More than 10% of the U.S. population is unable to read basic instructions, limiting their ability to perform their jobs or properly take their medicine.
A Minneapolis startup called GogyUp is looking to address the issue with assisted reading and translation technology.
The company's text-to-speech technology helps users decode words and provides definition explainers. The tech also translates text into preferred languages, and gives the user opportunities to practice spelling and comprehension through exercises.
Founded in 2018. GogyUp has two products: Snap Reader is an app with which users can take photos of text for real-time reading and translation assistance, for help reading a menu or cough medicine instructions, for example. GogyUp Reader is an app that helps users improve literacy skills while gaining knowledge on topics like citizenship and health.
"Our thought is that over time, as we feed you these little bits of reading lessons, your ability to decode [words] will improve," said Ned Zimmerman-Bence, GogyUp's co-founder and CEO.
Zimmerman-Bence began his career teaching autistic youth. He transitioned to teaching in various K-12 schools across the Twin Cities, followed by leading his own company until he landed a director position at an online high school.
Through his role at the school, Zimmerman-Bence noticed that adults wanted to complete courses to earn their high school equivalency diploma. They couldn't apply for courses, though, if they weren't reading at a required level, he said.
"That's where I saw the issue with adult illiteracy," Zimmerman-Bence said. "I never thought about the other end of the spectrum."
For nearly a year, Terri Albert, the CEO of a Chicago-based consulting firm called Fresh Set of Eyes, has mentored Zimmerman-Bence and his team through the University of Chicago's Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Albert instantly saw potential in GogyUp and how it can impact job performance, health care outcomes and overall improvement of quality of life.
"Often stereotyped as the result of not learning English, literacy is often determined by formal education and often socioeconomic factors that individuals do not control," Albert wrote in an e-mail. "GogyUp is part of the solution for addressing these societal issues by improving adult literacy."
Zimmerman-Bence and his team are currently developing a next-generation iteration of GogyUp Reader for employers that want to use the software as an employee training tool. The iteration is first being tested and researched with companies and organizations in the manufacturing and health care industries.
The manufacturing use case is being piloted at a plant in Pennsylvania, where GogyUp's tech is applied to both reading and comprehending workplace safety instructions and equipment operation and workplace manuals. With labor in short supply, Zimmerman-Bence is hopeful his company's technology can produce more eligible workers.
In the health care sector, GogyUp is working with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Medicine to study how implementing GogyUp with type 2 diabetes mellitus patient education materials impacts patient knowledge of the disease and a patient's capacity to manage the disease, Zimmerman-Bence said.
GogyUp is a Minnesota Department of Education-approved platform for adult education programs to use for distance learning and is being used by the Roseville Adult Learning Center and to Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio, a Minnesota organization focused on advancing the social and economic equity of Latinos.
"More broadly, GogyUp has far-reaching impacts to improve the quality of life for millions of people who live in a world of words and sentences that they cannot fully understand and benefit from," Albert said.
Though the company's apps have thousands of downloads on both Apple and Android phones, the company is still in a pre-revenue stage. It has used more than $321,000 in grant funding to develop its technology, Zimmerman-Bence said.