Dr Anna Wright MAICD, co-founder and CEO of BindiMaps, wants to make it easier for more people with a disability to travel independently.
Navigating the underbelly of Sydney’s Central Station presents a challenge for most commuters, but imagine finding your way if you are blind or visually impaired. Braille signs might indicate where you are, but not where you want to go. And how do you even find the braille signs in the country’s busiest railway hub?
This question fuelled frustration in Dr Anna Wright MAICD, who has a degenerative retinal condition that impacts the vision in her right eye. It also sparked her idea for BindiMaps, a wayfinding app that guides people through complex indoor spaces.
“Bindi is short for ‘be independent’,” says Wright, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “That pretty much sums up our mission — that people can do whatever they want, wherever they want to go, regardless of ability.”
Access for all
Launched in 2017, with a $100,000 grant from BlueChilli’s SheStarts accelerator program for women-led startups, the BindiMaps app employs a natural language audio system to describe where users are, what’s around them and the best way to get to their chosen destination. Built utilising technology like smartphone sensors and Bluetooth beacons, it is employed in shopping centres, healthcare facilities, at events such as the Australian Open — even at the Budapest International Airport.
Along with co-founders Mladen Jovanovic, a Forbes “30 Under 30” alumni, who serves as BindiMaps’ chief commercial officer, and Tony Burrett, former head of product management and development at BlueChilli, now BindiMaps chief product officer, Wright is preparing to take the technology into markets in the US and Canada.
“From there,” she says, “we’ll just gradually take over the world.”
A chartered accountant, Wright was working as a senior lecturer at UTS Business School when she was encouraged to pitch her BindiMaps idea to SheStarts. Her accelerator grant was topped up with funding from the NSW government’s MVP Ventures Program, giving Wright the funds she needed to create a proof of concept. Getting buy-in from Guide Dogs and Vision Australia was a game changer, says Wright, and proved a powerful endorsement when raising seed capital. “I made a decision that if I couldn’t raise a million dollars after proof of concept, then it was a no-go,” she says. “It’s a very tech-heavy solution, so we needed a lot of money for development. I wasn’t going to scrounge, pay people poorly and promise them the future. I knew it had to be funded properly.”
BindiMaps is backed by venture fund Artesian, which Wright describes as “very female-friendly”. It has also attracted investment from several private high-net-worth individuals, most of whom are now members of its advisory board.
Wright says BindiMaps advisers are chosen for specific skills the company may lack, such as legal expertise or sales and marketing strategies. She also views advisory boards as a valuable alternative to a board of directors for startups.
“Because of the high level of risk that applies to directors personally when it comes to startups, I could never ask someone to be a director and take on that kind of risk.”
Despite the risks, Wright says sustainability is built into the BindiMaps business model. “I’ve always raised capital with the idea of building the team and building the business to get to the point that the business sustains where we’re at,” she says. “Then I go and raise the next bit of capital to fund the next lot of growth.”
BindiMaps’ early growth strategy focused on what Wright describes as “lighthouse clients” such as Charter Hall, Mirvac, Lendlease and Stockland. “When we started selling, we wanted to get all of the top brands,” she says. “We pursued and pursued and pursued, because that was one part of our growth strategy. If we couldn’t get them, what were we doing?”
Last December, BindiMaps was recognised as one of 40 World Summit Award 2022 winners for using local digital innovation to improve society and respond to global challenges with UN Sustainable Development Goals in mind.
“I really want BindiMaps to be one of those things that helped get more people with a disability into our mainstream culture,” says Wright. “Let’s be honest, one in every 40 people has a vision impairment and one in every 400 is completely blind. But I bet you that anyone reading this article could walk down the street past 400 people, then another 400 people, and never once see a guide dog or somebody using a cane.”
Wright says everything at BindiMaps is built with input from people with “lived experience”. “When we start to bring a wider range of skills and experiences to the table, what other problems are we going to be able to solve? When we are not just leaving it to the middle-aged, white, fully able-bodied men to bring their perspective, but when solutions to problems are in play for all forms of diversity.”
Her advice for entrepreneurs is to do some homework on venture capital funds and to “be as ambitious as possible”.
“How do you do hard things ? One step at a time. Then, if that one step doesn’t work, you can go back and try a different way.”
Wright adds that business models should always include a pathway to profitability. “Otherwise, it’s not a business. Just call it a charity and be done with it.”
Wright’s final piece of advice is to create something that counts. “Apps that help people to get beer faster — those kind of things drive me crazy,” she says. “You don’t need to be able to get beer faster. Build something that matters.”
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