[Startup story] APASS | Rubik Garage Accelerator 2022 Batch
June 29, 2022
First of all, we would like to know who’s behind the keyboard.
Hi, I’m Dan Patzelt, a citizen who dreams of being an official Social Entrepreneur after many years of finding solutions to all kinds of problems I encounter in everyday life. Problems that are not mine, are community issues but to which I turn my attention.
For over 14 years, I have been doing this with colleagues from the Association for Urban Development (ADU). The effort has been recognized through 14 awards, partnerships with large companies, and hundreds of people.
I like to change the things that don’t go well around me, and I dedicate my time to increasing the quality of life of the people around me.
Tell us more about APASS. What problem do you solve? Who’s your audience?
APASS is a start-up/spin-off of the NGO (ADU). This meant that we took over the experience plus colleagues, and now we have a company that aims to increase the quality of life of many people by making public spaces accessible to people with disabilities, offline and online.
In Romania, accessibility is a taboo word; no one knows what it is, how to make it, how much it costs, and then you don’t even talk, implicitly do. We dreamed of an inclusive society, and then we undertook the Mission to provide decision-makers with the tools to make the Romanian space more accessible to people with disabilities.
What motivated you to create this startup? What’s your „why”?
In 2007 I changed a law in Romania, the law of the Community Police. I succeeded as a simple citizen who only put social pressure on decision-makers.
Then I realized that things could change if you want to and if you work to make the desired change. The dozens of projects I have implemented over the years have shown me that Romania can change for the better. If I do 1% for something, then the impact will be 100% compared to the current 0, which motivates me to reach 2%, and so on.
As a social activist, I struggle with a business model that contradicts all my beliefs: “Expensive for the few because the state will reimburse it.”
The market/products for people with disabilities work according to this business model, becoming practically Inaccessible – Useless. There is no Accessibility if it is not financially accessible.
How is your startup different from competitors?
Most of the competitors on the market are spin-offs from companies that have some products and say: “Let’s do something for the disabled; the state will pay for their products anyway, no matter the cost.”
We fight the “Expensive for few” business model with the “Inexpensive for all” model.
We have created our products and services as a solution for democratizing online and offline access to information. Our solutions impact the increase of our client’s quality of life; they target some essential needs (independence, knowledge, mobility, etc.), and this motivates us to move forward.
Do you have a team supporting you in your mission?
Yes, we have a team, but unfortunately, it is formed by kind people, not professionals.
How an NGO works is different and adapting to the business environment takes time. We have at least six employees and about 2-3 volunteers. Still, the lack of experience and the fact that over 60% of us are people with disabilities does not make us competitive in terms of productivity. We are lucky to have received European funding. This Buffer covers our shortcomings and has allowed us, so far, to exist. A social enterprise of insertion (ÎSI) and authorized protected unit (UPA) as we are, has shortcomings compared to another “typical” start-up. But at our own pace, we take steps toward the Mission.
We are two people with visual disabilities, one with movement disabilities, one teenager under state protection, the sister of a person with movement disabilities, and I, a former artist; former because I set out to reach “reality” 🙂
I am a solo founder, concluding that it is one of the company’s shortcomings. I am now looking for partners who can ally themselves with the Mission and have the same values as the rest of the team.
What are the biggest rewards of being a startup founder?
The most significant rewards are a constant mental challenge and meeting other people with the same values as you.
On the contrary, what are the biggest challenges?
Lack of previous customer experience with our products. The accessibility of the public space (online and offline) is a kind of neologism, making our work of Market Education & Creating a New Market a great consumer of resources.
Somehow our market shows goodwill/empathy but lacks maturity, and then the implementation of marketing strategies suffers.
What made you apply to our accelerator Rubik Garage?
I need to change the NGO mentality in me and the team. I want us to learn to become sustainable and to have a more significant impact, practically learn how to scale our services and products to the administration and the business environment.
What are your top 3 learnings of the acceleration program?
- I have a lot to learn
- There are people like me
- It takes a lot of work
What do you like in the Rubikorns Startup Community?
That it is active, that they want to help us be better, that they give their interest and… force us to be better. 🙂
What are your plans for APASS for the next 6-12 months?
- Reach out 210 locations/companies with our products
- Help 40 people with disabilities to meet the needs of society and to be able to integrate more easily
- Becoming sustainable until European funding is depleted
What message do you have for other startup founders?
It’s not easy!
What is your special power?
I know I can change things; it’s in my power.
Confidence? Resilience? Activism?
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If you work at it, you can change something for the better for us as a community. No matter what, where, or how, you do 1% in one direction; it will be 100% if no one else does. And if you join someone with that 1% of yours, then the impact will double, that is 200% compared to the Nothing until then.
We encourage you to support APASS and follow their journey on the website.
Stay tuned to discover the story behind the other startups from the Rubik Garage accelerator! #WeAreInThisTogether
Rubik Garage is an equity-free acceleration program aiming to support startups from CEE. We are helping early-stage startups get to their first paying customer, raise investment or go international.
The accelerator started with a Founders Bootcamp in Piatra Neamt. Four months of acceleration will culminate with a Demo Day in September, where startups get the chance to pitch their startup in front of investors. For the most motivated teams, the journey will continue in the next 6-12 months – our team will offer their full support to help them raise an investment round.
If you want to pre-apply for the next Rubik Garage edition, complete this form and be the first one to get the chance of starting their acceleration journey!