Four AU students get funding to help the blind and deaf

The four students know each other from their company protofi, where they create prototypes.

Photo: Kaspar Hvid

Four IT Product Development students from Department of Computer Science are selected for Innovation Fund Denmark's program – InnoFounder. They were selected based on a device created for their Master’s thesis - a sensor that can help deaf and blind people in their every-day-lives.

645.000 kroner.

That much has four students in IT Product Development from Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University received in funding from Innovation Fund Denmark to support the development of their idea. They have developed a sensor that will make every-day-life easier for deaf and blind people, by making inaccessible information from their home available.

"Our every-day-life is becoming more and more digital, meaning that a blind cannot see the display on the microwave, and a deaf cannot hear the doorbell, and when we started the thesis at the end of 2017, we decided we would try to solve it”, says Rasmus Korsgaard Kjeldgaard.

The four describe the sensor as a device that can make your home into a “smart home” as it can track if the doorbell is ringing, whether the light turns on or off, or if the dishwasher stops spinning, after which you can be notified about it on i.e. a phone. The sensor is not just good on paper, but received great feedback when tested.

"We got a really nice feedback when we tested the sensor. One of the two who tested it on would not give it back because it made her every day so much easier," says Christian Helding Sørensen.

From students to business owners

When they started their thesis, they did not expect that they today would be business owners. The funding from Innovation Fund Denmark enables them to work full time on developing their sensor and business Protofi

- Being part of InnoFounder really means a lot to us. In concrete terms, it means that we have time to work full time on our product. Also, we get a mentor who can help us with developing the business side of our company, which probably is a good idea as we otherwise would spend all our time on development, says Rasmus Korsgaard Kjeldgaard, and adds that they now will apply for more funding.

Help from HatchIT-Lab

It was especially in HatchIT-Lab that the four found support and guidance for their application when they decided to apply for the InnoFounder program.

"The Department of computer Science and other companies in HatchIT-Lab were really good at pushing us in that direction and making us realize that our project can be more than just a thesis. At the same time, there is an incredible hub of knowledge next door from all the researchers available for us”, says Mark Flarup-Jensen

HatchIT-Lab, which is centrally located within the Department of Computer Science, is one of the entrepreneurial environments at Aarhus University, where start-ups can explore, mature, and develop their ideas.

“Since the beginning in 2016, HatchIT-Lab has been an experiment to investigate how student affiliation can create synergy when it's anchored close to research and an educational environment. It has proven to be of great value for our start-ups to be close to both researchers and fellow students who have provided support and sparring both on technical aspects and business ideas. In particular, I believe that the informal contact with researchers and experts has been very valuable, as our startup companies have a high level of innovation”, says Søren Poulsen from Department of Computer Science and continues: 

“The goal of HatchIT-Lab is that our students can test the dream of starting their own business in an environment that still allows them to be full-time students. We do not measure the success in the number of sustainable companies. Rather, we believe it to be of high value for the students to have the opportunity of testing entrepreneurship before one making decided on a career path ".

Just do it

The four students say if they should give one advice to any students considering applying InnoFounder it is simple: “Do it. That’s the short answer,” says Tobias Emil Harbo.

After the defense of their thesis on 28 June, the four will take a short summer break, but they are looking forward to continue working on and developing their sensor in HatchIT-Lab.

FACTS: What is HatchIT-Lab?

HatchIT-Lab is a locally based IT-entrepreneurial environment that is closely linked to IT research and education activities at the Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University. Students wishing to start their own business in IT, electronics, software and product development can in HatchIT Lab explore, mature and develop their ideas in a research-oriented incubation and innovation environment. More information at http://projects.au.dk/hatchitlab/