Why Talita Holzer is building a more inclusive wearable GPS platform

5 Aug 2020

Talita Holzer, CEO and co-founder of WaytoB. Image: Talita Holzer

WaytoB co-founder and CEO Talita Holzer discusses the platform her start-up is building to make independent travel easier for people with special needs and how she became a part of Ireland’s entrepreneurial community.

WaytoB is a navigation solution that was created to make independent travel easier for people with higher support needs.

The smartphone and smartwatch navigation system was co-founded by Talita Holzer and Robbie Fryers to support people with intellectual and learning disabilities, providing them with icon-based directions and walking instructions that are integrated with public transport.

Holzer, who serves as CEO of the start-up, spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about WaytoB’s solution, how she started her journey as an engineer in São Paulo and how she eventually became a vocal advocate for inclusivity in Dublin.

Back in Brazil, Holzer studied manufacturing engineering before coming to Dublin on a one-year exchange programme where she studied engineering with management at Trinity College Dublin.

“I chose engineering because I like identifying problems and creating crazy solutions and testing them and seeing what works,” she said. “But I saw such a lack of diversity and inclusion in engineering that I felt kind of out of place during college.”

Initiatives to support migrants

“When I moved to Ireland, I saw everything was really diverse,” Holzer added.

“I met a lot of people and I felt like it would be cool to start projects to help make things even more diverse. I thought there was a lack of initiatives to support entrepreneurship for migrants here in Ireland. Usually the percentage of migrants that become entrepreneurs is much higher in comparison to figures for people born in a country.”

While Holzer witnessed plenty of drive behind migrants setting up businesses in Ireland, she didn’t think there were enough supports.

“That’s why I started the GoingFar initiative during Startup Week and we’ve expanded it quite a bit since then,” she said.

“We are a team of six now, working on a volunteer basis but it’s really fulfilling work. We’ve helped a lot of people get jobs, set up businesses and it’s something I really like to do. I know I’ll be working with diversity and inclusion for the rest of my life.”

Founding WaytoB

When Holzer moved to Dublin on her exchange programme, she met Fryers and they came up with the idea for WaytoB. They worked on the concept during the academic year, learning more about the problem that they aimed to solve.

Through WaytoB, the co-founders wanted to remove some of the obstacles that stand between people with intellectual or learning disabilities and travelling independently. Holzer explained that being unable to travel independently can hold people back from accessing education, socialising and getting a job.

“With social activities for me, if I want to meet someone and go to a restaurant or a pub, I just look at Google Maps, see where it is and I’ll be there in 10 minutes. If I can’t use Google Maps because I can’t read a map or I can’t understand bus timetables, it makes it much more complicated for me to have a social life.

“That’s the difference between WaytoB and traditional navigation apps. When people with special needs don’t have access to education, employment and social activities, they become further marginalised and further reliant on family members.”

Holzer pointed out that although 15pc of the global population has a disability, this group of people is rarely taken into consideration by companies that have built existing navigation tools.

“The only reason that people with intellectual disabilities can’t use tools like Google Maps is because those tools weren’t designed to be inclusive,” she said.

What’s next?

Holzer and Fryers originally planned to launch WaytoB in April 2020, but things got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the time since then, the start-up has joined the EIT Health Headstart programme and received a grant that provided the firm with some runway during a challenging economic time.

With that funding, WaytoB is planning pilots in Portugal and undertaking research to see how the public transport is different there, how the culture is different and what changes need to be made to the app’s language functions.

As WaytoB makes its way to the market, the Brazilian engineer is confident that both families and people with disabilities will see the benefits of the wearable device. There are two platforms – one for families or social workers and another for the person travelling.

“Families can see where the person is navigating,” Holzer said. “They can see their location, their heart rate, their battery life and get alerts if the person deviates from the intended route, if they stop for too long or if they show an elevated heart rate or are about to run out of battery.

“The idea was to design all of this with the users in mind and we found that many parents were worried to let their children go out or travel on public transport if something went wrong. We had to put peace of mind features in and it works well.”

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic