Gabriela Galilea: Helping children read better through a software

Gabriela Galilea is revolutionising the vision and eye care industry for children through the app, Okimo.

by Portia Ladrido

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Gabriela with the desktop app that she and her team have created. © Gabriela Galilea

Gabriela Galilea used to travel from Paraguay to Uruguay just to have her eyes checked. She was born with a condition called Strabismus, which prohibits her from seeing the world in 3D. She said it’s a lot like closing one eye, trying to catch a ball, and not knowing exactly when it’ll hit her. Even with this visual state, she graduated from law school in 2010. Still, she wanted to do something more meaningful in her life; something that she can personally relate to whilst helping more people.

Without a single clue on what to create, she packed her bags and went to Italy for Tech Peaks, a 4-month bootcamp that encourages would-be entrepreneurs to build a product that can transform the world. After intensive brainstorming sessions, pep-talks, and research work, she built Okimo.

INKLINE: How did the idea of creating Okimo come about?

Gabriela: The idea started in 2014. I got into a program called Tech Peaks that was in Italy. It was for entrepreneurs around the world who didn’t have a business idea yet or a team, so they were invited to go to the Alps for four months to think about ideas. This program had emphasis on different subjects and one of them was healthcare, and I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare because I thought that I could make an impact.

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One of the kids trying out the software. © Gabriela Galilea

I myself have a problem with my vision. I was born with a condition called Strabismus, so I had to go through surgeries and a lot of exercises in order to get treatment; there were no specialists in my hometown for this condition. That’s how I kind of thought about the problems of getting treatment, but my first task was to do some research and see if the problem was the same for everyone else who had Strabismus. To my surprise, nothing had changed in 25 years.

I: Why do you think the treatment to Strabismus is hard to access?

G: There are not a lot of specialists that do visual therapy, so more or less there are 2,000 visual therapists in the world. People with Strabismus make up maybe 2-4% of the world population so that would be 200 million people. These 2,000 visual therapists can’t see them all so only 2% of actual patients get treatment and the 98% remaining just never go to therapy. It’s expensive as well because there’s a scarcity of therapists and also the therapy today is still made manually, so you spend a lot of time with each patient, and of course, the cost of travelling also makes it hard.

I: Can you tell us how Okimo works?

G: Okimo is a desktop software which works with a sensor called Eye Tracker. The sensor has infrared light and night cameras. The sensor locates where the pupils are and it makes calculations so it knows where exactly in the screen you’re looking at. With that raw data that we get from the sensor, we calculate exactly how both eyes are moving. And this idea started to treat Strabismus.

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© Gabriela Galilea

Now, we can actually diagnose other problems. We show a text to a child that is learning to read and while the child is reading the text on the screen, the sensor is also taking other eye movement data. We analyse that data within the software and give back a lot of metrics like how many words per minute, and that metric is compared to the age range, and we can see if there is a problem or not; if the child is reading at the speed that it should be reading or if there is something that needs to be done.

I: Is Okimo just for children?

G: At the moment, we’re very oriented to children but the technology and the therapy can work for adults as well. We chose children that are learning to read because that’s a very vulnerable population. There is a statistic that says that 10% of the world population has a reading problem and 95% of the cases, if something was done within time, they wouldn’t be having that problem.

I: When you had the workshop in Italy, did you already know that Okimo was something that you wanted to do?

G: I had no idea I was going to do Okimo at all. I’m a lawyer. When I finished, I did a Master’s in International Business and I started to develop a curiosity about innovation and technology. I started writing a blog about technology and that’s how I got involved with startups. I just wanted to learn and explore and what I knew is that I didn’t want to make a dating app or something like that; I wanted to do something with more impact.

I: Did you start working on it soon after the workshop?

G: I didn’t jump into it immediately. I gave it about two weeks to do some research and then as I told you, I didn’t have a team. It was also kind of like, now I need to know everything about this disease, everything about the treatment, and everything about the technology side. It was a long process and it took time to get to the point where we knew what we wanted to do, how we wanted to build it, and who to build it with. That took a year at least.

I: What was the final moment that made you completely pursue Okimo? And what keeps you going?

G: I put out a landing page with the promise of a treatment that you could do with a sensor so you could get feedback and be monitored from a distance. Within hours, I had a lot of signups. The stories they told me were so touching. People took time to write very long e-mails explaining their problem and people who wanted to buy it straight away.

Within the journey, there have been a number of times when it got very, very tiring and I wanted to give up. But I come back to these stories of people that write to me because they still write to me everyday from different parts of the world, and that keeps me going.

I: What can you say to people who also want to start something but have no idea on what to start on?

G: I think if you look for something with a lot of passion, you end up finding that thing you were looking for. It takes time. I finished law school in 2010 and it wasn’t until 2014 when I found what I really wanted to do with my life. It took me four years. I wandered a lot. I blamed myself also because my classmates were already developing their careers within law and I didn’t. I felt guilty. I felt I wasn’t doing something with my life.

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But in the end, it was worth it. I look at myself today and I see that I’m very fulfilled. It takes time to find what you want to do and sometimes even when you find it, maybe you don’t get to where you want that easily or that fast – that’s life. So, just look for what you want to do and be patient, be persevering, and at some point, you will get there.

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