Bangalore-based Thinkerbell Labs that builds literacy devices for the visually impaired has raised US$202,000 (INR 13 million) in an angel-investment round led by led by Rajesh Navaneetham and Manjunath Nayak from Indian Angel Network (IAN)). Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director at Mahindra Group too invested in the company in his personal capacity.
Navaneetham will sit on the board of ThinkerBell Labs representing IAN. The team was earlier working under the name Project Mudra and recently made the switch to Thinkerbell Labs.
Founded in 2016 by four BITS Pilani, Goa Campus Graduates, Sanskriti Dawle, Aman Srivastava, Dilip Ramesh and Saif Shaikh, the startup’s flagship product Annie, addresses the pain point of low braille literacy among the visually impaired by helping them learn how to read, write and type in Braille. Annie can be used directly by the CYP (children and young people with Visual Impairment) to self-learn Braille and be monitored by the teachers or parents.
The startup will be utilizing the funds to run pilots in the UK, setting up product, sales and content teams.
Its big moment came in April 2016, when Project Mudra presented a demo of its product to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Mumbai and it was at this event the founders first met IAN Co-Founder Saurabh Srivastava and Anand Mahindra who expressed their interest for an investment.
Dawle notes that currently, there are more than 285 million visually impaired people in the world. Given that a tactile medium is the only way in which the visually impaired can read and write, it is extremely important for them to learn Braille.
“There is a direct correlation of low Braille literacy and unemployment among the visually impaired. However, even in developed countries, braille literacy rates are extremely low. It is only 4% in the UK. In the USA, only 10% are literate in Braille and in India it is less than 1%,” she says.
Commenting on the investment, Indian Angel Network Lead Rajesh Navaneetham commented, “Technology has in general been about enhancing human potential. But unfortunately, not much has been done to enhance the potential of the differently-abled. Thinkerbell Labs aspires to leverage cutting edge technology to address this issue for the visually impaired. Annie – as the first product from the company is called – has the ability to dramatically improve the literacy level of the blind across the globe. Annie is also a great example of an innovative product that is Made in India, For the World.”
For the record, IAN has invested about over US$32 million in approximately 60 deals in the calendar years 2014, 2015 and 2016. Its portfolio spans over 120-odd companies, across 17 sectors in seven countries.