Breaking Down Literacy Barriers

I got in.

I am 1 of 9 founders worldwide and the only Canadian accepted into the Women’s Startup Lab accelerator in Silicon Valley, California. This means that my company, Heuristext , will get the highest calibre of advice and support to grow to the next level.

But I need your help. To access this earned opportunity, requires $20,000 CAD just for tuition. Half, $10,000 CAD, is required in advance by November 1st. Yes, that's in about two weeks... 

I have tried to find financing every other way imaginable and yet, have come up empty-handed. That is why I am turning to you. You are my last option, my only hope.

But why me? Why Heuristext? Why the Women's Startup Lab (WSL)? 


Well...the journey to this moment started over 3 years ago.

The eureka idea came to me in February 2013, in my Master’s of Health Information Science: What if you could just click a button to make anything you are reading online easier to understand?

Imagine your 70-year-old mother has just found out she has diabetes. With her health and wellbeing at risk it can be a very stressful, confusing, and overwhelming time. The first thing she may do, like any of us would, is turn to the internet to learn more about this disease. She will come across words like nephropathy, glomerulosclerosis, and albuminuria. These scary words only make a nerve-racking situation worse.

Not being able to fully understand health information is frustrating, costly, and can have dramatic impacts on patient’s outcomes. It costs 8-21% more to treat an uninformed patient than their informed counterparts and research shows that greater when patients have confidence in their capacity to make life-improving changes, they have better clinical outcomes.

When I discovered this idea to change the way people understand online information in 2013, fear prevented me from telling anyone or even saying “I have an idea to solve this” out loud until a year later.

Then in January 2014, as a Studio Y Fellow at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, I started to do research to see if there was anything like this out there (there isn’t) and if there was a need for it.

And there definitely is….

Literacy rates have plateaued in both Canada and the United States in the last decade. According to the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network and the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, nearly half of their adult populations are considered low-literate.

Low-literacy is “defined as the difficulty using certain reading, writing, and computational skills considered necessary for functioning in everyday life. This means that an individual can read a little, but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label or read a simple story to a child” (Source: U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty).

The economic impact of this issue is staggering. According to ProLiteracy, an excess of $230B a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy. Moreover, low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225B each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment. Increasing the literacy rate by just 1% in Canada would lead to an impact of $18B in economic growth and the same 1% increase in the U.S. would lead to an impact of $90B. And that impact can be felt year over year for every 1% increase.

These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. And this is a level of injustice that I cannot sit by and watch. I am motivated by inequity and fired up to make the internet more readable for anyone, anywhere, always.

So, on November 30, 2015, I legally incorporated Heuristext… took a leap of faith and jumped off the cliff into the abyss that is entrepreneurship.

What is Heuristext?

Heuristext is an online tool that customizes a webpage to the viewer’s reading level. Imagine Google Translate except instead of translating across different languages, Heuristext adapts information to different reading levels.

Heuristext empowers the average internet user, of any age and any reading ability, to truly understand online information and reduces the harm that misinformation can cause, particularly as it relates to health matters.

Heuristext’s long-term mission is to improve information equity; and vision is higher population literacy rates.

And since May 1st, 2016, this is what we have been able to achieve:
·       As mentioned above, 1 of 9 founders worldwide and the only Canadian to get into the Women’s Startup Lab

·       Signed a Research & Development Partnership with The University of Toronto, specifically Dr. Cosmin Munteanu and the TAG Lab

·       Raised $55,000 for Research & Development (half of which goes to the University of Toronto)

·       Some of that funding was from the federal AGE-WELL Network Strategic Impact Program , of which Heuristext is now an industry partner

·       Built a Proof-of-Concept MVP prototype, thanks to help from Dr. Eleni Stroulia at The University of Alberta, that we are testing with real users starting this fall

·       Completed our first provisional patent to be filed any day now

·       Got into the Creative Destruction Lab at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto

·       Filled two positions for Heuristext’s Advisory Board with Dr. Marek Laskowski of Seneca College and York University; and Mr. Jon Mok, M.Eng. of the global digital experience design agency Critical Mass

But with all this momentum, we are still stuck.

We are stuck in the typical startup catch 22: we need money to build product but investors want to see people using our product before they give us money.


So this is where you come in…

The total amount required to attend WSL is $20,000 CAD. This only includes tuition for Naomi Freeman, Heuristext’s CTO, and me as Founder & Managing Director. The bare minimum amount required before November 1st is $10,000 CAD. Any amount above and beyond $20,000 CAD will be put towards R&D and business development to make the internet easier to understand.

I have tried to find financing every other way imaginable and yet, have come up empty-handed.

That is why I am turning to you. You are my last option, my only hope.

Your generosity is the only chance I have to get to the Women’s Startup Lab (WSL). And the WSL is how Heuristext gets to the next level and puts this technology in the hands of millions of people around the world.

Why the Women’s Startup Lab?

There are million different ways to get to Silicon Valley. The reason I chose Women’s Startup Lab (WSL) is because of their emphasis on founders as much as the company because execution is as important as the idea. I know my blind spots especially as a young first time founder. The Women’s Startup Lab is going to solidify my ability to bring this company to fruition.  

Also, being focused on women appeals to me because of the additional hurdles female founders face. For every entrepreneur there are hills to climb. If you’re a woman, the hills you will have to climb to achieve yours dreams will look more like mountains. And if you chose to be a woman founder, those mountains will look more like Everest.

Women only receive 4% of VC funding for startups; despite starting businesses at a rate 1.5x men, despite being 20% more likely to be revenue generating; and despite investors making a 35% higher ROI when they finance female founders.

The WSL will prepare me for and provides me with opportunities to pitch to investors, who have an appetite for risk. American investors, particularly in Silicon Valley, are more likely to invest in early stage startups--exactly where Heuristext is right now.

Their network program includes 50+ amazing experts, instructors, serial entrepreneurs and investors such as Fran Maier (TRUSTe,, Bill Reichert (Garage Ventures), Pascal Finette (Singularity University), Tim Draper (Draper Associates, Draper University), Guy Kawasaki (Apple, Canva, Wikimedia) and many more which can be found on their website .

I truly believe the network and knowledge that I will gain from WSL will bring a much higher chance of success, greater visibility to the right investors and will help us avoiding costly mistakes moving forward.

Why support us?

I have a proven track record of getting things done.

In 2015 I was one of three Canadians and only 60 recipients worldwide to receive the inaugural Queen’s Young Leaders Award based on my ability to bring ideas to implementation. Specifically, I led the charge on a structural shift that solved a 14-year-old problem when President-elect of my faculty in undergrad. I also started a program in my hometown—Sci-FY: Science & Reading for Youth—to tackle science, literacy, numeracy challenges for elementary school students as mentored by local college and university students. One of many positive outcomes included opening up a grade five student’s entire future. Because of the growth she demonstrated in the program she was moved to a general education stream from the limiting one she was previously on that would have prevented her from ever going to college or university. Now, post-secondary education options are available to her.

While that is individual level change in smaller ecosystems, with Heuristext I am committed to and striving toward global change. With your help, we can get there.

My most recent education is completing the continuing education Leading Change course from the University of Cambridge in the UK. I have a Master's in Health Information Science with research on in-home medical monitoring devices for people with chronic disease that is under review for potential publication Journal of Medical Internet Research. I am entering my second year on the LaunchEDU Advisory Panel for SXSWedu.
After gaining acceptance into the WSL, I also arranged to bring Heuristext’s CTO Naomi Freeman—a superstar in her own right. It is very unusual for technology companies to have any female co-founders, much less two at the helm.

Naomi is a guest teacher for Treehouse and helped develop their Rails modules. She is also an expert teacher and developer through Codementor. She trained at Shopify and was formerly the Lead Developer at the Centre for Social Innovation. Naomi brings innovative technology into non-traditional spaces.

Your support for Naomi and me to access this opportunity is truly life-changing. Attending the WSL will bring Heuristext to the next level and help get our technology into people’s hands.

As a supporter, you will get to see what it is like to build Heuristext and the hurdles we surmount daily toward a more equitable internet. Follow our social media channels for updates and we will post vlogs about our journey at the WSL so you can see how your dollars are put to work.

I cannot thank you enough for your support. Without you, the WSL would be out of reach.

If each of my Facebook friends donated $20, we would meet the overall amount required for the WSL. No amount is too small and getting your friends to help out goes a long way!

I am committed to you and to make the digital world easier to navigate. Thank you for your help.

What does the WSL program entail?
Here is a breakdown of the WSL Program:

The founder will get a 360° evaluation strategy and revenue model, individual business counseling and a full interactive program dedicated to:

● Master founder leadership skills: assess CEO skills and develop actions to enhance leadership capacity, CEO knowledge, performance coaching, storytelling coaching to powerfully enroll team and advisors.

● Growth size and value to create successful startups: market fit validation, identify market opportunities, branding, financial modeling and 6 months plan.

● Funding readiness: interactions with business angels, VCs and successful entrepreneurs, a demo day, understand investors’ process and strategy.

● Perfecting a powerful Silicon Valley relevant pitch.

● Grow your founder network: solid networking in SV, meet the most successful tech companies, integrate with other female entrepreneur’s networks.

This innovative and unique program was created by Ari Horie, Founder & CEO of Women’s Startup Lab with the support of many powerful leaders in Silicon Valley. Ari is recognized as a thought leader, speaker and visionary female founder (recognized by CNN 10 Visionary Women, Silicon Valley Business Journal “Influential Woman of the year” and featured by Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Success Magazine, Forbes...).

What are some of the success of the WSL alumnae?
WSL Alumna success to date since 2013:
Cognea (acquired by IBM, 2014)
Swing by Swing (acquired by Back 9 Network, 2014) (merger raised $7M series A)
Red Clay (raised $2M Series A 2015)
Volunteer Spot (raised 1.5 M 2015)

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Mel Kay 
Sault Sainte Marie, ON
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