Article by Devi Lockwood: “Erick Ponce works in a government communications department in northern Ecuador. The 26-year-old happens to be deaf — a disability he has had since childhood. Communicating fluidly with his non-signing colleagues at work, and in public spaces like the supermarket, has been a lifelong challenge.
In 2017, Ponce became one of the first users of an experimental app called SpeakLiz, developed by an Ecuadorian startup called Talov. It transforms written text to sound, transcribes spoken words, and can alert a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to sounds like that of an ambulance, motorcycles, music, or a crying baby.
Once he began using SpeakLiz, Ponce’s coworkers — and his family — were able to understand him more easily. “You cannot imagine what it feels like to speak with your son after 20 years,” his father told the app’s engineers. Now a part of the Talov team, Ponce demos new products to make them better before they hit the market.
The startup has launched two subscription apps on iOS and Android: SpeakLiz, in 2017, for the hearing impaired, and Vision, in 2019, for the visually impaired. Talov’s founders, Hugo Jácome and Carlos Obando, have been working on the apps for over five years.
SpeakLiz and Vision are, by many measures, successful. Their software is used by more than 7,000 people in 81 countries and is available in 35 languages. The founders won an award from MIT Technology Review and a contest organized by the History Channel. Talov was named among the top 100 most innovative startups in Latin America in 2019.
But the startup is still struggling. Venture capitalists aren’t knocking on its door. Jácome and Obando sold some of their possessions to raise enough money to launch, and the team has next to no funding to continue expanding.