April is National Autism Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to call attention to Autism Village. Based near Philadelphia, the new app is intended to be like Yelp for people on the autism spectrum by crowdsourcing and reviewing businesses and locations based on how autism-friendly they are.
Other Autism organizations have online resources directories but, in general, “no one is trying to crowdsource the ratings and reviews from the [autistic] community for the community,” says founder and CEO Topher Wurts, who previously worked with financial services marketing and media technology startups. Unlike Yelp’s advertising-based model, Wurts says Autism Village is not-for-profit.
The reviews can mention things like whether owners are sensitive to common autistic triggers like noise and lighting, their ability to accommodate special dietary concerns or whether a playground is fenced in. “People are interested in research and therapies, but people struggle with practical problems, [such as] tracking things like seizures, or coordinating with teachers,” Wurts says. “We’re focused on these practical problems to help these families.”
“Some of the revenue to support this app will come from some brand sponsorship stuff, but the main revenue will come from the online training program we’re building – one for business owners and another one for people who are customer facing,” Wurts says. The training program will cost $125 per year for a business entity and $30 per year for individuals, who will receive a digital badge to notify app users that they’ve passed the course. It will require annual recertification.
Wurts’ 13-year-old son Kirby was diagnosed with autism when he was a toddler. “The idea has been gestating over the 10 years [we’ve been] raising our son,” Wurts says. About two years ago, Wurts began putting the platform together, but last August was when he decided to focus on it full-time. Wurts has the title of Autism Village’s CEO but refers to his son as the company’s founder.
Autism Village launched a Kickstarter campaign on March 5. Here’s a look at the video:
The crowdfunding campaign was fully funded after 12 days, so now the focus is on expansion. With nearly $65,000 pledged from more than 1,000 backers – the initial fundraising goal was $38,500 – Wurts says there is enough money to offer the app on both iOS and Android phones. The next goal would be to extend to a tablet platform.
“Not only are we getting positive feedback from [beta] users, but businesses are contacting us to see how to be included,” Wurts says. There are an estimated 1,000 businesses in the Autism Village database, and about a dozen have requested to be included. The app also is gaining traction globally.
“We have interest from Canada and an active following for the project in Australia and Ireland,” Wurts says. “We’ll make it available and it’ll work anywhere.”