A 24-year-old Turkish entrepreneur has developed a game-based app called Otsimo for people with special needs. Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Zafer Elcik shared his inspirational story. "Otsimo is an educational app for people with special needs, especially children with autism and Down syndrome," said Elcik, adding that it offers early childhood education at home through a tablet or smartphone.
The app, developed by Elcik and his classmate Sercan Değirmenci, has over 100,000 users in more than 168 countries. More than 30,000 people are actively using it every month. Elcik said they focus on the 3 to 7 age group so they can go to public schools. "Our main motivation is democratizing special education for children with special needs," said Elcik, whose brother, Alper, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. "It was a very hard road for us because we needed to figure out how we could teach Alper and find appropriate schools for him," he said, emphasizing that private schools and therapy are a burden for many families. But then something happened that would change everything.
"I realized that my brother had taken a special interest in my smartphone," said Elcik, noting that Alper played with it for more than 50 minutes, which surprised him because Alper could not usually focus on something for more than five minutes.
The problem was there were no suitable apps for Alper, so Elcik and Değirmenci decided to come up with a solution. "Together with Sercan, we created some simple games for my brother to teach him colors," said Elcik, adding that his brother learned colors very quickly. After receiving positive feedback from Alper's teachers, Elcik and his colleagues developed two apps: one for special education and the other for speech therapy. "The special education app offers more than 80 games focusing on different skills and different areas of education," said Elcik.
The speech therapy app offers more than 100 videos especially for children with non-verbal autism. "Google Play Store and Apple's App Store showcased our [Otsimo] application as the best autism application in the world," said Elcik. He said Otsimo has received more than 10 awards from all over the world. "We received the Global Social Venture Competition Award. We were the first team from Turkey to get this award," said Elcik, adding that ESCA, the leading entrepreneurs' organization-awarded him for his social impact.
Elcik also noted that he is the youngest fellow of ASHOKA, a global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs, in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
Otsimo is also a technology partner of the İçimdeki Hazine or "Treasure Within Me" app which emerged in cooperation with Turkey's Ministry of National Education and Turkcell, Turkey's leading mobile network operator. "We are a technology partner of İçimdeki Hazine and we are on the software side. We provide a software platform and develop new games," said Elcik, noting he plans to create games for children with dyslexia and refugee children in the future. Right now, Otsimo supports only English and Turkish. But Elcik said he plans to create a Spanish version of the app for Latin America and German and French versions for Europe.