FLINT, Michigan—Bell Communications, an American Sign Language (ASL) communication application developed by Linda Bell, won the third Pitch for $k competition. Upon being announced, Bell leaped for joy, immediately turning to face to the community that had been supporting her for this moment and years before. She stretched out her hands and several followed in the rows behind her, signing in grand applause.
“They can hear us now!” She shouted over and over. Voice cracking, overcome with emotion as the $10,000 check met her grasp.
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For Bell and her community, the night would be led with a celebratory dinner at Logan’s, but in the morning she would set her sights on getting back into the lab for product testing and finalizing the patent for the functionality of the app.
Bell Tech Communications will be the first app of its kind, specializing in live written, visual, and audio translations between deaf and hearing individuals. Bell Tech Communications allows for smartphones to be a stand-in for the cost or availability needed for an interpreter.
“We want to start it here, we want to make Michigan the first evolutionary device to communicate across the aisle,” said Bell in her pitch. “We need this today. We are in the year 2020, we need to win, win for Flint.”
“We’re translating sign language into voice and voice into sign-language,” Bell explained in her pitch.
This year’s Pitch for $K Idea Pitch Competition was held at Brennan Community on a snowy Thursday evening, February 13 in which seven five-minute pitches were presented to a judging panel chaired by Mayor Sheldon Neeley, owner of Best Practices Consulting Laura Signon, and Factory two manager Craig Farrington. Pitches were given in the form of testimonial and calls to action as they covered solutions touching on the semi-truck shipping industry, transportation for those with disabilities, to natural skincare.
The top five candidates included Carnel Haynie, CEO of UBook Freight; La’Asia Johnson owner of Elle Jae Essentials; Linda Bell, creator of Bell Tech Communications; Louella Jamerson creator of Take Me & My Chair On-Demand Accessibility; and Tamesha Brown, CEO of Embrace Life Therapeutic Footwear.
Tamesha Brown took home $2,500, La’Asia Johson took home $5,000, and Bell $10,000 as the top three winners of the competition that evening.
Bell says the use of the funds will be necessary for compensating deaf individuals that will spend the entirety of their days testing the functionality of the applications. When not fine-tuning the app, additional funds will be supporting the legal fees for the final patent.
“My mother didn’t live to see it but I know her spirit now is happy,” said Bell. “Because I didn’t give up even when she passed. When she was ill she couldn’t make it to some of my meetings. I just kept going.”
Pitch For $K is funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation and is supported by The Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce and the University of Michigan Flint’s Office of University Outreach.