Google awards Rochester-based startup grant money

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A Rochester-based startup will receive a $100,000 cash grant as part of its second-ever Black Founders Fund awards.

imagine if, one day, someone who is deaf or hard of hearing can log into a Zoom meeting and there is software that will help talk to that individual in American Sign Language.

“Our goal is to help businesses use our technology to communicate and interact better with the deaf and hard of hearing community," said Yamillet Payano, co-founder and chief operating officer of Sign-Speak. “Imagine two tablets back to back and we integrate the software into the tablet. The deaf person can sign in to it, where they confirm what they’re signing and then that is going to be translated into English and American Sign Language."

Recognizing the potential of Sign-Speak, the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, which helps underrepresented founders grow their business, is giving Payano a $100,000 cash grant as part of its second-ever Black Founders Fund Awards.

“When we found out about Sign-Speak and the work that Yami is doing, we were just moved,” said Daniel Navarro, a member of the Google for Startups team.

In a pool of candidates, Google reviewed founders that had to display business traction and the ability to make an impact on technology. Payano’s company was one of 50 selected across the country, and the only one from Western New York.

“We were impressed by a woman like Yami, who is building something that is truly working to make the lives of a lot of people a little bit easier," Navarrao said.

The daughter of immigrants, Payano says this money and opportunity from Google is helping her achieve her dreams, but she hopes to one day pay it forward to other founders like her.

"Honestly I’m super ecstatic, and I thank Google for this immense recognition. Often we say that the best entrepreneurs are the entrepreneurs that fail over and over again, but it’s very hard to be an entrepreneur when do you don’t have that general wealth," Payano said.

Payano works with two other co-founders, Nikolas Kelly and Nicholas Wilkins, who are graduates of the National Institute for the Deaf at RIT. Payno says with that $100,000, the co-founders are planning to start hiring from a very highly-talented pool of Rochester professionals, and they will soon be expanding both their technology and business sector to a greater scale. Along with the grant, Payano will receive technical and business mentorship from Google employees.