‘I Want Blind People to Be Able to Use Everything Other People Use’
On June 10th, the Cultural Centre hosted the open final of the HSE Startup Cup competition held by the HSE Business Incubator. First place in the ‘Idea’ category went to a project by 13-year-old Daniil Khachaturov to adapt educational web resources for blind and visually impaired people. The student and his mentor, Gulshat Suhanova, lecturer at the Institute of Education of HSE University, spoke with the News Service about his participation in the incubator and his start-up idea.
WM Products is a service for adapting educational websites and applications for blind and visually impaired people. Its author is 13-year-old Daniil Khachaturov, a student of the hospital school of the federal educational project, LearnKnow. He says he dedicated the project to a problem he himself faces. ‘I am blind and experience difficulties when I go online and use various resources. And I know I'm not the only one,’ says Daniil. ‘I'm fed up with it, and I wanted services, applications, and websites to become more adaptable, so that a blind person could use everything that non-blind people use.’
Gulshat Suhanova, a lecturer at the Institute of Education of HSE University, helped Daniil develop his idea and turn it into a full-fledged start-up. For more than a year, she has been working at the school of the LearnKnow project, where she met the talented teenager. ‘Our project unites a network of hospital schools for children with cancer, which currently includes 7 sites in Moscow and another 44 sites in Russia's regions. We have children with severe, complex diagnoses, and Daniil, as a boy who lost his sight as a result of cancer, ended up with us too.’ HSE University staff were invited to one of the school's events in autumn 2020, to talk to students about competitions and contests they can participate in in order to enter HSE University.
‘When the Q&A session began, Daniil raised his hand and asked, 'How can I, a blind senior school student, get into HSE University or any other university and take part in competitions and contests if your website is absolutely not adapted for such users?’ The question was unexpected, but my colleagues from HSE University reacted very positively and said that this problem really exists and is worthy of attention. Immediately after the meeting, I thought why not push Daniil’s activity in a constructive direction,’ the student's mentor recalls.
This is how Daniil became a participant in HSE University’s aerobatics competition. His project received high scores (80 out of 100), but did not make it to the finals. Having taken into account all the comments of the competition jury, he continued to work together with his mentor on improving his idea, and he applied to participate in the HSE Startup Cup from the HSE Business Incubator.
‘In the weeks leading up to the final, a lot of work was done,’ says Gulshat Suhanova. ‘Daniil’s mother got involved in the project and put a lot of effort into it, colleagues from the hospital school helped, and the management of the LearnKnow project also did a lot to make sure that Daniil and I could continue working on the project as productively as possible. We came to the final with a different product, detailed calculations, and a more detailed elaboration of the idea.’
‘The HSE Business Incubator staff provided us with a lot of training materials and an amazing tracker, Anna Kharitonova, who was always in touch with us, helping us prepare for the final performance, giving us support and advice and pointing out mistakes and shortcomings.’
The incubator team does an amazing job, giving children and adults a chance to break through with their ideas and get them noticed
Daniil, who participated in the start-up competition for the first time, also notes its high practical value. ‘I learned a lot at the business incubator about how business models work. I also learned more about start-ups and terms.’ He confesses that he has ideas for new projects and would like to become an entrepreneur.
All the more so because first place in the ‘Idea’ category of the HSE Startup Cup competition is not the project's only victory. On June 16, Daniil's start-up made it to the semi-finals of the Innovations in Education Competition held by HSE University’s Institute of Education. The jury of the competition, which included experts from HSE University, RANEPA, MAXIMUM Education, Sberbank, xEdu accelerator, Skolkovo, and other companies, selected Daniil's project and 34 other start-ups among 518 applications from different countries.
‘We will attract the attention of various companies, investors and communities to our project, and I hope something will come out of this,’ Gulshat Suhanova says. ‘Because the social significance and relevance of the project doesn't even need any justification.’