E Interview With Sunu - The Startup That's Enabling The Visually Impaired

We had the opportunity to interview Fernando Albertorio, CTO and Marco Trujillo, CEO of Sunu. The technology company which engineers new horizons for the visually impaired.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and Sunu? How did you get the idea for Sunu?

A: Marco: I grew up with a deaf child as my first and best friend. We used to create all sorts of things together; games, stories, toys… we even built our own sign language! As we became teenagers, I realized about his disability and how it was affecting him personally and socially, so I started helping him in many ways including learning the official sign language, which enabled him to study at school for the deaf and eventually pursue a college degree. I realized that he was not the only person having a hard time living in a world with limited accessibility. Additionally, I’ve always been passionate about technology, I’ve considered myself an inventor since childhood. So it was natural for me to study robotics. I won over 20 competitions in the field and created 7 assistive technology devices (the first one was for a kid with cerebral palsy). Sunu came about because of my dual passion for technology and empowering individuals with a disability and merging the two into an entrepreneurial endeavour.

Fernando: I was born with low vision, I’m legally blind because of albinism. My first and only assistive technology was a hand-held magnifier. I became interested in science and technology through my father, who was a pilot. Growing up around airplanes, and flying with my dad, even though I could never get my pilot’s license, allowed me to feel empowered and that there are really no limitations. I went on to study chemistry, much to the dismay of some of the faculty at my university. After graduation, I received a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. At NIH I worked with the leading expert in albinism and became active in the community.I then pursued my Ph.D. in Chemistry and went to Harvard to continue my postdoctoral research in Physics in 2006. Soon after, I created my first company and by 2014 had one of my products acquired. I met Marco in 2014 at the Mass Challenge in Boston, where I was mentoring. I tried the Sunu Band for the first time and it immediately changed my life. It helped reduce accidents with tree branches and sign posts etc. I joined the team as their lead mentor for the program and became a co-founder after winning MassChallenge.

Q: How will Sunu improve the lives of its users?

A: Fernando: Visual impairments include a wide spectrum of conditions and therefore needs. Our product is designed to satisfy many of these needs, and chief among these are mobility and navigation. There are 285M visually impaired worldwide, of which 39M are totally blind and 246M are low vision. In North America (US and Canada), 26.6M are visually impaired, that’s 3.2M blind and 23.4M low vision. Who MUST use Sunu Band? - anyone whose mobility, autonomy and daily living is stressed by frequent accidents (bumps and collisions) with obstacles.   

Our products solve multiple problems for people who are blind and low vision. Sunu Band can be used along with the white cane and guide dog. It complements travel with these aids by extending awareness beyond the reach of the cane or guide dog. The cane helps guarantee the next step, it’s like an extension of the user’s hand in knowing about the terrain, changes in slope and detecting obstacles. But, the cane or guide dog cannot detect obstacles to the upper body and head like tree branches, vehicle mirrors, scaffolding, etc. By using Sunu Band the user gains more awareness about their environment. 

Sunu Band can also be used by people with low vision, partial sight, night blindness, etc, who don’t rely on a cane or guide dog.  

We know that not everyone is going to be a user of our product. We’ve learned that people born totally blind, which amount to ~4% of the visually impaired population are highly adept with their mobility and tend not to rely on electronic mobility aids. However, they still need assistance with way-finding and navigation, which is a core need that Sunu Band solves.  

Adults over the age of 50 are most at risk of losing their sight and total 186M worldwide. They are less likely to become adept and proficient at using the cane, and have the highest need for Sunu Band.

Q: Are there similar companies to Sunu, if so what makes your company different?

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Anne Barry 5 months ago Member's comment

Fernando Albertorio, this is such a wonderful concept. I'd love to hear about how your company has progressed.

Alpha Stockman 9 months ago Member's comment

This is very impressive. How has the pandemic impacted your business?

Fernando Albertorio 9 months ago Member's comment

Thank you. Our team is doing an amazing job and we're leaning into the challenge. We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of our employees, our customers, partners, stakeholders and everyone in the community. We are committed to amplifying the potential of our technology to solve problems, address critical needs, and facilitate human connection at this time of crisis, especially for those most vulnerable among us. I published a post with details on how Sunu, as a company is navigating the pandemic. Briefly, we're creating more virtual programs to provide training to our business partners. This week, we launched an invited beta of our newest mobile app for iOS with organization and distributor partners around the world. You can learn more by visiting our page on Republic and click on Updates. https://republic.co/sunu

We're also helping lead in this time, and you read more about how we're bringing value in the CNN article - www.cnn.com/.../index.html

Thank you!

Alpha Stockman 9 months ago Member's comment

Even more impressed now, thanks!

Susan Miller 9 months ago Member's comment

It's always nice when an investment opportunity is also one that improves the lives of others.

Fernando Albertorio 9 months ago Member's comment

Thank you Susan.