Kenyan alumnus Brian Mwenda founded the Sixth Sense, which aims to be a complete aid to mobility for the 285 million people who are visually impaired globally. We interviewed Brian about his innovation:
Can you briefly describe your innovation and tell us what inspired you to create it?
It is very difficult for people with disabilities to fit in and compete fairly in most societies. People with visual impairment find moving around challenging as they lack adequate assistive devices to guarantee safe and unaided movement. Most rely on a white cane, which still requires them to seek help from a sighted person to navigate obstacles.
The Sixth Sense aims to be a complete aid to mobility for visually impaired people, which frees them from relying on the availability of a guide or caregiver by completely replacing canes and giving sufficient information about the physical environment for them to navigate safely.
We are working to create a world with zero barriers to participation for over 285 million visually impaired people globally. The Sixth sense provides true freedom of independent and unaided movement and opens up a world of opportunities in education, entrepreneurship and social activities.
What are the main lessons you learned through the Africa Prize training?
When I joined the Africa Prize programme, I had zero background in business. I came from an engineering background and I thought all that mattered was delivering a great product. Through the Africa Prize I learnt all that it takes to run a successful product and came up with a strategy from product development to market entry. The learnings have been invaluable in my journey and I could not dream of a better way to start my career in building Assistive Technology.
What impact has the Africa Prize and the alumni activities had on your innovation?
Immediately during and after participating in the Africa Prize, we got the much needed validation for our product. This helped us gain credibility, which translated into securing product development partners and visually impaired people were happy to join in our product trials. Since then, we have gained valuable connections locally and internationally that have helped us advance our work. We have had access to Africa Prize alumni grants that have significantly improved our impact and it has been a platform onto other events and opportunities.
What stage are you at now and do you have any immediate plans for your innovation?
We are going into trials in three countries, which will be announced in October. After that we will evaluate our learnings and hope to expand our product to multiple countries.
What impact has your innovation had so far in your country or abroad?
The Sixth Sense, aside from offering a practical solution - facilitating independent movement - is also a great booster for spirits and personal motivation. Users involved in our trials have rediscovered themselves and we are seeing many going back to educate or develop themselves in other ways, while others have become more active in the society. With increased uptake of our products we are looking to increase participation of visually impaired people in society.
Do you have any experience, stories or advice from your experience of adapting during COVID-19 that you would like to share?
This period has been great for us to experiment different workflow formulas and make some roles fully remote, even after the pandemic. This has also helped us create more space in our workshop. My advice to other innovators would be to try new things to streamline your operations and even your supply chains.
What one tip for success would you give to your fellow innovators?
My biggest lesson is that entrepreneurship and developing innovations is a very lonely journey, finding others on that same journey and sharing experiences makes it all so much more bearable, especially through challenges in the business.
Find out more about The Sixth Sense.