interface.” The alert sounds and ringtones are louder than usual and the “buttons” vibrate when pushed. It also provides a simpler, usable way to access only those external apps that the user needs.

    To date, the free 7-day trial of Koala Phone has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, leading to 1300 purchases at $6 each. But if a elder can’t first find the app available on GooglePlay, how can he or she download and install it? “We are forming partnerships to have Koala preinstalled on Android devices,” Josef reassures us, adding that they also actively market the App to the families of seniors.

  • Ke kořenům – To the Roots

    Prague-based Ke kořenům (“To the Roots”) took third place at the Czech Social Impact Awards in 2014. The founding team’s goal is to disrupt the traditional business of arranging funerals in their native country.

    Traditional burials waste natural resources. Not only is valuable real estate devoted to cemeteries, which have no useful secondary function, but millions of trees and tons of metal are used to create caskets and mountains of concrete for the crypts – all to give survivors the illusion that their departed loved ones will never be forgotten.

    A crisis of funeral rituals and death taboo

    If that weren’t enough reason to create a business devoted to alternative eco-burials – a trend that started in the UK in the mid-1990s – there are other social reasons why To the Roots’ three founders launched their enterprise. “What Czech funeral homes offer hasn’t changed in 10-15 years and people are no longer interested in organising funerals,” believes Monika Suchánska, who, like her cofounders Blanka Dobešová and Alžběta Živá, is in her mid-twenties. “We’d like to solve this crisis by giving people an alternative.” To the Roots’ not only offers ecological funerals (by burying ash remains in tree roots at a natural burial ground) but also counsels the dying and their families about how to organise such unique funerals.

    Blanka was personally inspired, “when my grandpa was dying in the hospital, he felt very lonely and my family couldn’t talk with him about what he was going through. Everyone involved suffered. I saw first-hand that death is such a taboo topic in our society.”

    Getting it together at SIA

    Blanka and Alžběta studied at the Masaryk University in Brno (environmental studies and social work, respectively) and became interested in ecological burials. When the Prague cemeteries bureau decided to establish the country’s first natural woodland burial ground, the two friends were introduced to Monika, who had studied anthropology.

    The trio found out about the Social Impact Awards in Prague and felt this would be an ideal way to develop their idea. “We didn’t think it would be possible to win,” says Monika. “There was a lot of strong competition. But our topic is very unique and we knew that people need us.”

    Blanka adds, “At first, we had problems communicating our offer – what exactly we wanted to do and for whom. We got a lot of support from Kristýna Bartoš and Roman Bojko at the Impact Hub Prague. The communication was very friendly and they explained what’s important to clarify.”

    Monika recalls, “We got so much help from so many people through the program,” including an assigned mentor from Price Waterhouse Coopers. “It did just what it promised to: accelerate the process of becoming a business. We attended workshops at the Impact Hub Prague about online marketing and for refining our ‘elevator pitch’ and practiced a lot.” It paid off, literally, when they reached the finals and won a 3000 euros award.

    Leveraging the prize

    The resulting media attention helped their fundraising efforts last fall. “We’ve raised about 66 thousand koruna on HitHit [a Czech crowdfunding platform] and the Vodaphone foundation contributed 49 thousand koruna” – a total of about 4000 euros.

    The team will soon be an official NGO. “Now we have a very clear offer, a visual identity, a physical office space of our own. In two months we hope to open the first natural burial ground in the Czech Republic: the ‘Wood of Memories.’”

  • The Re-Cycling Community

    Most citybike-services follow a unique template: fixed bike-stands to pick up and return your bicycle, provided by municipial authorities, sponsored by corporations. A Czech bicycle-sharing project leaves the trodden path and adds a strong sense of community to the mix.

    Project Rekola unsurprisingly has strong ties into the Czech green community. Its founder, Filip Ježek, is chairman of an organisation connected to the Green Party. Newly hired CEO Pavlina Pacáková has worked for Greenpeace and for the Czech Green Party. Vitek Ježek, the third founder, co-owns a software company called Mangoweb that provides the mobile app to access Rekola-bicycles.

    Speaking about Rekola, Pacáková never calls it a citybike-ring, but a bike-sharing-community. “The idea is based on an earlier bike-sharing-system in Suchdol – a small district of Prague. Unfortunately, the founders back then suffered a total loss due to vandalism. Rekola keeps the community-aspect, but adds intelligent software and bike-locks.”

    The bicycles are refurbished citybikes painted in a flamboyant pink design. “High school-students help out renovating the bikes or look after the bikes that are in the city for very little money.” In terms of organisation, Rekola operates as an NGO. The workshops are open to everyone, and while visitors are asked to contribute their bicycles to the system they do not have to.

    Getting started

    Rekola has used crowdfunding via the Czech platform hithit.com and raised 150.000 Czech crowns (about 4.500 euros). This sum was doubled by the Vodafone Foundation, which is in the Czech Republic running a programme Technology for Society. The foundation also enabled the founders to visit similar projects abroad and it keeps supporting the project in various ways.

    But also with such a strong backing, none of the founders would disagree that Rekola is still a work in progress. Last year, they even experimented with a kind of franchise-system.

    Work in progress

    “From April 2015, we will start what is our third testing-phase,” announces Pacáková. 100 Rekola-bikes will then be available in Prague, 50 more in Brno, 10 in Olomouc and 20 in Pardubice and Hradec Králové. “It is the first bike-sharing-system working without fixed stations and relying on a community rather than one company running the system. We already have more than 1.000 registered users. Some of them are not even cyclists, but simply wanted to support the idea.”

    Social Impact Award

    Winning the Social Impact Award changed two things for the team. “First, being acknowledged like that was a huge boost in motivation for us. Immediately, our vision became bolder, we started thinking more internationally. Why not go to Barcelona or other cities where there is no working bike-sharing-system in place?” she recalls.

    “Second: The positive feedback we received convinced us further that it is the community-aspect that is most important about Rekola. We will never let go of the community principle.”

    What would you say to others like you?

    “Everyone kept telling the Ježek-brothers that a bike-sharing-system like this would never work,” recalls Pavlina Pacáková. “But they refused to listen. Even now, we often face resistance, for example when we try to convince politicians to let us build more and safer bike-stands. After many ‘no’s’, we often get a ‘yes’. So my advice to social entrepreneurs is this: Never give up!”

  • Successful Business creating a Better Life for Others

    Blitab is a tablet-computer specially designed for blind and visually impaired people. Although it is not yet on the market, it has already attracted a lot of attention and won an impressive number of international awards.

    How to make the world a better place for some 285 million people? Take a display of small physical bubbles forming Braille alphabet, add to it a so-called Perkins keyboard, which is a keyboard specially designed for typing Braille. Stir innovative technology and and accessible design into the mix, and voila: You have the invented first tactile tablet-computer for blind and visually impaired people.

    Kristina Tsvetanova, Slavi Slavev and Stanislav Slavev, co-founders of Blitab, have done exactly that and met with huge success. Their idea was born in Bulgaria in 2012, and the founders moved to Austria to turn it into reality. The company was finally established in August 2014. Blitab, with its potential to bring mobile computing  and digital experience to a group of people that was until now excluded from that kind of modern communication, should go on sale in 2016. It is now in the prototyping phase.

    Among the awards and grants the project already won are not only the Social Impact Award, but also many other Austrian, European and even one Mexican Award. Among those who hailed Blitab are also the Austrian Social Ministry and aid foundations for the blind.

    Who is Blitab for?

    According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million people on the planet who are blind or visually impaired. Blitab says that 150 million people use the Braille alphabet and are potential primary customers for Blitab. “And there are secondary customers as well”, states Tsvetanova. “Think of offices which have blind and visually impaired people coming in as customers. With Blitab, you can hand them sales material to read or contracts to go through. And of course there are companies that employ blind or visually impaired persons.”

    As Tsvetanova and Slavev are well aware, their product can help improve the lives of their customers immensely. But of course they also have business success in mind, or, as Tsvetanova put it: “We think of ourselves as a hybrid social company – we are convinced of the global social impact of Blitab, but we also do it because we see in it the next successful business starting from Austria.”