Bulgarian-born Kristina Tsvetanova worked as a supply chain expert and industrial engineer at major international companies, before deciding to become a social-tech entrepreneur in Austria. She is currently working on Blitab, the first tactile tablet for blind and visually impaired people.
Leaders League. What do you think is most significant about inventing a tablet for blind and visually impaired people?
Kristina Tsvetanova. Imagine a world where every person with sight-loss has the opportunity to grow and prosper, where education, technology, and knowledge are open to them, to help them be the best they can be. Without braille reading, writing and social skills, this world is locked away. Books...internet...wider education… all of this can be unlocked with the technology in one single unit.
We invented new actuating technology based on non-mechanical elements that reproduces braille letters on a flat surface. Then we embedded it into the first ever tactile tablet for blind and visually impaired people – Blitab.
Our main goal is to build a profitable company that dramatically improves the lives of visually impaired users. And this should be the greatest significance of every tech company – what good is innovation if there’s no human impact?
What do you think will happen once the Blitab is out there in the market?
As Blitab Technology is addressing a global problem in the field of accessibility and resolving it by providing a universal tech solution, the company has been internationally oriented from day one. Having founders from Bulgaria who established a company in Vienna is also another factor that defined our open mindset and the ability to expand. That’s why we have already had international exposure and presence in many countries in Europe as well as USA. We also held a successful beta launch of our device at the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai in July 2016 as part of the 4YFN (four years from now) European delegation and now we are looking forward to successful go-to-market strategy. Our first markets are going to be Europe and the USA. So far, we have received hundreds of distribution proposals however we are choosing only the most reliable partners that would treat Blitab as an extraordinary product and not just part of a broad product portfolio.
How do you protect your IP rights as a startup? Have you encountered any particular challenges?
From the beginning, we knew that our secret sauce is the technology. That’s why together with our advisory board we developed a solid IP strategy to protect our rights internationally. Austria is very strong in IP protection and supports its start-up companies very much, defending their rights in this area. There are established programs that support and advise you on how to proceed and what to do next. We started with a registered trademark and web-domains. After that we filed our first patent and so on. However, I always say that if you do not have enough capital and resources dedicated to protect your rights, it does not matter how many patents you have. That’s why we rely not only on the officially protected IP but also on company know-how, services and the database of millions of users we generated during the last 16 months.
What have you done well so far, and what would you have done differently if you could go back?
I strongly believe that we did a great job not only in the assistive technology sector but in technological development in general. Now humanity is one step further along in the development of tactile displays and surfaces. I am really proud that we managed to scale one idea with an initial team of three passionate experts and bring it to the hands of users.
If I had the chance to do something differently, I would say it would be to be more transparent with our users during the R&D period. People were not aware that we were working hard on making Blitlab come true and, due to lack of information they suddenly thought that we were not going to make it. Just to not underestimate the role of good and steady communication and social media presence.
How is the innovation environment in Austria?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family in Bulgaria but I never thought that I could be an entrepreneur myself. During my last year at the Technical University in Sofia, while working as a supply chain expert for an international bottling company, I got an idea that needed the right location to become reality.
I was frustrated that no one saw the potential of my idea in my country, so I decided to move the heart of Europe, to Vienna. This was the most important decision I have made on my journey and I am so happy that I did it. In Vienna, there is a very strong community of social entrepreneurs and very soon I formed a team of highly motivated young people and established a company in late 2014 called Blitab Technology. That’s how, driven by my ambition, I followed my passion and proved that Austria is a great country to establish and grow a sustainable business.
Jeanne Yizhen Yin
Find more analysis articles & interviews in our 2017 Innovation, Technology & IP Report.