We categorized these innovations in 6 main areas of what we consider basic human needs: education, employment, housing, accessibility, mobility, and leisure. We see that most often, tech is embedded in the core model and placed at the service for good.
At XAnge, we are upbeat about investing in this space, with 2 main investments made since our first mapping (see the 2020 version here): Wandercraft and Ergo Santé.
Before diving into each area, let’s share three good news:
- The landscape has expanded and offers a large range of alternatives at home, at work, in the city, and in society at large. Many startups have emerged outside the traditional fields of accessibility and mobility, promoting the access to appropriate and quality education, to non-stigmatizing fashion, sports, and leisure.
- Some French players crossed the borders and have already positively impacted the life of thousands of individuals, like Wandercraft which reached more than 500 patients around the world, or Ava whose technology allows more than 300,000 deaf people to communicate smoothly on a daily basis.
- Long considered to be a “niche market”, the space is increasingly funded by VC as it overlaps other market segments such as health, Human Resources, or corporate social responsibility, and as it brings tremendous societal impact to multiple stakeholders: A bunch of companies have claimed to become more “inclusive” over the past few years with “diversity and inclusion” executive plans.
- The market is far from being small: 12 million people have disabilities in France and 87 million in Europe. Also, let’s not forget their caregivers for which the innovations contribute to alleviate the pressure off them. From 6 to 8% of people suffer from ‘dys’ conditions (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysphasia, dyscalculia, etc.) In line with the aging of the population (in 2035, 1 in 3 French people will be over 60), the number of people with a disability (motor deficiency or cognitive disability) is increasing, and ultimately the number of people suffering from chronic diseases will reach 15 million in 2030.
But there still remain many hurdles to overcome :
- Private funding is often hard to find, as hardware is often required but hard to scale.
- The timeframe for market access is usually long due to regulatory constraints – but also a source of opportunities.
- Providing the best solution for customers who have slightly different experiences with disability, while building solid unit economics is challenging. From a business side, solutions going beyond the initial therapeutic use case and having broader applications would be more likely to succeed.
- Including end users in the whole design of the product is not always easy, but building and using feedback from the disability space into the development of the product is a key for success.
That being said, let’s zoom into each area.
18% of children having disabilities are not enrolled in school, a place crucial for socialization.
Thankfully, several startups are making it their mission to support the enrollment of children with disabilities at school, while creating bridges from the specialist educational environment towards mainstream education.
- Based on digital tools, some startups facilitate the integration of children with disabilitiesdys’abilities at school, such as Cantoo, which created a digital notebook, allowing students to regain their full academic autonomy, regardless of their DYS disorder.
- The lamp Lili for Life helps people with dyslexia read smoothly.
- Les Bullotins builds nurseries adapted to children with neurodevelopmental disorders, both in terms of space design, activities proposed and trained staff.
- Out of school, various digital devices, taking the form of robotic companions or applications (Ovaom, Learn Enjoy, Emoface, Mila) help acquire new skills in a playful, interactive manner, adapted to the peculiarities of each child.
Education also includes raising public awareness about the issues faced by people with disabilities in their day-to-day life. This is the mission of companies such as Reverto or Bbird.
Employment is one the first sources of exclusion and inequality, providing an important stepping stone for integration.
The unemployment rate of people with disabilities is estimated at 14% in 2022, more than double that of the overall population. Startups on a mission to make employment accessible to all, regardless of a person’s cognitive or physical impairments, include:
- Linklusion, a disability subcontracting platform, or gOtaf, a tool allowing candidates to send their application with their voice only
- ErgoSanté, an “entreprise adaptée” that designs furniture for disabled employees and mechanical exoskeletons (again, we’re a proud investor), in order to set up adapted and safe working conditions.
Being autonomous at home is also a critical need for people with a disability but also people gradually losing their ability to live independently.
Home automation, connected objects (Jib), or platforms coordinating a network of caregivers (OuiHelp) all play a role in the autonomisation of people with disabilities.
Accessibility is a transversal issue, addressed by startups covering a large range of situations:
- Communication among individuals (Wyes, Rogervoice, Keia).
- Access to online content (Tanaguru and Servatech work on digital accessibility). 97% of websites are still not accessible to everyone.
- The ability to remember and carry out daily tasks (Watchelp).
- Autonomy at home, thanks to robotics or artificial intelligence solutions (JIB, Mentalista, Feelobject, etc.)
Mobility is another major issue that is becoming a hot topic with the Paris 2024 Olympics. This challenge can be tackled by:
- Innovative technical aids, such as indoor and outdoor GPS applications (Street.co, N-Vibe, Handiroad), robots helping people walk again (Wandercraft), add-ons to wheelchairs (EPPUR, OMNI) or other compensatory devices that help to move independently (Vocaleo, PandaGuide).
- Marketplaces, which allow the right people to meet. Faciligo and MonCopilote allow disabled travelers to benefit from the help of volunteers for traveling, and others like Wheeliz, focused on peer-to-peer rental of adapted vehicles.
People with disabilities also have the right to express themselves through arts or fashion, work out or get access to cultural places, and most importantly for their self-esteem and independence..
- As seen earlier, marketplaces are a working business model in favor of the inclusion of people with disabilities. With Mobee Travel or Yoola, you can book adapted holidays, while Activhandi connects you with organizers of outdoor activities.
- Virtual Reality is also providing a getaway from your home ormedical institution (cf. VirtySens with its immersive multi-sensory capsule).
A big tip of the hat to all these entrepreneurs and teams who use their skills and passion to make the life of people in need of additional care easier.
Don’t hesitate to share this mapping, and if you think of companies that are missing, please let us know here. We will work on rolling out this mapping across Europe – very happy to gather your suggestions.
Camille & Louise