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Paving the way for inclusive navigation: EIT Digital's Jaisal Ashraf

Navigating the world can be a daunting challenge for individuals with visual impairments, but one former EIT Digital Master School student is determined to change that. 

Jaisal Ashraf, who studied Embedded Systems, has embarked on an entrepreneurial journey to revolutionise how the visually impaired community accesses essential facilities and services through his start-up, Tholvi.

Co-founded with Dr. Thaha Mohammad in 2022, Tholvi is a technology-driven start-up based in Espoo, Finland. The company's flagship product, 'Easy Walk,' is a smart stick designed to simplify the lives of individuals with visual impairments by providing seamless navigation and access to various everyday facilities.

The inspiration behind Easy Walk

Jaisal's entrepreneurial journey was fuelled by a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the visually impaired community in Finland. According to the Finnish Register of Visual Impairment, there are approximately 55 000 individuals with visual impairments in the country. Despite the existing efforts, such as braille codes and specialised beeping systems in certain facilities, Jaisal recognised the need for a more comprehensive and efficient solution.

'Navigating for individuals with visual impairments is consistently challenging,' Jaisal explains. 'Having resided in the capital region of Finland for the past six years, it became evident that an optimal solution was necessary to address this issue affecting thousands of blind individuals in the country.'

The Easy Walk smart stick harnesses the power of Bluetooth technology to seamlessly pair with nearby facilities as the visually impaired individual approaches. This innovative solution aims to provide easy access to various amenities, including libraries, restrooms, supermarkets, bus stops, hand sanitizers, elevators, and more.

Entrepreneurial roots at EIT Digital Master School

Jaisal's entrepreneurial journey can be traced back to his time at the EIT Digital Master School, where he pursued a minor in Entrepreneurship. The programme's real-world business cases, kick-off sessions, courses, and summer schools played a pivotal role in cultivating his entrepreneurial skills and mindset.

'Engaging in real business cases during kick-off sessions, courses, and summer schools played a crucial role in cultivating my entrepreneurial skills,' Jaisal recalls. 'Even now, I continue to apply the 9 elements of the business model canvas when brainstorming business ideas with my Co-Founder and other colleagues.'

The EIT Digital Master School not only provided Jaisal with valuable insights into the European start-up ecosystem but also inspired him to embark on the journey of building his own venture.

Drawing from his experience, Jaisal offers valuable advice to EIT Digital Master students considering their own entrepreneurial pursuits: 'EIT Digital Master students with a technological background often exhibit a tendency to concentrate predominantly on the technical facets of products or services, occasionally overlooking the broader aspects of the problem and its solution.'

He emphasises the importance of adopting a customer-centric perspective, considering whether the product or service effectively addresses the customer's needs and what additional value it provides. 'In this context, the technology behind the scenes takes a secondary role,' Jaisal adds.

As Tholvi continues to refine and validate its product, Jaisal envisions future collaborations with the EIT Digital Master School. He aspires to participate in upcoming events such as kick-off and summer school, fostering connections with current students and alumni across Europe. Through these collaborations, Jaisal hopes to share his startup experience and explore potential collaborations with budding young entrepreneurs.