SOVI : Communication for All
Mis à jour : 2 oct 2019
Meet-up with Gianluca Marinelli & Alessio Weber, Co-Founders of SOVI Solutions
Written by Stephen Evans
Another upside of modern communication technology is the new opportunities it creates for people with special needs. SOVI Solutions’ application Talkii is an example, as it enables people with speech difficulties to communicate better with family, friends and everyone they meet.
It is challenging for people with communication disorders to express their needs and wants. Pointing at pictograms on laminated sheets is the traditional solution. However, the number of pictograms on a sheet is limited, plastified pictograms are easily damaged or lost, and selecting, downloading and printing are cumbersome tasks.
Clear room to improve
“I am close to people who have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and I see the communication problems they face, I was surprised that there were a limited number of phone and tablet apps available to help them communicate, and those that do exist are not particularly flexible or easy to use.”
stated Gianluca Marinelli, SOVI’s Founder and CEO.
Just over a year ago, Gianluca was a student at the ECG (Commerce and Management School) in Luxembourg, and his class was set a business plan project. Students worked in groups to develop business cases, and his team decided to explore his idea for an autism communication app. As they worked, they saw there was a substantial gap in the market for a more comprehensive, user-friendly tool. They also discovered how useful a communication tool could be for all people with communication disorders, not just those with ASD.
What started as an university project turned into a HealthTech Startup
After graduation, Gianluca Marinelli and SOVI co-founder Alessio Weber were convinced that this idea needed to be brought to market. Not only did the see that their solution Talkii could make a real positive impact to the lives of thousands of people, but they also saw the huge potential for a scalable business opportunity.
They founded SOVI Solutions, hired IT developers and shaped a solution together with concerned parents and professionals. This goes to the heart of their
vision of involving potential customers in their innovation process. This ensures that the solution fits their needs and wants.
Custom made communication Tool Talkii
Talkii provides a wide range of pictograms. Whereas a laminated sheet can hold a couple of dozen images, a tablet equipped with the Talkii software has instant access to unlimited pictograms. With a separate supervisor app, parents or therapists have full control over the user’s device to configure and adapt it to their individual needs.
Furthermore, there is a feature that helps children organise their day, with pictograms reminding them when it’s time to take a shower, to have breakfast, when the school bus leaves and so on. Not only does this make day-to-day life easier to manage for families, it encourages language development, growth of communication skills and helps users to become self-reliant.
Development over the last year has taken place in partnership with the local tech firm Jymbe. The firms swapped equity with each other to create a symbiotic relationship. The test phase is coming to an end, and it has been met with wide enthusiasm. Parents, speech therapists and specialised schools have been testing the technology day to day in the Benelux, France and Italy. This constructive feedback has helped the team making improvements. Professional carers at hospitals and rehabilitation centres have also welcomed the innovation, and relationships with local ecosystem have been established.
There has also been success in startup competitions. They won the national Young Enterprise Project (YEP) 2018 organised by Jonk Entrepreneuren asbl, which led to Gianluca winning a leadership award at the JA Europe Enterprise challenge in Riga, Latvia. There was also success in the “Impuls” competition for social impact projects organised by Nyuko. Most lucrative was their selection and graduation on the Fit4Start programme where they received extra funding and professional consulting from HealthTech experts.
Customers will be able to download the app, or they can purchase a package including a pre-configured tablet and phone. Already translated into seven languages, the initial launch will be in the Benelux, France and Italy by the end of 2019.
A collaborative environment
Starting this business in Luxembourg has helped, as lines of communication are short, making it easier to arrange meetings with key decision makers. Being in the Lux Future Lab has opened doors too, and Gianluca and Alessio appreciate the cooperative environment there. It has been helpful to talk to fellow LFL tenants about business and technology challenges, as well as other consulting and practical benefits such as an in-house car that they can borrow.
“In particular it has been good to have LuxAI just down the corridor, as their work developing robotic technology to help the development of autistic children is instructive for us,” stated Gianluca.
“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others. Life is too short to create something nobody needs,”
- Alessio Weber & Gianluca Marinelli, Co-Founders of SOVI Solutions