At The Pitch, Quantum Computing And Braille Literacy Take Center Stage
The Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship recognized two startups at that are hoping to change the face of technology, one through supporting quantum computing and one by making e-readers available to people who are blind, at The Pitch event, held on Oct. 24.
The Pitch was held in conjunction with the DALI Lab, which is now part of the Magnuson Center. At the event, twelve student startups pitched their concept over five minutes. They were judged by two students representing the DALI Lab and two representing the Magnuson Center.
qBraid, a cloud-base platform that supports quantum computing, won a $10,000 DALI Lab software development grant that will support the continued build out of their product. The startup will use those funds to develop an intuitive user interface that makes qBraid easier to use for the next generation of programmers. The grant will also be used to make tutorial videos that demonstrate how qBraid works.
eTouch: Affordable Braille won both a $1,000 Magnuson Center Pitch Grant and a $1,000 Audience Choice award. The startup aims to develop low-cost e-readers that will help combat illiteracy among the blind.
“For visually impaired people, Braille is crucial for education, employment and independence. Yet, an astonishing 88 percent of the blind are illiterate,” explained Tonia Zakorchemna (’23), co-founder of eTouch.
Braille displays can cost as much as $5,000, more than the average yearly salary in Zakorchemna’s native Ukraine. The eTouch reader will cost about $300 and offers access to 60,000 digital books through Project Gutenberg. That will give blind people around the globe better access to literature.
Zakorchemna and her founder will use the funds from The Pitch to finalize their prototypes. Right now, they’re working with e-readers that they built in their dorms, but they will be partnering with the Thayer School of Engineering to develop a more professional prototype, and with the DALI Lab to refine their mobile app. Zakorchemna plans to work closely with The Magnuson Center to test her idea as she works to bring it to market.
Zakorchemna believes she was successful at The Pitch because she highlighted the humanitarian problem that her product will solve.
“My favorite part about eTouch is that it solves a real problem for real people. We started eTouch as a small engineering project in the garage just trying to help our blind friend,” she said. “As we researched the scale of so-called Braille illiteracy disaster, we realized that there are millions of people who don't have access to affordable Braille. Our workspace changed from a Ukrainian garage to a Maine high school dorm to Intel ISEF's podiums, but the motivation for eTouch stays the same: we want to help people.”
Zakorchemna, who is studying engineering, said she prefers to be behind the scenes, not on stage. She was terrified to pitch her concept in front of the 100 people who attended the event.
“How do I possibly condense two years of work into two minutes of the pitch?” she said.
She worked with the Magnuson Center and the DALI Lab to refine her pitch, giving enough detail without being overly technical. Rather than being too formal, Zakorchemna decided to let her enthusiasm and excitement about eTouch shine though. She believes that’s what resonated with the audience.
“I decided to pitch as if I was talking to friends over the dinner table. I wanted to stay simple and my usual excited self,” she said. “Receiving the audience choice award showed me that I don't need to be a professional speaker or an experienced entrepreneur to pitch my ideas — a passionate engineer will suffice.”
Dorothy Qu (’19, ’20), member of the Core leadership team at the DALI Lab, organized The Pitch event. She worked closely with judges Laya Indukiri (’19; DALI Project Manager), Wylie Kasai (’21; DALI Designer), Jay Batchu (’18, Th’19; former Magnuson Student Leadership member and Entrepreneurial Living Learning Community) and Chloe Baker (’21; Magnuson Student Leadership member). Together they assessed startups on their pitches, as well as the impact and feasibility of their projects, she said.
“The Pitch is one of the coolest Dartmouth events and I want to thank everyone for hosting it,” she said.