Obital has invented Eyetell solution; the first affordable, accessible and non-stigmatizing communication app enabling people with speech impairment to communicate using their eyes.

GN Group acquires inclusive technology from DTU start-up

Tuesday 06 Apr 21
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by Line Nykjær Johansen, Nasrin Billie

Contact

Line Nykjær Johansen
Project coordinator
DTU Skylab
+45 25 13 97 22

Info about Obital

  • Obital was founded in 2017 by Frederik Østergaard Neble and Elias Lundgaard Pedersen after completing their bachelor’s project on eye-tracking from DTU Design & Innovation. 

  •  The start up has invented the Eyetell solution: the first affordable, accessible and non-stigmatizing communication app enabling people with speech impairment to communicate using their eyes. 

Technology Leaving No One Behind

  • DTU Skylab invites DTU students and start-ups with an interest in developing sustainable, inclusive technology to reach out to project coordinator, Line Johansen, at linejo@dtu.dk. You can learn more about the DTU Skylab initiative "Technology Leaving No One Behind" here.

Earlier this year the start-up Obital was aquired by GN Group. Now, former founder and CEO of Obital, Frederik Østergaard Neble, speaks about the rollercoaster ride of a journey from start-up to becoming part of a large organization. Frederik also gives advice for any start-ups venturing into inclusive technology and markets.

GN Group is behind some of the world’s most innovative and pioneering communication solutions in the world, from the first telegraphs to intelligent audio engineering, and has existed since 1869. So why did they decide to acquire Obital’s technology as well as some of the start-up's team members in January 2021. Former CEO of Obital, Frederik Østergaard Neble, gives his take:

“GN Group has a long history of acquisitions of start-ups and brands that gives the company a competitive edge on innovative, industry-leading solutions. They saw a potential in us and in our technology”, says Frederik, who can now call himself Tech Lead at Jabra, a sub-brand in GN Audio.

“We are very honored to join forces with GN Group, since it has given us a lot of advantages, expertise we never had, and a chance to focus on the reason why we became engineers in the first place: technological development.”

Key events shaping Obital’s start-up journey
Obital originally started as a bachelor’s thesis at DTU Design & Innovation focusing on an eye-tracking solution, that enables people with speech and motor disabilities to communicate using their eyes. This eventually led to the founding of the company in 2017. For Frederik, it is clear that the business would never have been realized, had it not been for the opportunity for him and his co-founder Elias to study part-time during their bachelor. Frederik compares entrepreneurship to elite sports;

“You cannot underestimate the time it takes to start a business. The fact that DTU provides the flexibility of studying on reduced time has meant the world to us. When you are enrolled in an elite sports program, you can take a part-time education; this should also be the case for a start-up growing their business."

Apart from DTU’s educational structure, Frederik points to the expertise of the many people, who have supported them along their journey. From their supervisor Professor John Paulin Hansen to the community and programs at DTU Skylab, which has sparked their motivation and entrepreneurial spirit on a profoundly personal level.

“We have been part of the Incubator and European Venture Program, which has given us the entrepreneurial skills, we needed to build our business. To secure our first funding from DTU Skylab and The Foundation for Entrepreneurship gave us the initial boost to spark our start-up journey,” says Frederik.

The start-up quickly raised over DKKR 5 million in funding rounds, but getting the initial funding was a welcome recognition of their work.

From disability market to commercial technology
Obital is an example of a start-up that has gone from a very specialized solution for people with disabilities to mainstream, commercial markets. Many investors requested them to leave the disability market behind for more commercial interests, like eye-tracking solutions for the analytical industry. Yet, the start-up’s main motivation has always been to make a difference for people with disability, so they were reluctant to enter new and bigger markets.

“First of all, the disability sector is highly organized, and there are few big competitors, which makes it easy to find users to test and validate your solution. Secondly, there is a saying in product development, that if you design your technology, so it is usable by children and people with disabilities, you have succeeded in designing for the most difficult user-groups. Which makes it much easier to scale your solution to other markets and target groups. When you develop for children and people with disabilities, you have to focus on simplicity", Frederik states.

Frederik is convinced, that because Obital started as an inclusive solution for people with disabilities, their technology has matured to a point, where it gives them a competitive advantage in markets characterized by greater competition. Frederik describes, that they have iterated their solution many times to tap into more commercial markets, like UX analysis for websites and apps, but are now happy to have closed the deal with GN Group. With a corporate focus on sustainability and creating innovative technology with real impact for its costumers, Frederik sees GN Group as the perfect match. 

The market opportunity for inclusive technology
According to Frederik, inclusive technology is here to stay:

“We see a rise in market and consumer trends pointing in this direction, so in my view, businesses have to adapt to this demand”.

He stresses that inclusive design can be regarded as a significant market opportunity for start-ups looking to venture into untapped markets, due to new accessibility regulations being implemented, like The European Accessibility Act. These regulations will create new markets and a demand for inclusive solutions that are legally compliant.

“These regulations are a good place for start-ups to get a head start at obtaining a competitive edge. Corporations are more willing to pay a small start-up for making sure that they live up to their legal obligations, rather than paying a fine. In my opinion there is a lot of money to be made here," Frederick concludes.

• Read more about GN Group here.
• Read all about The European Accessibility Act here.


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7 MAY 2021