Botched online translations can only get a person so far when they need help understanding a foreign language, and charades are often a frustrating last resort.
Raleigh-based Sol is working to bridge language gaps by providing not only language translation, but information that helps users make sense of the situation.
“At Sol, we realize that language is nothing without cultural context, and we want to provide that,” said Founder Jeyashree Haridoss. “We give instant access to cultural liaisons. Machine translators can’t account for slang context or complexity.”
Sol operates through an app that connects users with crowdsourced, multilingual interpreters able to provide context and meaning. Users enter their phone number, name and both the languages they know and need to know. From there, they can text or call the interpreter.
Haridoss says right now Sol is focusing on serving first-generation immigrants and refugees, though the company also has some traction with call centers. She says Sol provides a platform that helps people truly understand what’s going on.
“It doesn’t focus on learning languages,” she said, “but really empowering people to navigate new situations, because not everyone has access to a personal translator or interpreter 24/7. We’re putting access to thousands of interpreters in their pocket for on-demand services.”
Haridoss herself has bridged many language gaps in her life.
After moving to North Carolina at age 3 from Chennai, India, Haridoss interpreted English and Tamil for visiting family members. Throughout school and college, she learned Spanish and studied abroad twice while a student at NC State, in Madrid and Buenos Aires.
It was in Madrid, where many of her American friends didn’t speak Spanish, that she got the idea to create a product to help people similarly in need of language help.
“During those situations,” Haridoss said, “I realized that I was there and more than willing to help, but there are people around the world and in the U.S. who don’t have someone to immediately call on when they need language help. That’s where the idea for Sol really came from.”
The name for the company, which means “word” in Tamil, came from the idea that words are just a combination of sounds, Haridoss says, which don’t have meaning until people give it meaning.
When she returned in late 2019 for her senior year of college, Haridoss began the processes of customer discovery and validation. Today, Sol has a beta and is finishing NC State’s 14-week Andrews Launch Accelerator program.
At the moment, Haridoss is interviewing and onboarding over 100 interpreters and finalizing some program highlights. She is working on Sol full-time now that she has graduated and plans to fundraise in early 2021.
Haridoss says the market research she’s done shows how virtual interpretation helps provide access to people in an industry with growing cross-cultural interaction.
“We live in this globalized world and interact with people from all walks of life who speak different languages, are from different countries and have unique stories,” Haridoss said. “With Sol, we want to remove some of the barriers that language could pose, especially for vulnerable populations.”