Social justice, equity-focused entrepreneurs pitch 'Tech for Good' ideas for cash

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Two Bay Area entrepreneurs are pitching for cash to make their ideas come to life. One idea would make emergency calls more accessible to people who are deaf, speech impaired, or hard of hearing; the other would empower Black and brown youth to engage in issues of social justice.

"My father was home alone and he had a gallbladder rupture. He was not able to call 911 for help. And he ended up texting me to call 911 for him," said Gabriella Wong, founder and CEO of AccesSOS.

In a moment when seconds save lives, that's when Wong knew she had to do something.

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Both of Wong's parents are deaf and are a part of the millions of Americans who can't hear or speak out for help.

"About 70% of the 911 call centers throughout the United States do not have text-to-911," she added.

The FCC acknowledges text-to-911 is only available in limited locations, but it encourages emergency call centers to begin accepting texts.

While text-to-911 is readily available in many cities across the Bay Area and California, there are still limitations, like locating the person texting for help.

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Wong's AccesSOS mobile app seeks to change that by using a location-based system with prompts streamed by icons to avoid "shaky hands" when dealing with an emergency.

"We just give them a really quick icon-driven menu of options. so they can click and that text to 911 is pushed through," said Wong.

AccesSOS will be soft launching in New Mexico next month where text-to-911 services are currently limited. She hopes seed money will provide her the necessary funding to continue growing the platform.

Wong is pitching her idea Tuesday evening in a virtual showcase as a part of Camelback Ventures' fellowship, culminating in the "Ruthless Pitches" showcase event.

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Camelback Ventures focuses on uplifting women, non-binary, and BIPOC change makers with bright ideas in need of nurturing mentorship and capital.

"Those who have the most proximity to the challenges that they're trying to solve, have the most proximity to the solutions that will solve those challenges," said Aaron Walker, Camelback Ventures founder and CEO.

The program takes on cohorts of 12 people across the country for a five-month long fellowship, providing coaching, $40,000 in capital, and connections to take their ideas to the next level.

To date, Walker said Camelback Ventures has awarded more than $4 million in funding to more than 100 companies that have gone on to raise $60 million in follow-up funding.

For Shawon Jackson, founder and CEO of Vocal Justice, the community of fellows has been key.

"Being in community with like-minded social entrepreneurs who aren't just trying to make a lot of money, but really trying to use entrepreneurship to get a lot of the social ills that we have in the world," said Jackson.

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Vocal Justice is focused on inspiring and preparing Black and brown youth to advocate for social justice using their authentic voices.

"It's young people who are not just realizing their own power, but also sharing their perspectives with other people, which then in turn inspires so many other people to think about issues in ways they wouldn't have before," he said.

Vocal Justice is now working with 30 teachers in 15 states and 450 middle and high school students across the country, including some at Menlo-Atherton High School on the Peninsula.

The program partners with middle and high school teachers to add the Vocal Justice lesson planning to their curriculum, or support to use the resources as an after school program.

Both Wong and Jackson are hoping to secure the necessary investor funding to transform their hopes for a better tomorrow into reality.

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