*This is part of a series highlighting GEN entrepreneurs making an impact around the world.
For much of her life, Saida Florexil has relied on hearing aids and visual sight – lip-reading, American Sign Language (ASL) and body language – to communicate. The 24-year old entrepreneur was born with hearing loss and became profoundly deaf at 16.
Now Saida has a new communications aid – one of her own invention. She is the founder of Imanyco, a tech startup on a mission to break communications barriers for people with hearing disabilities. Her app, Comunify, helps address a daily challenge experienced by her target market – participating in group conversations. Comunify transcribes and color-codes multi-person conversations in real-time, making it easier for users to follow.
Saida pitched Imanyco at the 2020 Entrepreneurship World Cup, organized by the Global Entrepreneurship Network, Misk Global Forum and the Global Education and Leadership Foundation – where she ended up as one of the top idea-stage finishers in the United States national finals. It was an experience, she says, that helped boost her self-confidence, land her an interview with PBS and attract interest from investors.
GEN caught up with Saida to learn more about her company, her experience participating in several GEN programs and why she chose entrepreneurship to make a difference.
*This interview has been edited for length and readability.
GEN: Why did you start Imanyco?
Saida Florexil: When I was in college, I would request accommodations for my classes, such as ASL interpreters or note-takers, and I wouldn’t get them. It was really frustrating. I often thought that if I had technology made for me, I wouldn’t have these problems.
GEN: There are many ways people can facilitate change. Why did you choose entrepreneurship?
Saida Florexil: I like to challenge myself. Many people don’t have high expectations for people with disabilities, so I always try to push myself to do more than others think I am capable of. I also want to inspire others in the deaf community to not settle for less. Plus, as an entrepreneur, I can create employment opportunities for deaf people!
GEN: What does Imanyco mean? What is the story behind the name?
Saida: It comes from the Swahili word imani, which means faith or belief. This company has always been about me believing there is another way to “listen to life every day” – that’s also the tagline for my company.
GEN: You are more than an entrepreneur – you are also an advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Why is advocacy important to you?
Saida Florexil: At first, I created Imanyco for myself. But as I began doing market research I met a lot of people experiencing similar challenges. I met college dropouts and people who can’t find jobs because of their hearing loss. It made me realize that…yes, technology can be helpful, but even the most powerful technology in the world is not enough to solve these problems.
Whenever I meet someone, I have to advocate for myself. I have to ask them to look at me when they speak or to repeat a sentence multiple times. If people don’t understand what we are going through, they won’t understand why they need to make adjustments or be accomodating
GEN: You were planning on becoming a teacher when the pandemic hit – why did you pivot to working on your business?
Saida Florexil: With everyone wearing face masks, it makes it hard to interact. really. I thought about teaching online, but it’s also hard to sit on Zoom calls and read transcriptions for four to five hours a day. I had a difficult time finding other work, so I decided to work on Imanyco full-time.
GEN: You pitched at the Entrepreneurship World Cup in 2020. What was that like?
Saida: The competition really helped to boost my self-confidence. I didn’t know what I was doing with my business and felt lost throughout my startup process. EWC forced me out of my comfort zone.
GEN: You also attended the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit organized by GEN in the Netherlands. How did that influence your entrepreneurial journey?
Saida Florexil: I was invited to an investor networking event there and I learned so much. Investors told me about accelerators and other startup support resources, so I started to sign up for them.
GEN: What’s next for yourself and for Imanyco?
Saida: Besides launching my public beta and raising capital to hire engineers, my next step with product development is to create the mobile vision of the Comunify app and hardware. Right now, the product is currently a web app. It can be used on any device and web browser with no need to download.
Learn more about Saida and her work at www.imanyco.com.