PEOPLE

After Arch Grants: Two St. Louis Tech Companies Helping People with Vision, Hearing Impairments

Image courtesy of clEAR, photographed by Robert Boston

From on-demand transportation to instant entertainment access, there’s no denying consumer technology has simplified many aspects of everyday life. But what about for individuals with vision or auditory disabilities? For St. Louis companies clEAR and ViTAL, the power of technology is its ability to help people.

These two tech companies are focused on improving accessibility. From ViTAL’s digital, haptic graphics that allow teachers to create materials for students with vision impairments to clEAR’s brain-training computer games designed to assist those with hearing loss, the methods and challenges may be different but the help-focused goals are fairly similar. Another thing in common? Both organizations were 2017 Arch Grants winners.

Corrine Mueller, ViTAL co-founder and VP of business, calls Arch Grants a game changer for their company. “We wanted to become more involved and connected in St. Louis, especially as we were entering a new frontier: sales,” she says. “Arch Grants made introductions to each and every edtech connection, which was key as edtech is a small but growing niche in St. Louis. In addition to offering their third arm to help out, the Arch Grants honor adds a stamp of credibility, as their reputation is of the highest caliber.”

Nancy Tye-Murray, clEAR CEO, echos similar praises of the experience. “We applied for the money, of course, but also for the intangibles, such as contact with some of the movers and shakers of St. Louis and the support of the Arch Grant team,” she explains. “It was thrilling to win, but my team worked like Trojans to fine-tune our business plan and our pitch in the weeks leading up to the finals, so that when we finally did win, we felt both honored and deserving.”

Both organizations continue to credit the non-monetary benefits of the Arch Grants experience—things like consulting, accounting services and legal help. “This has allowed our team to focus on the very important front end—customer acquisition—that is helping ViTAL to achieve growth,” Mueller says.

Headquartered in the heart of the Downtown startup scene, T-REX, ViTAL’s suite of touch-based software gives teachers the resources to turn existing classroom materials into multi-sense tools for students with vision impairments or blindness. “Arch Grants made it possible for us to bring our well-developed product to market and gave us the support system and mentoring network to do so,” Mueller says. Since its Arch Grants success, ViTAL has been accepted to Kansas City’s education technology-focused Lean Lab and been awarded a $742,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

clEAR, an acronym for Customized Learning: Exercises for Aural Rehabilitation, has turned auditory brain and listening training techniques into fun-to-play games. These online games are accessed via a subscription service. The games use lighthearted premises to strengthen various auditory skills; the FarmEAR in the Dell game, for example, is focused on auditory attention, while the MountainEAR game is geared toward processing speed. Since Arch Grants, the reach of the clEAR product has been able to grow, as Tye-Murray says in addition to product improvements clEAR’s marketing has grown enormously since the win.

For those planning to apply for the 2018 Arch Grants, Mueller recommends making a commitment to St. Louis in the application. “Explain why the STL ecosystem is the next best step for your company and why you’ll thrive here,” she says. “Understand the immense entrepreneurial network that the city has to offer, and how you might fit in or bring in something new…Whether you win or not, it is a very valuable learning opportunity, and the Arch Grants community is an invaluable resource and collaborative network.”

Tye-Murray of clEAR explains her organization applied three times before winning, noting the importance of persistence throughout the application processes. “I’m incredibly impressed with my fellow recipients, which is another way of saying that the competition is stiff,” she says, recommending applicants give ample time to the application. “The common denominator of the winners seems to be a genuine belief in the start-up scene in St. Louis. If you’re not a believer yet, take the time to learn about what is happening here and you’ll soon become one—and you’ll be able to talk intelligently about how you and your company will contribute to the future of the city.”

Arch Grant applications are due May 15, 2018.