Stories: EIC-funded innovation Be My Eyes raises funding to support blind and visually impaired worldwide
There are about 36 million people in the world who are blind, and a further 216 million who live with visual impairments. But fortunately, innovations are now playing an important role to deliver deep improvements to their quality of life. The app Be My Eyes, for example, is connecting customers who are blind or have low vision with over 850,000 volunteers for guidance and help with tasks like cooking, finding lost items, catching a bus, reviewing mail and more. The EIC-funded solution is a game-changer, proving how innovation is fostering inclusion.
The app was launched in January 2015. Once the application is downloaded, Be My Eyes solves a very simple problem for users: it calls up a real person on demand to describe what’s in front of a blind user’s camera. Since it started, more than 2,000,000 volunteers have signed up. Volunteers are available in more than 150 countries worldwide and offer help in more than 180 different languages, making vision available for blind and low vision folks all over the world.
“As we grow and age, we all need help seeing at some point,” says Be My Eyes CEO Christian Erfurt, who co-founded the company with a legally blind craftsman named Hans Jørgen Wiberg in 2014. “It’s been a pleasure to see that not only do people want to give their time to support this large population – but companies want to make their customer service offerings more accessible. For them, we’ve built a simple but beautiful tool.”
This year, the company has secured a Series A investment round, led by St. Louis-based Cultivation Capital. The funding will allow the Be My Eyes team to continue keeping the visual support service free and unlimited for all visually impaired users. The company has previously been backed by angels and investment funding from the likes of Singularity University, the founders of Zendesk, and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco.
Bringing communities together
In February 2018, the feature Specialised Help was launched to enable blind and low-vision users to connect with official company representatives for accessible and efficient customer support. Microsoft signed on as Be My Eyes’ first video support partner in 2018, followed by Google, Lloyds Banking Group, and Procter & Gamble.
“Be My Eyes is a great example of how technology can help bring communities together and empower people who are blind or with low vision. By working together with Be My Eyes, their incredible sighted volunteers, and the growing community of organizations participating in the Specialized Help program, we can help more people around the world live independent lives. We are honored to be part of this vibrant community and provide support for all of their customers through our Disability Answer Desk services”, added Neil Barnett, who runs the Disability Answer Desk over at Microsoft.
Be My Eyes received Phase 1 and Phase 2 grant from the European Innovation Council. During Phase 2, the project was focused on the feature Specialised Help to develop a fully commercialised product meeting the customer needs as determined by Phase 1 Feasibility Study.