Bethanie Couri, chief operating officer of We Hear You, visited Bradley’s chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA).
We Hear You was founded in 2019 by Pierre Paul, a Bradley alumnus, who turned a dream into action.
“Pierre was doing research on issues impacting communities in the U.S., and he found that 70 million deaf people in the country didn’t have ways to communicate,” Couri said. “He went to bed worried about this issue, and had a dream.” Couri said.
In that dream, Paul used ASL to communicate with a tablet that translated his signs and informed the cashier what his order was. After that, We Hear You was born. However, this dream did not come to fruition without encountering a few barriers along the way.
“Pierre reached out to me because we were really close at the time,” Couri said. “We wanted to figure out if there was something there we could do. Pierre reached out to several data science and coding professors, asking if we could take this project somewhere, and everyone rejected him.”
Paul continued to face rejection until one professor saw opportunity in the idea, and began collecting data with Paul and Couri. That was when “things started taking off,” according to Couri.
Then another major obstacle appeared: COVID-19.
“Less than six months later, COVID shut everything down. Our entire team was online, we couldn’t meet up, so we had to set up a beta-version of We Hear You virtually,” Couri said.
Paul’s team, which he established before the pandemic, did not let digital communication stop them.
“We wanted to make something that could be used two-ways,” Couri said. “This would help those in the deaf community not only give orders without a hitch, but it would help deaf people at their jobs communicate with customers and employees.”
The slow-burn towards setting up We Hear You hit a milestone when a beta launch was tested at The Spot Coffee, a local café.
Paul, Couri and their team are now working with Doğuş Teknoloji, one of the top six software companies in Turkey, to fully launch We Hear You in the next few years. After We Hear You was created, Paul continued to brainstorm how he and his team could help communities.
“Pierre was doing more research, this time taking a more non-profit perspective, when he found out that 39 million people in the U.S. have some sort of motor impairment. When examining handicapped buttons to open doors, Pierre realized there’s an issue,” Couri said.
While handicapped buttons seem accessible, there is still an issue in pressing the button and maneuvering out of the door’s way and through the entrance, which Couri explained.
With the help of two mechanical engineering students at Bradley, the Push button was created. Push was originally introduced to Bradley president Stephen Standifird with hopes of soft-launching the invention on campus.
“We presented the idea of Push with the tagline ‘Accessibility can be universal’ because we know that’s what’s important to the staff here at Bradley. And they loved it,” Couri said.
In addition to We Hear You and Push, Paul and his team wrote a book named “Carden: The Wheelchair Warrior.”
The children’s book follows Carden, a young girl who uses a wheelchair and tries to fit in with her fellow classmates. In the end, Carden discovers that “children love regardless of age, race, physical ability, or gender.”
“This book is inspired by Carden, a member of our team who uses the nickname The Wheelchair Warrior,” Couri said. “Pierre wanted to honor her and children like her so they can see themselves in art and media.”
None of this could have happened without the support of programs like the Big Idea Competition on campus that helped Paul, Couri and their team launch their project and get it into the public eye.
Couri explained that the best way to get a business launched is to follow in their footsteps and get involved in accelerator programs. But the business world, Couri explained, is not for “lukewarm” people.
“Sometimes the challenges outweigh the benefits, and you have to push past that to get to the good parts,” Couri said.
But regardless, everyone at Bradley has the potential and capability to go beyond, she added.
“I’m not interested in launching my own business, but I still think [it’s good that] things like We Hear You are being implemented at Bradley,” junior marketing major Ashley Johnson. “I still remember being at my grandma’s house and reading ASL books, trying to learn so I could communicate with her.”
Paul continues to build connections, making change in local communities and continuing to build a better and more accessible future for all.
“I’ve heard Pierre speak somewhere else before, and I wanted to hear more about We Hear You,” senior marketing major Morgan Casey said. “I’d like to own a business one day, and you don’t really get to see a lot of presentations like this one, so talking with someone like Couri is really interesting.”
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