Quillsoft firmly believes that personal independence is one of the real benefits and lasting rewards that can be attained by reducing the barriers to the reading and writing process, thus allowing for effective understanding, communication, and expression. Our reading and writing literacy software tools make it easier to communicate effectively with others, aid in understanding written language, and level the playing field for people of all ages around the world.
Tell us about yourself?
Dr. Shein worked as a rehabilitation engineer and scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (Toronto, ON) from 1979 – 2010, where he became an internationally recognized expert in computer accessibility for individuals with disabilities. He has a BASc in Civil Engineering, MEng in Engineering Physics, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering specializing in Human-Computer Interaction. His journey began in the early 1980s when he helped create and lead Canada’s first R&D team, focusing on emerging computer technology for children with disabilities. One of his first achievements was software to allow non-speaking young kids with cerebral palsy to create drawings on a computer with one or a few switches entirely by coding using Blissymbols. In the mid-80s, his team worked closely with IBM to help them ensure personal computers would be accessible. This work has influenced all computers throughout the world. By 1991, his team had developed the first commercial onscreen keyboard for Microsoft Windows. In 2000, he founded Quillsoft Ltd. as a startup in partnership with Holland Bloorview to commercialize his R&D work within a consortium of university and hospital research labs. In 2011, he moved his R&D team full-time into Quillsoft’s current offices in downtown Toronto. Dr. Shein has dedicated his life’s work to researching and developing assistive technology to enable people to unleash their potential.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Stay the course on our mission of helping others unleash their potential.
What problem does your business solve?
Through our software, Quillsoft helps individuals get their ideas down easily in written form, to read, and to communicate effectively. This includes persons with physical disabilities and those with learning differences, such as dyslexia, and in general, any individual who faces barriers to writing for any reason.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
It is the young people with various disabilities that I got to know through Holland Bloorview and my associates around the world that inspired the formation of Quillsoft. While working at Holland Bloorview in the late 90s, I sought a commercial partner with a vision with far-reaching international capabilities to commercialize our WordQ reading and writing software in the education field. Unable to find such a partner, I founded Quillsoft in partnership with Holland Bloorview. As the software has applicability within every school, the challenge was how to distribute it while continuing with R&D.
What is your magic sauce?
Our magic sauce is simplicity in design and use supported by unique strategies to help with writing. We call this IA or Intelligent Assistance versus AI. This includes a number of patented technologies.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
In 2022, we partnered with the Nisai Group (UK) and began a shift from an EdTech company to an education company. For Nisai Group, it represents an expansion as part of its global strategy to both improve the educational opportunities for children and adults worldwide and widen its offer with the inclusion of Quillsoft’s WordQ software to complement Nisai’s live teacher-led lessons and Units of Sound software. It also represents the opportunity to formally launch Nisai to the North American market. For Quillsoft, it provides a route to expand its presence, initially across Asia and Europe, and then in line with the wider Nisai Group strategy. It opens new markets for Quillsoft while remaining true to its origins of supporting learners with learning differences and enabling it to grow beyond an EdTech company. The need to address the global issue of low levels of literacy and English has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now more than ever is a joint approach to dealing with an ever-increasing problem. Offering one solution with three complementary offers is key to supporting learners from all backgrounds, ages, and abilities. Teacher-led lessons from Nisai blended with Quillsoft’s WordQ and Units of Sound will support a wider group of learners and extend learning beyond the classroom for a more impactful learning experience.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
There have been several significant challenges. First, Quillsoft has never had private investment and has relied upon cash-in cash-out to maintain its business. Funding for the purchase of our software comes primarily from the public sector, such as schools, which have limited budgets and purchase decisions are prolonged and influenced by changing politics and staffing. Second, a previous sales model based on perpetual software licenses, while popular with our school and government customers, was unsustainable. We are now in the process of converting our customers to subscriptions. Third, the cost and effort of maintaining our software are very high, given the ongoing and frequent operating systems changes by Microsoft, Apple, and Google. Fourth, the computer platforms that our customers use are a mixed bag of old and new, with constantly changing configurations. And last, technologies such as the new ChatGPT represent an entirely new threat to how reading and writing are supported.
How can people get involved?
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-844-379-6737 x243 or Local: 416-698-0111 for a quote or to arrange an evaluation of our software.