Matt McCann founded Access Earth in 2015, as he found it difficult to travel and ensure that the places he’s visiting had the required accessibility information for him to access with his mobility aids. What started out as an idea in the Microsoft’s Imagine cup has now turned into an accessibility enablement platform that will bring all organisations and staff from compliance to excellence in accessibility.
Matt, his co-founder Donal McClean and their employees who recently won the prestigious Diversity in Tech Awards and work with some of the biggest accessibility organisations in the world. I interviewed Matt to find out more:
What was your background before you became an entrepreneur?
Access Earth began as a college project for Microsoft’s Imagine cup. Before it was founded, I was doing a Higher Diploma in Information Technology at Maynooth University. In my spare time I would do contract work designing and deploying websites for various small businesses around Dublin, so in a sense I have always been somewhat of an entrepreneur.
There is a lot of overlap between being an entrepreneur and being a member of the disability community. We have determination, creativity and put a lot of value on our independence. It has been a great honour of mine to be able to merge these two parts of myself into the work we do at Access Earth.
- To someone who is not aware, what is Access Earth? What’s the company’s USP?
Access Earth Limited was established in 2015 and was inspired by my own experiences living with Cerebral Palsy, the frustrations I felt in trying to survive in an inaccessible world.
Access Earth provides customers and staff the ability to deliver direct feedback to businesses on their accessibility-related experiences, to help support and encourage meaningful and lasting improvements so everyone can feel the safest and most welcome while working, visiting, or experiencing the world around them.
Our comprehensive accessibility enablement platform will bring all organisations and staff from compliance to excellence in accessibility.
We use a combination of education, interactive workshops, assessments, prioritisation and the deployment of the Access Ready Platform to ensure you and your employees are aware of everything that you can do to improve your accessibility and inclusiveness. We help you measure, improve, and celebrate your accessibility efforts so you can meet and surpass your ESG and CSR goals.
We essentially provide Accessibility As A Service.
- How did you meet your co-founder and how did you grow your team after this?
I’ve been very lucky to have worked with many different skilled, talented, and amazing people since starting Access Earth. One such person is my co-founder Donal McClean. We met back when Access Earth was a college project for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup. Back then we had a simple ambition; to make it easier for people to find out and share accessibility information about places they’d want to visit. Helping people with disabilities, people with accessibility considerations, like me and my friends and family.
As the project grew beyond the competition, we learned of other considerations outside of our own experiences. I have Cerebral Palsy and my accessibility needs are mostly mobility related, but someone with different access needs has different considerations. This is what drives us to expand the way we do things and is what guides us on how we grow our services and organisation as a whole.
We have a hiring policy where 50% of our work force must be from the disability community, to ensure we are accurately representing the needs of as many people as possible through direct, lived experiences. When growing the company, we don’t just consider the needs from a skills perspective, which is very important, but we also take into consideration the diversity and unique perspective an individual can bring to the team. This is equally as important.
We now have 5 full-time team members at Access Earth, each of us bringing our unique skills and experiences to bear on improving the company.
- When you started, did you focus on Ireland first or was it always in your plans to expand internationally?
The answer is really in the name. Access Earth has always had a global perspective. Ireland was an ideal starting location for us due to the great support offered by the Local Enterprise offices and Enterprise Ireland. They are a great help for anyone looking to start their business journey and they will help you grow as your business looks to expand and export internationally too!
- Have you partnered with any organisations to achieve your international growth? How have these organisations increased your reach?
The best part of working in the accessibility space is that everyone is there to help and support each other. Our goals are all ultimately the same, to make the world more accessible for everyone. Throughout our time together we have had the honour to engage with the likes of Enable Ireland, the Centre for Accessible Football in Europe (CAFE) and have partnered with the World Federation of the Deafblind.
Our other key partners include key partners including the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre, Sports Integrity Global Alliance, Global Sports innovation Centre and Microsoft for Startups. Access Earth are also a HPSU client with Enterprise Ireland.
- What marketing have you done since launching? What have you found works best?
We have had some good traction on social media through campaigns and interacting with other like minded/focused organisations. The best way to get the attention of the people you want to know about you is to know clearly who they are and what they care about. When you know those two things very well it will be clear on the best way to attract their attention and where their best focus is. Campaigns and events have been successful for us.
- How did the pandemic impact the company? Are there any positives you can take from this time?
The biggest impact the pandemic had on the world has been the way we all do business.
For years, people with disabilities have advocated for office jobs and similar positions that could be done remotely, to be made available to anyone who is unable to travel or who find travelling difficult due to their own specific health or accessibility needs.
As communication infrastructure and technology grew in the past decade, this seemed inevitable. Yet it still took an unprecedented global crisis to make this now simple request become a reality.
Along with many other forward thinking business’s Access Earth has switched to a remote working structure and spent the first few months of the pandemic changing our offerings and value proposition to best consider this new nature in which the world is operating.
With remote working being a more standard model, we have been better able to secure international meetings more easily. Without the overhead costs of travel reducing our runway, we have been able to lay the foundation for our European expansion ambitions, connecting with potential clients and global organisations. The world has gotten smaller and as a result our reach and ambition has grown.
- What awards or accolades have you and the organisation won since launching the company?
Access Earth has been fortunate enough to be recognised by some amazing organisations over the years. Our first award was really at the beginning with the Microsoft’s Imagine Cup World Citizenship category and from there we moved onto winning the Enactus National Finals before winning Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur’s Best Idea award.
This year we had the honour of receiving the Diversity in Tech award Social Impact Award. This was one of our most meaningful prizes as it showed not just a recognition from our peers as to the great work we do at Access Earth but also demonstrates the recognition of its importance. We truly believe that together we can help everyone Access Earth.
- Where do you see the company in the next 5-10 years?
Access Earth has combined all of our technology and experience into our latest offering, the Access Ready Platform. This platform brings any company in any industry from doing the minimum for accessibility to being access champions! Over the next 5-10 years, Access Earth will have redefined what the gold standard of accessibility means for multiple industries, including retail, transportation, office-spaces and more. I want every company in the world to answer one simple question; are you access ready?
- Are there any other companies or people in the Diversity and Inclusion space in Ireland that you are big fans of?
We are big fans of the work and everything Enable Ireland does. Growing up I was able to use the services offered by Enable Ireland, back then they were called Cerebral Palsy Ireland. Since then, they have grown and do so much for so many communities and people in Ireland.
Another great organisation we have recently become more aware of is a group called inclusio measure, track and action diversity and inclusion using Science and technology. We are really excited to see how this company grow and develop over the years and look forward to working with them soon!