The most recent version of the Airnotes glove, designed by Kevin Shih.

Last week, the UC Irvine startup AirNotes celebrated the one year anniversary of its wearable glove technology. What began as a passion project has transformed into a promising venture that will formally become a company before the end of this year.

The CEO, ANTrepreneur Olaoluwa Adesanya, or Ola for short, is responsible for creating the idea of a glove that could supplement everyday activities. The idea came to fruition near the end of 2015, as he sought a better way to learn playing the saxophone, and hired a tutor with experience educating the blind.

“She had a different way of teaching people how to learn music,” Ola shared. “She would tap your finger so the blind could respond and push that finger down to generate that sound. And because she did that and she applied that to me, each time I wanted to play I felt like I needed someone to tap my finger. That’s when I went ahead to build the glove.”

Ola’s desire to build this glove, paired with technical experience, led to a completed prototype in the summer of 2016. That was the same year AirNotes took shape as a multi-person organization.

Justin Mogannam, who studied the same classes as Ola, works alongside him to develop the software crucial to powering the glove. AirNotes seized Justin’s interest when the project was presented to him as a research opportunity during last winter quarter. Adelanwa, Ola’s brother, helps with business planning and market research. Kevin Shih, a former intern at the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, joined the team after taking the glove, “from the ugly glove that it was to the more modular box design,” Ola explained.

He said, “I love that design today, and that’s the design we go off, so any modeling we do, that’s Kevin’s work.”

Justin and Ola wearing the first and second versions of the glove, respectively.

The fourth member is Laura Beken, who was inducted into the team after contacting AirNotes through Ideator. Additionally, the manager at the Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute at CHOC Children’s Hospital prepared the team for the Business Plan and Butterworth Competitions, and IBM manager Neil Sahota is providing advice for business planning and management.

With a full team, AirNotes contains the resources to deliver a revolutionary product to the blind community. Yet, the primary focus of AirNotes is no longer to provide a musical aid. This team has pivoted towards creating a platform that would house a wider variety of technological interactions.

Any pivot, or rejection of a current business model in favor of another, is associated with an issue that threatens a company’s sustainability. AirNotes’ pivot, as with many other companies, was caused by a lack of steady revenue. “In terms of what we had to do internally, for [the blind] community, we had to use a lot of resources that we wouldn’t be able to get if we only focused on that,” Ola stated.

“Opening up the glove to allow many more applications is good for us because now we’re not making the glove for a specific group. We have options of who our end customer could potentially be, and it’s also more exciting to see the diversity of applications that would be running on the glove.”

A blind student learns to play piano through an older version of the AirNotes glove.

In other words, no longer is AirNotes producing a glove to aid the blind in playing instruments. It is instead forging the platform in which a software developer could write an application to aid the blind in playing instruments. As part of that pivot, the team plans to distribute gloves to developers in order to expand the range of applications available to end users. Ola and Justin are constructing a Software Development Kit (SDK), and the former hopes to even see virtual and augmented reality software working in the glove.

“Most companies focus on perception and how you see virtual reality,” the founder observed. “We believe, at AirNotes, there’s another branch of computing that is purely interactive, and that’s what we’re currently focusing on. Interaction goes beyond VR and just being able to touch. It’s how you interact with your computer, to your chair, to your monitor.”

The glove’s hardware is changing, too. Adding new measurement tools into the glove, like gyroscopes and haptic sensors, are effectively turning it into a computer.

Pivots, of course, are followed by consequences. The company must spend time and effort rebranding itself, and that rebranding meant that the team found maintaining relationships with the blind community more difficult.

Despite restructuring its business model, AirNotes is not filled with hot air. These ANTrepreneurs continue to gain momentum. At the end of spring quarter, the team placed in the final round of the New Venture Competition, and second at UCI’s Butterworth Product Development Competition, which focuses on how well teams can take software to market.

For Anteaters wishing to become ANTrepreneurs, Ola recommends starting without hesitation. “The moment you start, resources will just come to you,” he shared. “I think that’s one important thing that each entrepreneur should have in mind, which is just starting and see how that journey unfolds and see how that takes you.”

For more updates, like this startup’s new name, follow AirNotes on its social media, or get in contact with Ola.

Images courtesy of Ola Adesanya.

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