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Project Details

Flowing river with mountains in the background

Benetech

Developing and using technology to create positive social change.

Project URL: benetech.org
Project Twitter: @Benetech

  • Community Engagement
  • Social Exclusion
  • Audiovisual
  • Data
  • Mobile
  • Physical Computing
  • Social Software

It was back in the 1970s at Caltech that a young Jim Fruchterman first learned of pattern recognition technology. In this context, the tech was used to guide a missile to its target by identifying landmarks like bridges or tanks. Happily, Jim took this concept in an altogether more positive direction, applying the technology to recognise letters and words, and creating software that could read those words aloud to people who are blind.

This is just one idea from what has now become Benetech – a not-for-profit organisation entirely focused on applying technology to positive social ends.

But Jim’s journey was not quite so simple. He first founded a tech company called Calera Recognition Systems to create his text-to-speech software, backed by a cohort of venture capitalists. But his product for social inclusion wasn’t seen to have a high enough profit margin for the investors, who had identified other products based on the same technology that could bring in more of a return. It was at this point that Jim knew that his round-shaped dream didn’t quite fit his square-‘for-profit’-sized box.

Benetech was created in the not-for-profit mould. But, as Jim learned over time, it was very difficult to generate funds to invest in new ideas, given the low profit margin of his reading machines. So, Jim sold the product to a for-profit company to make more money for R&D. With the sale, and $5 million in the coffers, Jim set out to expand into new frontiers of social good.

Today, Benetech spawns, incubates, and rolls out new tech for good products and services across many areas: human rights, global literacy, and the environment.

Image 'CRW_3675-117' courtesy of Jim Fruchterman

Last updated: 09th of May, 2014

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