Founded by social entrepreneur Eric Bryant in 2014, Text Engine is one of the 22 social impact startups that are participating in the 2016 reSET Accelerator, which is geared toward entrepreneurs in the early stages of business development.
Watch a video to learn more about Text Engine.
Innovation Destination Hartford: How did you develop the business concept for your company?
BRYANT: In many cities in the world—even here in the United States—the majority of residents use feature phones, flip phones or “dumbphones,” because the residents can’t afford smartphones or data plans, or the infrastructure of the region doesn’t support Wi-Fi.
“Dumbphones” are phones that were used 10 or 15 years ago, but they are the commonly used phones in these developing economies. These low-tech phones often don’t have web browsers, full data plans, or the ability to download apps.
Text Engine aims to bring people in underprivileged communities much-needed information that is difficult for them access. Text Engine allows people in emerging communities around the world—as well as low-income communities in the United States—to search the Web by sending simple text messages. They don’t need a web browser, Internet access, or an app. If they can send a text message, Text Engine will deliver the richness of the entire Web by text message, including, Google, Wikipedia, world news, weather, yellow pages, information about movies, and flight statuses.
Text Engine is really about freedom. It’s about the power of simplicity and minimalism. Although our product is geared toward low-tech phone users, about 50% of our users are actually smartphone users. They enjoy the simplicity of Text Engine; it allows them to do more with less. They get the basic Web and save money on data, but they don’t have to download an app. Text Engine works with the native SMS app that is built into every phone.
IDH: Why did you become involved in the reSET Accelerator program?
BRYANT: Getting accepted into a nationally award-winning accelerator like reSET will solidify our business model and position us for future success. An accelerator of this caliber can open doors like no other entrepreneurial community.
Ideas are worth nothing until customers are willing to pay for them. The power of reSET, in my opinion, is that its entire methodology places customer discovery and acquisition at the center. As a result, I think reSET is really onto something important in the startup world. Though it is still growing as a tech ecosystem, I think its foundation is rock solid. I’m deriving a ton of value from the program and look forward to being able to give back to the community upon successful completion.
IDH: In what ways is your company making a social impact?
BRYANT: One example is that Text Engine gives students access to the Web on their feature phones. They can do math conversions, currency conversions, word translations, look up history facts, and more—all with a few simple text messages.
In addition, Text Engine now works in many developing countries, including the Philippines, Uganda, Mongolia, and Pakistan. We have licensed our code to developers in Nigeria, and plan to continue to expand into more emerging markets.
IDH: Speaking of expansion, what are your company’s goals for the next few years?
BRYANT: We recently received substantial financial investment from Backstage Capital, a new venture fund backing startups led by underrepresented founders. We plan to use that cash infusion, along with the business incubation of the reSET accelerator, to grow our user base, attract more advertisers, and bring Text Engine to more emerging markets.