(Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 30--Technology for patients with special needs has been around for a while.
But two entrepreneurs from Mauldin believe the technology boom of the last five years has, for the most part, overlooked a growing segment of the population struggling with learning disabilities and cognitive disorders.
Adam Kern and Ryan Poplin, both 24, have set out to fix that problem with their new startup ExcepApps, one of nine companies under development at The Iron Yard's 13-week digital health accelerator in downtown Spartanburg.
"We're trying to bring the special needs community into the 21st century," Kern said. "Our big-picture goal is to build tools that not only help kids (with special needs), but also help their entire support system -- their families, teachers and therapists."
Kern and Poplin grew up together. After graduating from Mauldin High School, Kern attended Clemson University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education.
Poplin is a graduate of The Iron Yard's Academy, a three-month coding school designed to mold aspiring software engineers into professional junior-level programmers.
Earlier this year, Kern was pursuing a master's degree from Furman University and working as a therapist for the Greenville-based nonprofit Project HOPE Foundation, an autism education and advocacy group. While working for the foundation, he had an epiphany.
"I was sent to a home that was just down the street from the house I grew up in," Kern said. "I saw the family struggle, and I realized this is a huge problem... I went to work every day seeing (educators working) without the tools they needed."
Kern introduced the idea to Poplin. A short time later, they submitted their concept to the accelerator and were accepted.
On Tuesday, the founders launched their first product, Color Countdown, a mobile app that teaches time management skills to users through colors, shapes and numbers.
"We've really taken full advantage of all of the resources available to us in the Upstate," Poplin said. "We really want to put the people we're serving first... It's very rewarding. I get to make apps that people depend on."
Kern and Poplin said their apps will be available for purchase at a low price ($2.99 for Color Countown). Parents or teachers can then pay a monthly subscription fee -- about $8 per month -- and track their student's development via progress tracking technology. The data is encrypted (owned by the parent, teacher or therapist) and HIPAA compliant.
The founders said they are hoping to help people with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, intellectual disabilities and anyone looking to increase their cognitive skills. They will design their products to be simple, fun and effective for range of issues.
With the explosion of consumer wireless and mobile technology use over the last few years, the founders believe their concept is timely. And with recent data showing a rise in special needs cases, they think it's needed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008. Those disabilities ranged from mild difficulties such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental deficiencies, such as ADHD, cerebral palsy, autism and other physical and intellectual problems.
About 1 in 68 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to the CDC. ASD is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
Kern said the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 1 in every 9 kids is in special needs education.
"You're not going to find another team (in the accelerator) that is more passionate about what they're doing than we are," he said. "I know because I've seen it. It's something that, in my time as a therapist, I wish existed... It's 2014. It's time we get these people the help they deserve."
Kern and Poplin said they are receiving input from Furman University and Project HOPE.
Outside of The Iron Yard's seed money, the owners haven't yet received funding, but will soon begin looking to raise capital.
They are currently living at City View Apartments off West Henry Street so they can be close to the accelerator and focus on their company.
After the accelerator, they plan to take advantage of The Iron Yard's co-working space, which is available to accelerator graduates for free for one year.
"We truly believe what we're doing is important," Poplin said. "We have been overwhelmed by the support we've received in Spartanburg. It has been such a great experience."
For more information, visit www.excepapps.com.
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