Creating a device to help millions of hearing impaired South Africans
JOHANNESBURG - A young entrepreneur has developed an innovative wrist armband for millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals as a springboard to venture into business.
Zuko Mandlakazi says flagship product, Senso, works by picking up sounds and communicating them to the user through vibration and colour-coded LED lights. The device, he says, provides the convenience of alerting through vibration and light instead of sound, which can be distorted in the presence of other external noise.
Mandlakazi says Senso will be able to help four million hearing impaired people in South Africa and 360m abroad. And with September being the Deaf Awareness Month, Mandlakazi says their focus is on connecting people with people and with life-saving sounds.
The Eastern Cape-born Mandlakazi who is now based in Johannesburg, says the idea to develop the device was sparked by a hard of hearing family member. “ I was concerned for her missing out on life-saving sounds as she was always alone during the day while everybody was at work,” says Mandlakazi, 33.
He says he then started looking around for devices she could use but they were too expensive and intrusive. This prompted him to come up with his own innovative solution to the problem, Senso.
He says the market has viewed their journey so far as a great deal of inspiration and they have been commended for their partnerships with the deaf community locally and abroad. He says he has filed patents in 65 countries and has been working hard in fostering partnerships to make sure that the product is available to the global community.
The Walter Sisulu University accountancy graduate has been to Ghana, Rwanda, China, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden. “I do have plans to travel to more countries outside South Africa and this is due to feedback and demand we’ve received from the global community.”
In 2013, won the Gauteng Accelerator Programme ICT award in 2013 and the SAB Social Innovation award in 2014. It was also selected among Top 50 African Innovations at the African Innovation Summit in Rwanda in June.
“The acknowledgement was a great validation for the enormous challenges we’ve had to endure to get here,” says Mandlakazi, who counts Troubled Waters by Namibian author Joseph Diescho, and Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler, as his favourite books.
Recently, Mandlakazi was handpicked by the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, among only 16 of the top social entrepreneurs in the country, to attend their in-house training course, and benefited from a one-on-one mentorship programme.
He says he considers himself an entrepreneur because he is drawn to opportunities, innovation and new value creation.
The articulate entrepreneur says the company, Senso, is currently focusing their solution to helping people be more alert and connected to life-saving sounds in their homes, offices and classrooms.
He says they are also keeping a closer eye to new and emerging technologies brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and stresses that there will be more innovations from them to keep up with the changing needs of their customers.
“In the next five to ten years, we plan to get into industries such as factories and mines.”
- BUSINESS REPORT