In 2016, young entrepreneur Brandon Winfield was hard at work on a concept he called ParaPerks, an app that helped mobility-impaired individuals find accessible restaurants, venues, bars, and other venues based on peer reviews. Winfield, who was paralyzed in an accident as a teenager and gets around in a wheelchair, was intimately familiar with the market for accessibility information.
But as Winfield and his partner, product manager and business consultant Sayeed Mehrjerdian, began to have discussions with potential users and study the market, they realized that their focus on mobility impairment, while most familiar for Winfield, was quite limited.
“We realized that we were basically pigeonholing ourselves,” says Mehrjerdian. The team began to consider those with other disabilities: vision or hearing impairment, for example, and realized they needed a rebrand.
“We wanted this to be a more inclusive app for everybody, for people that are advocates for people with disabilities, people that have children with
developmental disabilities, whatever it may be,” says Winfield, who has taken on the CEO role at the newly-launched iAccess while Mehrerdian has become Chief Innovation Officer.
The team pitched the iAccess concept this week at the prestigious SXSW Accelerator Pitch as an alternate in the Social & Culture category. The judges awarded them best in their category for the chance to pitch again to a wider audience.
iAccess follows the same model as ParaPerks — a ratings app that crowdsources reviews to direct people to the best venues for them — while becoming much more inclusive of what they define as “accessible”. The team is even thinking ahead to identifying safe places for nursing mothers or the LGBTQ community.
“We want this brand to be an image of people going out and having a good time and finding fun events they can partake in — to be able to access their life,” says Winfield, who left his job last fall to focus full-time on iAccess.
The app is now being developed with the help of KiwiTech, a tech-for-equity development shop that gave the startup $150,000 worth of technical services at a $2.5 million valuation. They have raised an additional $100,000 from friends and family and have opened a seed round to continue financing development as well as launch.
That public launch is slated for May of this year in Atlanta, the first city that iAccess will provide a database for. They are collecting reviews from an army of brand ambassadors, individuals with accessibility impairments that will go out and test venues across the city.
They plan to roll out the app in the same manner city by city as they expand.
“Our brand ambassadors are going to be people who are already embodying the iAccess lifestyle,” says Winfield. “They’re not slowed down by anything, they’re not shy about their disability.”
Once the app is launched, it will be free to consumers to download and use. The team has three plans for monetization: one, simple in-app advertising, and another an in-app marketplace for accessible products and services.
The third monetization strategy involves taking the database they’re building up from users, the information on all of a city’s accessible locations, and licensing that in API form to platforms like TripAdvisor or Priceline.
“Right now those travel sites may just have a checkbox that says accessible, but what does that mean?” asks Mehrjerdian. “There are varying levels of accessibility. By us getting deeper into specific prongs of accessibility ratings, we are hoping to create an API they can leverage to use in their platforms.”