As part of its vision for a prosperous nation of the future, where equal opportunities are available for all, the UAE changed its designation for people with disabilities to ‘People of Determination,’ in recognition of their achievements to the country in different fields.
This social drive has attracted many innovative SMEs and startups over the years looking for a supportive ecosystem that views their field of work in such high regard.
EdTech startup Key2Enable is one of these companies.
Founded in Brazil, Key2Enable applied to join Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the emirate’s international financial centre and free zone, after being selected as a winner in 2019 at the Special Olympics Innovation Challenge.
Their primary product consists of a smart keyboard called the Key-X keyboard, which was developed with the support of individuals with cerebral palsy, to aid people with this condition to communicate, learn and develop their knowledge and capabilities. The company has also developed software that complements the usage of this device.
The Abu Dhabi SME Hub spoke with Key2Enable’s José Rubinger, Co-Founder and CEO - MENA region, and Jenna Kleinwort, Chief Marketing Officer, to learn more about their solution.
José with a Child of Determination in Ajman, holding the Key-X keyboard. The device works with any computer, tablet or smartphone via a plug-and-play USB interface, and does not require the installation of any specific software, though there is some available for more complex uses. It features eleven touch-sensitive keys, which can even be triggered with a blink of an eye.
Can you tell us how the idea behind your company came to be? What market gap were you trying to address?
José: The idea [behind] our assistive technology solution was actually developed due to a real pain point as experienced by our friend and now business partner, Gleisson, who was born in Brazil with cerebral palsy. Due to his motor limitations, Gleisson was only able to use a regular computer by using a head pointer. He graduated from computer science, but it took him a lot of time and effort.
Gleisson, therefore, came up with the idea of creating our hardware, the Key-X keyboard, which gives full accessibility to all features and commands of keyboards and other technical devices. The keyboard comes with different accessories, and as long as a person has one voluntary movement, they can use the keyboard and thus computers, and have the opportunity to become more autonomous and independent.
In total, we can cater to more than 85% of disabilities that can be found within classrooms. We address the market gap of having complete, versatile and unique assistive technology solutions that empower People of Determination to lead more autonomous and independent lives.
Can you tell us about Key2Enable's main product offerings?
Jenna: Key2enable offers complete assistive technology solutions, that consist of the Key-X hardware, an engaging keyboard, which helps People of Determination to overcome any physical barriers to accessibility, as well as an accompanying learning platform, which helps teachers and parents to easily create any learning games and tasks.”
Training workshop in Armenia
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey so far, having started your business abroad and later on moving to Abu Dhabi? Any particular benefits about setting up here?
José: “We first began our business operations in Brazil and then expanded to the US. In Brazil, our solution is implemented and in use in many schools and rehabilitation centres, and is now used by more than 8000 end users. However, everything we did in Brazil and all our success stories were only being told in Portuguese and hence stayed there.
Setting up our business here in the UAE has been especially important for us due to the central location and the business incentives that we have received and also due to the international attention and recognition that the UAE receives. It has been easy for us to begin training and workshops from here, and we have recently trained more than 100 teachers in Armenia. Moreover, the empowerment of People with Determination ranks high on the Emirati agenda, and therefore we have found an overall very favourable business environment here.
How did your relationship with ADGM begin, and what kind of support have they offered you so far?
José: We were first introduced to ADGM when Key2enable won in the education category at the Special Olympics World Games Innovation Challenge in Abu Dhabi in March 2019. The Department of Health introduced us to the right people inside ADGM and this is how we began our first conversation with ADGM. I then started my application for the ADGM license and it was issued on the 17th of December, 2019.
Many steps that we had to undertake in order to set up our business here were linked and made possible due to the license that we have received from ADGM: from building the network to participating in competitions, as well as to running our daily business operations. Overall, it allowed us as foreigners to set up the business here, and then expand to many other places [with Abu Dhabi as our base location].
What are some business challenges you have faced, and how have you addressed them?
José: Since our traditional approach is mostly focused on in-person training that we conduct with teachers and parents, the COVID-19 pandemic was very challenging for us, since we were not able to enter schools and rehabilitation centres anymore. During this time, we focused our efforts on developing and improving our e-learning platform, which is an integral part of our complete solution.
What goals have you set for Key2Enable for the next 3 years?
Jenna: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we faced difficulties introducing our solution to teachers and children here in the UAE. We had initiated some workshops and training before the start of the pandemic, which then came to a halt. We are now starting some pilots here with schools and rehabilitation centres, and we are trying to expand to some other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, as well as some European countries like Portugal, Spain and Germany.
For the next three years, we are planning to expand both in scale and scope. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our solution and to add features and accessories that can help us to cater to even more disabilities. Moreover, our solution has manifold uses: It can also be beneficial to children without disabilities, adults and the elderly.