Accelerators / DEI / Disabilities / Funding / Pitches

Argentinian company wins $10k to expand open-source tool that helps people with speech impairments communicate

Cboard earned the funds at a pitch competition hosted by 2Gether-International, an accelerator for disabled founders.

Martin Bedouret presents his software company, Cboard, at a pitch competition hosted by 2Gether-International (2GI). (Screenshot/2Gether-International)

When Martin Bedouret was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at age 39, he discovered that the tools to assist with speech issues were expensive, inaccessible and only available in a handful of languages. 

Using his more than 20 years of software development experience, he co-created Córdoba, Argentina-based Cboard in 2017 to find solutions to these problems. It’s an open-source, cross-platform, augmentative and alternative communication system for people with speech and language impairments. 

His startup now has $10,000 in seed funding thanks to his Tuesday evening win at a pitch competition hosted by 2Gether-International (2GI), a DC-based startup accelerator run by and for disabled founders. Cboard will use the money to continue building out the innovative tool. 

Members of the nonprofit’s spring cohort, including five other entrepreneurs, took part in the contest. The virtual event marked the culmination of the 10-week accelerator program where these founders were coached on their pitches and business models. 

During his pitch, Bedouret used Cboard to present and answer questions from a panel of judges including Lisa Friedlander, the chief revenue officer at NEXT powered by Shulman Rogers; Geoff Walker, the senior managing director at Ankura; and Alvaro Silberstein, the founder and CEO of Wheel the World. Bedouret did this both to clearly communicate and also to demonstrate how the tool works, he said. 

“Cboard was created because we believe in making communication accessible for everyone through augmentative and alternative communication,” Bedouret said at the event. “Winning this competition is a big deal for us and shows that our mission matters. Your support motivates us to keep pushing forward and making a difference.”

Users can select pictograms to string together a sentence, and the platform uses AI to make the phrase more fluid — a function developed thanks to a grant from Microsoft. The tool can be used from any web browser or downloaded as a smartphone app, and is available in more than 45 languages. In addition to working with Microsoft, Cboard has partnered with UNICEF and the government of Uruguay. 

Cboard wasn’t the only winner from the cohort. Jon Mowl, cofounder and CEO of the American Sign Language (ASL) education company Play With ASL, took home the competition’s audience favorite. He earned the amount of money donated by the audience that night, which was $1194. 

Diego Mariscal, the founder and CEO of 2Gether-International, noted that giving out this cash is key to helping startups grow on top of the mentorship the nonprofit provides. For instance, according to a study out of the United Kingdom, disabled founders are 400 times less likely to receive venture capital funding

Mariscal said he and his team are trying to change the mindset around disabilities. It’s a competitive advantage for founders, not something that needs to be “fixed” or “cured,” he said. 

“I saw it as something that I could celebrate and embrace,” he said at the event. “This is only the beginning, right? There’s a movement being created by these entrepreneurs.”

A screenshot of a Zoom call, where someone is presenting their software to learn ASL.

Jon Mowl (off-screen) cofounder and CEO of the American Sign Language (ASL) education company Play With ASL, presents the program’s interface. (Screenshot/2GI)

This pitch competition took place as Comcast NBCUniversal granted 2GI $1.5 million to help the nonprofit continue its programming. Comcast NBCUniversal was also the organizational sponsor of the competition. These funds will go toward funding cohorts, a VC fund specifically for disabled founders and other initiatives. 

“It’s an incredible, incredible move,” Mariscal said. “This is only the beginning of this great, great movement, and you all play an incredible part in it.”

This article mentions NEXT powered by Shulman Rogers and Comcast, which are both clients. Neither relationship had any impact on this report. 

Companies: NEXT powered by Shulman Rogers / 2Gether-International / Comcast / Microsoft / NBCUniversal

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