Girls In Tech Showcases Women Founders In SF Pitch Competition

Kristina Tsvetanova says she found the motivation for her startup Blitab in 2014, when a blind colleague’s struggle to communicate via the Internet made her conscious of the barriers facing visually impaired people in a digital world.

Her search for solutions spurred her to move from her native Bulgaria to find greater resources in Vienna, where she began developing what is now a tablet computer that can display the text from any online source in a full page of Braille. The top screen of the “tactile tablet” is peppered with small holes, through which a liquid-like substance rises up to form the patterns of dots that make up each letter in Braille, which blind people read with their fingertips.

After a long period of development and testing, Tsvetanova and her Blitab co-founder, CTO Slavi Slavev, are ready to manufacture the tablet for sale at a price of $500 in developed countries. They’re also ready to raise money from investors for the first time, so now they’re here in—where else?—Silicon Valley.

Blitab is one of the 10 finalists in the AMPLIFY startup competition being held in San Francisco today by Girls In Tech, a global non-profit organization that trains women entrepreneurs and helps them rise to recognition among investors.

Each finalist will have seven minutes to pitch their business models and demonstrate a prototype or service to the judges and a crowd of venture capitalists, angel investors, journalists, and tech professionals, says Adriana Gascoigne, who founded Girls in Tech in 2007 to accelerate the movement of women into fields related to science and technology. The finalist will then answer the judges’ questions in a three-minute Q&A exchange. The winner will receive a $20,000 cash prize and as much as $30,000 worth of tech gear, other resources, and office space for a year.

All the finalists reap media exposure, one free year of Zendesk service, mentorships through Girls in Tech, and introductions to potential funders and business partners, Gascoigne says. Potential new employees for the startups may also surface at the one-day event. Members of Girls in Tech are always looking for “new and interesting opportunities,” she says.

The San Francisco-based organization now counts 100,000 members spread across 60 global chapters. Its U.S. branches are in Seattle, New York, Denver, Dallas, Milwaukee, WI; Austin, TX, and other cities. International chapters are located in India, Africa, Austrialia, and countries in Europe, among other outposts.

The finalists for the sixth annual AMPLIFY competition were chosen from among more than 362 applicants by outside judges, and many of them share a characteristic that is common among finalists from past years, Gascoigne says. Like Tsvetanova, they tend to aim toward achieving some social benefit, whether in health care, education, medicine, or software development, she says.

Blitab’s fellow finalists include PayBee, which makes it easier for people to donate online to their favorite charities; Project Vive, which created a speech generation device for people suffering from communication constraints such as impaired motor control; and DACA Time, an online platform where undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children can manage the process of applying for continued U.S. residency under the Obama-created Dreamers program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.)

The same theme of social good runs through the mission of other AMPLIFY contenders this year: JustFix.nyc aims to help grassroots organizations help tenants at risk of displacement from their homes in New York City; WorkAround connects employers with refugees who can perform online work such as data entry and research; and biotech company OmniVis makes mobile test kits that can be used to detect cholera germs in water supplies, or rapidly diagnose infectious diseases.

The three remaining finalists aim to improve the e-commerce experience. Klasha sells fast fashion online to young people in emerging markets in Africa; WishYourPrice allows retailers to tailor their prices according to feedback from individual shoppers; and GlamTech uses artificial intelligence software and augmented reality technology to help retailers give customers personalized skin care recommendations.

The winner of the competition, and the recipient of a new Audience Choice award, will be announced this evening.

Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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