Touch Graphics, Inc.New York, NY 10018
Like many entrepreneurs, Steven Landau studied a field that ended up having nothing to do with the one he ultimately pursued. An architect by training, after graduating from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, he went to work in New York. Here, he “discovered that I really had a bent for invention.” He met up with a professor from the City University of New York who was blind, and, in 1997, a business was born making educational materials accessible for people with visual impairments.
Owing to a small market size and the limited purchasing power of its target audience, disability companies aren’t ideal clients for venture capitalists. Instead, Landau turned to the SBIR Program for what he describes as an R&D injection (the first of six grants). That boost proved to be vital. “We would not exist without SBIR,” he says. “There’s no question about that. It has been the central enabling tool that’s permitted us to generate intellectual property … SBIR has been the key to everything we’ve done.”
With SBIR support from the Department of Education, Touch Graphics has commercialized a plethora of products that now are in use throughout the United States and elsewhere. Its flagship creation, the patented Talking Tactile Tablet, acts as a “viewer” for raised-line graphic pictures and illustrations—anything from a Pi chart to a map of Washington, DC, to a diagram of a neuron. As a user touches these things, he hears a description that explains what he’s looking at.
As of 2010, over 800 tablets have been sold and dozens of applications developed. Currently, Touch Graphics is developing a cheaper version for emerging markets such as Brazil, India, Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia, as well as a Talking Tactile Pen, which it describes as a “a new system for audio-tactile interactive computing.”
“Some of our users are exceptionally bright and driven,” Landau points out. “They just need tools to overcome their barriers.” Manufacturing and marketing these tools affirms for Landau that he made the right career decision.