by Aisling Swift
When Ross Linnett graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering and began working in web development, he saw a gaping hole in the market.
Linnett, a U.K. resident who learned he had dyslexia after graduation, realized the tools needed to make websites more accessible to people like him didn’t exist. And, he said, that meant companies weren’t reaching 25 percent of the population, the visually impaired.
“It’s a big section of the market that people don’t realize they’re ignoring,” Linnett said.
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 285 million visually impaired people worldwide. Of those, 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. Add to that, people with reading problems, the most common of which is dyslexia, which occurs in at least one in 10 people, about 700 million worldwide, according to Dyslexia International.
British researchers found that most businesses are unaware they’re losing income because more than 90 percent of customers who have difficulty using a site won’t contact them. However, a 2016 website accessibility and usability survey by U.K.-based Clickaway Pound found that 71 percent of disabled customers will click away from a website they find difficult to use. Those customers have an estimated spending power of $15.25 billion in the U.K. alone, roughly 10 percent of total online U.K. spending. The survey found that 82 percent of customers with access needs would spend more if websites were more accessible and rather than purchasing the cheapest products, they’d go to sites with the fewest reading barriers.
Linnett launched Recite Me Ltd., a website customization company in 2010. Four years ago, he invented website technology that offers dyslexia, ESL and other software options that allow a website to speak, create font and background changes, provide an interactive dictionary, a translation tool with over 100 languages, and numerous other features. “It transforms websites into readable content,” he said.
With the help of investors and a business accelerator in the U.K., his company grew to include large clients such as Reuters news service, the Financial Conduct Authority (U.K.’s equivalent of the U.S. Treasury), Gatwick Airport and Gatwick Express rail service. All the success and notoriety earned Linnett a visit with the Queen, the Prime Minister, Chancellor and two trade missions to China.
Now, he’s expanded his company to the U.S., joining 44 other businesses at Collier County’s Naples Accelerator, a public-private partnership
formed by the Collier County Office of Business & Economic Development and the non-profit Economic Incubators Inc. When he was considering expanding to the U.S., a U.K. investor who also lives in Naples introduced Linnett to Marshall Goodman, Naples Accelerator’s CEO and director, who told him about other foreign companies that had successfully “soft landed” at the accelerator.
“A lot of it has to do with Marshall,” Linnett said of choosing the Naples Accelerator for his U.S. expansion.
In addition to the U.K., accelerator members have come from as far away as Finland, Norway, Hungary, Slovakia, Germany, France and the Ukraine to get their start in the Southwest Florida area.
“It shows the great ability of companies to cross the pond and be successful, and to make that transition quickly and effectively, you need soft-landing services, which the Naples Accelerator provides,” Goodman said. “Recite Me is a web development services company, so what’s going to work in London is no different from what will work in Florida.”
Jace Kentner, director of the Collier County Office of Business & Economic Development, said Recite Me is the type of company the accelerator and county need because it can help other Southwest Florida and U.S. companies grow.
“Ross told me there are more people in the U.S. with dyslexia than the population of the U.K.,” Kentner said, adding that he was amazed at that statistic. “This provides an opportunity for businesses that do business through the internet to be more competitive because they can reach out to a broader market.”
He added: “You can’t have a restaurant without a ramp, so you ought not to have a website that isn’t accessible to the visually impaired.”