It was easy to schedule an interview with the first-year student of Creative Technology. His ‘personal assistant’ Ara sent a friendly email replying: ‘You'll be welcome to come next Wednesday.’ Chowdhary is a co-owner of the company Oswald Labs, which develops products for people with disabilities.
His office is in Roombeek. ‘Anand, you're working hard: you even have a personal assistant ...’ A big grin appears on the young student’s face. ‘Yes, I built her myself. Ara is a computer. Her artificial intelligence recognizes mails and schedules my appointments.’
You and your own company Oswald Labs are in the top fifty. What type of company is it?
‘We want to break down barriers. Ten years ago there were no smartphones. Now all information on the internet is available to everyone. But due to barriers many people still have no access to this information. Illiterates, seniors, visually impaired people or people with dyslexia: all of them experience these obstacles. We have developed three products to make the web accessible to everyone.’
How exactly does that work?
‘We can automatically translate websites or have them read aloud so that everyone can access the text. For people with dyslexia, we can arrange the page in such a way that it is easier to read.’
Chowdhary picks up his laptop. He goes to the U-Today website and starts programming. ‘Now our extension is on your website.’ He goes to a news article. With one press of a button, the background of the article changes from white to yellow. The words are further apart and some key concepts are bold. ‘People with dyslexia can now read the article better.’ Another push of a button. A woman's voice reads the article out loud.
How did you come up with this idea?
‘Our company originated at a ‘hackathon’ in India, where I come from. The name is a bit misleading, because it is not about hacking. The goal of the event is for you to work on a new product non-stop during a weekend. We developed our first extension during this hackathon. Together with two co-founders I started Oswald Foundation, named after the German doctor who discovered dyslexia in 1881. We have now given our company a new name: Oswald Labs. We are now concentrating on research and development. You have to see it as an incubator. Companies can come to us with their problems and we come up with a solution.’
Why did you actually decide to study in Enschede?
‘Because of the Creative Technology program. The combination of technology and design appealed to me very much. Moreover, the UT is an enterprising university and that suits me. Now that I’m in the Netherlands, we can focus on the European market. For example, I met a German psychology student at the University of Twente who we have hired and who is now exploring the German market for us.’
The exam period is in full swing and, in addition to managing his own company, Chowdhary must also ‘just’ study. He shows me his agenda. A crowded calendar fills the image of his laptop.
Do you still have time to study next to running your own company?
‘I have passed my exams with “nines” in the past module. I am ambitious because I’m here for a reason. Now it is very busy, but I try to keep all my grades above eight. And even I get my share of a proper student life.’