Village Capital-Brazil: F123 Software Bringing Access to the Blind

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Fernando Botelho is a visionary. He’s also blind.

He’s built F123, a software-plus-operating system that, with the combination of a USB drive and CD-Rom, can transform any PC in the world into an accessible device for the visually impaired, with best-in-breed screen magnifiers and audio for the completely blind. (With apologies to Steve Jobs, he doesn’t plan on developing a Mac-compatible version anytime soon. ”The world’s poor don’t own Macs,” he says.) His software costs $250, or about 10% of the next-best option. He and his partner, Flavia de Paola, plan to bring accessibility and employment opportunities to the 200 million blind people in the world.

Brazilian born and raised, Fernando Botelho has traveled the world. He worked for the United Nations, where he built esight.org, an early global web portal providing accessibility services for disabled people worldwide. He worked in Switzerland for UBS, managing philanthropic services for ultra-high-net-worth clients. Then, in the mid-2000s, he moved back to Brazil, predicting a global stock market crash, and thinking that Brazil would weather the storm better than most. ”Brazil isn’t great for blind people,” he said. ”I was lucky in that my father, in the early 1990s, was able to invest significant amounts in my becoming computer-literate, and I’ve had no problem getting jobs along the way. But the average blind person, particularly without means, doesn’t have that option.” Fernando says that his experience as a blind professional in the US and Switzerland was actually quite easy: “if you have the means, and can use a computer, you can have a life. I’ve lived in wealthy countries and know what’s possible for the visually impaired.” But in his home country of Brazil, he saw no such amenities. And, recognizing that it’s virtually impossible anywhere to get a middle-class job without computer literacy, he set out to create a solution that could help blind people, especially in emerging-market countries, use computers as a means to a better life.

From the start, he has had global ambitions. ”Without an international project, we can’t build a profitable business. There just aren’t that many blind people in any one country to reach a commercial scale.” His software, built on an open-source platform, has anything you’d need personally or professionally: word processing, spreadsheets, chat, even a good array of games. The pilot version has English, Spanish, and Portuguese. ”We are developing Mandarin, Hindi, French, but 2.2 billion people ought to be enough for a start.”

He’s going through the Artemisia Aceleradora to build his company, and he’s already gaining traction. He’s sold 1000 units already, and done $60K in revenue, with clients ranging from Brazil to Zambia. He and Flavia are raising capital to hire software developers that can take their company to the next level–an investment well worth it!

Watch Fernando explain his software here.

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