On 08 Dec 2017, the UNICEF Innovation Fund announces 6 new investments in open source technology solutions – Ninaad Digital Technology is among one of six new portfolio companies to receive investment.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in technology start-ups from developing markets that are working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. The Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions that can impact the lives of the most vulnerable children. These solutions are clustered around $100billion industries in frontier technology spaces.
Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org for more information – including real-time data – on each investment.
Ninaad Digital Technology is part of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) cohort and the Fund’s first investment in a company from India.

How would you describe your solution to children?

Ninaad Digital Technology is developing Jellow Communicator (Jellow), a friendly system that provides a voice to children who are not able to talk to others. When you click on any of the colorful buttons in the Jellow platform, it will speak out aloud for you. For example, if you click on the “eating” button and then the “want” button, Jellow will speak out aloud, “I want to eat”. Jellow aims to help support children with speaking difficulties to communicate with others.   

How would you describe it, if your audience comprised of subject matter experts and investors?

Jellow Communicator is a friendly Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) solution that uses icons to aid communication in children (or anyone else) learning to speak or with difficulty in speech and language. Jellow’s easy-to-learn interface and visually appealing icons make it an ideal solution for beginner-level communicators. We have designed Jellow to be a beginner-level communication solution that will be accessible to users with a wide range of abilities including children with co-morbid (having more than one) physical and visual disabilities.  

What is unique about your solution and how is it different from what currently exists?

Compared to existing AAC solutions, Jellow is easy to learn and use. A novel Emotional Language Protocol (ELP) comprising 6 expressive buttons of “like”, “don’t like”, “yes/want”, “no/don’t want”, “more”, and “less” was seen to be adequate starters for using Jellow. Using these expressive buttons along with the category buttons, children can easily communicate their likes/dislikes and needs to others. We have developed both an Indian and International version of Jellow. The versions differ in terms of their respective content, icons, and accents, and have been designed with a view to the differing socio cultural landscapes within developing and developed countries, respectively.     

Why does being open-source make your solution better?

By adopting an open-source model, we can extend the reach and impact of our solution. Our aim is to develop culturally and linguistically contextualized AAC solutions for children with communication impairments. In line with this broad aim, we are working to extend the language support of Jellow (currently available in English and Hindi) to other Indian languages. Indeed, by adopting an open-source model, we hope that the basic framework of our solution can be easily adapted and extended by interested parties to suit the contextual needs of users in several other developed and developing countries.    

How did you come up with your solution and what inspired you to form your company?

The inspiration for developing an AAC solution came from ethnographic studies of children with Cerebral Palsy. Furthermore, a review of current AAC solutions made us aware of the lacunae in existing solutions and emphasized the need for a novel solution to address these gaps. As we interact with users/stakeholders to get feedback on Jellow, we have become aware of their numerous needs pertaining to accessibility and customization/personalization of the solution. Thus, we decided to form a company comprising an interdisciplinary team of relevant experts who could work in a dedicated fashion to address the communication needs of children with disabilities.  

How did your team come together? What is your team’s MO and drive towards the problem you’re trying to solve?

Our team is a group of highly passionate and dedicated people who are committed to the cause of providing a voice to every child who cannot speak. Given the diverse yet complementary skill sets of our team members, each of us has a unique perspective to offer towards solution development. We follow a user-centric, iterative design process. Based on emerging user needs, the team collaborates and brainstorms collectively to come up with and subsequently execute the most-appropriate and efficient solutions to address user concerns.   

What do you plan on doing with UNICEF’s Innovation Fund investment and how will you use that to leverage raising follow-on investment?

Being a part of the UNICEF Innovation Fund will enable us to improve customization options in our existing solution, extend language support, improve accessibility of our product, and develop Jellow for the iOS platform. Moreover, we will use part of the funds to collect objective data on the usability and long-term efficacy of our solution. These efforts will help ensure that our solution can cater to the needs of users with a diverse range of abilities and will also provide evidence of the utility of our solution. This, in turn, will help us secure future funding to continue our work.   

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