Chapter: The young entrepreneur with a fresh perspective on focus

4 Dec 2023

Joel Olympio, the 23-year-old entrepreneur from Cork. Image: Chapter

Recent graduate of UL Joel Olympio has developed special glasses using electrochromic lenses that dim peripheral vision to help people focus on one task.

Joel Olympio was 11 years old when he was offered his first smartphone. Unable to make up his mind about which one to get, the Cork native spent weeks researching all the phones available, trying to figure out which one would be best for him.

“That is when my obsession with technology started,” he says. “It almost came to a point where I thought life would be much easier if I just got to design my own phone.”

At 23, Olympio is younger than Google. Soon after the smartphone episode, having eventually settled on one, he googled if there was a job specification that required people to design things, and was introduced to the wonderful world of product design.

“I thought that was incredible. I couldn’t believe that job even existed. Since then, I’d been pretty fixated on becoming a product designer, designing new technology.”

‘Like headphones for your eyes’

It comes as no surprise that Olympio went on to study product design and technology at college. Although he grew up in Cork, he decided the campus and course at the University of Limerick (UL) better suited his needs – no doubt after weeks of research.

Today, many such episodes later, Olympio is the co-founder and CEO of Chapter, a product design company that he started with college mate Vadim Vorobyov. Together, they’re developing hardware technologies that aim to address issues faced by people with neurodivergence.

The backstory to Chapter, Olympio tells me, stems from his inability to do as well as he would have wished in school because of his ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.

During his third year at UL, he interned with Dolmen Design, a creative design and innovation consultancy based in Dublin, where he got the idea to create glasses that could help people with ADHD concentrate on tasks by literally blurring out the background view.

“I’ve always been very self-aware of my own ADHD symptoms, and what I noticed was different environments would affect my ability to focus and concentrate. I was fine in classrooms and libraries, but in certain other environments, I just couldn’t do it”, he says.

“It felt like a conflict between my mind and the environment I was in. So I wanted to explore this further and see if other people with ADHD experienced this as well.”

After months of brainstorming and talking to people with the disorder, Olympio finally found a solution. He developed glasses that could dim peripheral vision to create a sense of closed space using lenses made of electrochromic film, a flexible material that changes its opacity when a current is applied to it.

“Using this technology allows us to reduce visual distractions within open environments in a non-secluding way as the user can turn it on and off as they wish and adjust the dimming to their needs. They’re like headphones for your eyes.”

A man holding the Oasis wearable glasses device in his hand. The device has been shortlisted for the James Dyson Award.

Oasis, the first product at Chapter. Image: James Dyson Award

But because he didn’t want to “create further stigma” for people with ADHD by creating a product that makes them stand out anymore, he designed Oasis in a way that gives it a universal appeal.

“I soon realised that I wasn’t creating something that was like a beacon for ADHD, it was just this tool that anybody can use to enhance their focus.”

First of many chapters

Still under development, Oasis has come a long way from the first cardboard models Olympio used to experiment with the concept. Perhaps its biggest achievement so far has been winning the Irish leg of the global James Dyson Awards in October.

Chapter will now serve as the company that provides an umbrella for all products created by Olympio and Vorobyov, both of whom graduated from UL this year. The raison d’être of their start-up? Focus.

“We want to create an ecosystem of products that naturally enhance human focus in an increasingly distracted society. The goal is to build not just a successful company, but a community of people who recognise the power of focus,” he explains.

“We want to be experts in the diverse ways people work, learn and communicate and build products that tailor to all kinds of brains, not just the majority. So much technology today exists to commodify our attention, so we want to instead use technology to enhance attention.”

Olympio’s recent success at the James Dyson Awards has given Chapter a much-needed pre-seed boost, putting the start-up and its first product on the map for investors and consumers to follow closely.

Oasis was also selected for Prototypes for Humanity, a product design exhibition hosted in Dubai as part of COP28. Olympio is showcasing the current version of Oasis at the event at the time of writing. The hope is to get more people talking about the tech and find potential investors.

“Our waiting list is growing every day and we have attracted interest from potential collaborators, which is exciting. The next stage is further product development which is gearing up to start soon. We’re also on this year’s NDRC pre-accelerator cohort,” he says.

“We are also looking for angel investors, partners as well as accelerator programs to help us progress faster and raise the capital we need for product development and testing.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic