A Clear Vision: How WeWALK’s Smart Cane is Changing Lives, One Step at a Time

A Clear Vision: How WeWALK’s Smart Cane is Changing Lives, One Step at a Time 

Gökhan Meriçliler, co-founder and CEO, Kürşat Ceylan, co-founder, and Burak Sevilegul, investor and board member, explain how WeWALK’s smart mobility solution aims to transform the lives of visually impaired people.

How did you come together to create WeWALK?

Gökhan Meriçliler. At university in Turkey, Kürşat and I were part of a social innovation hub called Young Guru Academy (YGA), which focused on cultivating competent and conscientious leaders addressing societal challenges with technology. We had the chance to meet with mentors such as Burak.

At the beginning, in 2007, we worked together on pp-based solutions for navigation, descriptions for movie theatres, etc., reaching almost the entire visually impaired community in Turkey. We won awards and started gaining global recognition. However, we also started to understand that, to address the mobility challenges that visually impaired people face daily, we needed more than that. 

Kürşat Ceylan. There are more than 250 million visually impaired people around the world. If you want to encourage them to go out and participate in social life, freely and independently, you have to develop assistive technologies that empower them. Unfortunately, visually impaired people are usually not involved in the development of such solutions. 

This is why all our technology is based on lived experiences. I’ve been blind since birth and, just before WeWALK was incorporated in 2020, I was in New York City to give a speech at the United Nations. I was walking, holding my traditional white cane with one hand and my smartphone to check the GPS directions with the other; at the same time, I had to pull my luggage. Not surprisingly, I bumped into a pole – that’s why I have scars on my front head. Millions of visually impaired people are experiencing such accidents. That’s why we created a patented smart cane technology. 

How does this smart cane work?

K.C. It’s a foldable device that comes with an app, a touchpad, speakers, and a microphone. It detects obstacles and alerts its user through haptic feedback, gives turn-by-turn navigation, informs them about the stores and restaurants they’re passing by, and provides public transport information. Its Bluetooth module can be paired with your smartphone, which you no longer need to hold, and its motion sensors allow us to provide a more accurate navigation experience. From insight to innovation to execution, it took us around three years to make it happen. 

G.M. We’re not just developing it according to our own experiences. We’re partnering with communities such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Imperial College London in the UK, and we’re getting funding from the British government’s innovation arm, Innovate UK. Together, we’re collecting insights from user groups to develop our next features. And we were lucky with our key partners. Vestel, for example, is our manufacturer as well as an investor.  

How can end users access the canes?

G.M. They can get the cane themselves through our channels, and we’re working on subscription services for additional functionalities. But we put more emphasis on B2B through partnerships with assistive tech distributors, charities, insurance and government reimbursement programmes. 

K.C.  We’re available in 59 different countries so far. 

How did being a social enterprise influence your funding journey?

G.M. We had the chance to meet impact investors such as Nesta Impact Investment, who come from a charitable background, understand the needs in society, and act on addressing them. Of course, they remain very financially driven, but at the same time, they want to see an actual impact on the community. We’ve raised about $3.5 million in two funding rounds and we’ve also received non-equity grants for a similar value from Innovate UK and other organisations such as Microsoft and Amazon.

Impact investors can also be quite helpful in helping us navigate the healthcare space – we’re trying to position WeWALK into the health system so it can be covered by insurance or reimbursement programmes. And on top of that, we have angel investors like Burak COVID whose contributions and support are essential.

Burak Sevilegul. WeWALK is an amazing opportunity to have a big social impact for the limited amount of money invested, thanks to the technology’s multiplier effect. From that point of view, my ROI with WeWALK is very, very high. 

On the other hand, these companies should be successful, operationally and financially, to be sustainable and for the impact to grow.

Where does WeWALK stand on that front?

G.M. We’re growing quite fast, but we are not at the breakeven point yet; we aim to reach that stage by the end of next year. We are still investing in R&D to introduce new-generation solutions both on the hardware and software sides, and we’re exploring other solutions and services on top of the smart cane.

How active are you in the UAE? 

G.M. Burak is now leading our efforts in the UAE and we are expecting a much higher presence and partnerships in the next few months.

B.S. The first batch of WeWALK products was distributed to users in the UAE in collaboration with the Emirates Blind Association. In terms of demographics, the UAE may not be the biggest market for people of determination. However, it’s the perfect place to demonstrate how WeWALK can change lives. 

We strongly believe there is a good chance the UAE will become the first country in the world where all citizens are equipped with an independent mobility solution. 

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