A Spokane-based company that developed a device to give a voice to people with neurological disorders was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Association of Washington Business.
Medical device startup Parrots Inc. was honored at the association’s annual Evening of Excellence event Thursday at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.
The event, which showcases outstanding companies in the state, was attended by more than 300 people.
“We are really honored and pleased,” David Hojah, CEO and founder of Parrots Inc. said. “We really thank all the people who helped us through the way, since day one. We are really grateful for all of the support, and for all the family and friends who really believed in us.”
Parrots Inc. developed “Polly,” an artificially intelligent device that can be perched on a wheelchair or bedside. When paired with a laptop or tablet, “Polly” provides a 360-degree view for users to safely navigate their surroundings.
The device also leverages machine learning that tracks eye movement to predict users’ needs and communicates in real-time. For example, the device can see orange juice on a table during breakfast and predict when a user would like to ask for a drink.
Hojah, a Boston native and Harvard University graduate, has more than 12 years of experience in artificial intelligence, medical devices, robotics, engineering and health technology.
After Hojah’s uncle sustained a spinal cord injury and his aunt passed away due to multiple sclerosis, he sought to help people living with similar conditions maximize their independence.
“I felt maybe one day I could do something – not just for them – but for other people at least,” Hojah said. “Then, when I went to college to study chemical engineering, I got inspired by many people, including Stephen Hawking.
“I do believe there are millions of people like Stephen Hawking out there who are just missing accessible technology to be the next scientist and engineer.”
Hojah said the idea to launch Parrots Inc. in 2019 was also inspired by his friend, Steve Saling, co-founder of ALS Residence Initiative. It’s a fundraising and advocating group that aims to build homes to serve ALS patients nationwide.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control needed to move, speak, eat and breathe.
Hojah relocated Parrots Inc. from Seattle to Spokane earlier this year and has established relationships with the Steve Gleason Institute for Neuroscience at Washington State University Health Sciences as well as local angel investor Tom Simpson.
Simpson said he chose to invest in Parrots Inc., in part, because it’s a company that’s making the world a better place.
“With David’s parrot product – it’s a solution that learns the patient’s particular needs, responds and gets smarter over time,” he said. “I was really drawn to that.”
Simpson added Parrots Inc. is able to produce a more affordable product compared with others on the market.
“It’s great to see someone like David who decided to move from Seattle and really start his business in Spokane,” Simpson said.
While Parrots Inc. is currently working remotely, the company hopes to move into an office in the University District by January.
Eventually, Hojah aims to expand the company’s technology to assist children with cognitive disabilities or seniors with mobility issues.
“We are on our way to be one of the leaders in adaptive technology to help all these people with physical and communication challenges – not just in the U.S., but in Europe and many other places,” Hojah said.