Press Club

Data company Enabled Intelligence treats cognitive disabilities as assets

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Enabled Intelligence, a startup founded by a longtime Arlington resident and father, is redefining what inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace looks like.

And it does so while solving a long-standing labor problem for government agencies and contractors trying to automate their operations with artificial intelligence, says CEO and founder Peter Kant.

Enabled Intelligence employs Americans with disabilities and veterans to do data annotation — teaching computers what images or sounds to look for as they are programmed to sift through large data sets — for government and government-adjacent groups.

“It’s technical, repetitive, problem-solving, somewhat compulsive and relatively asocial work,” he said.

This work has to be done by “puzzle solvers who always want an answer” and U.S. citizens to ensure the data stays secure, Kant says. But government groups, which can’t send data annotation overseas like private companies, often struggle to find people to do the work. Kant ran into this problem while leading SRI International, a research institute with a location in Rosslyn.

So he turned to a “highly skilled, underutilized workforce” within the U.S.: people with certain cognitive differences, who have an edge over neurotypical people, and veterans from intelligence and defense agencies, who have helpful subject-matter expertise.

These two groups face barriers to skilled work because of their disabilities, he said.

“Some were bagging groceries but had a computer science degree from Radford University, and because of their neurodiversity, were not working anywhere else,” he said.

Today, 14 of Enabled Intelligence’s 20-person team have disabilities.

“This is not just a company just for people with disabilities, it’s a mix of people neurodiverse and [neurotypical] people,” Kant said.

Enabled Intelligence team photo (courtesy photo)

The mix helps people with disabilities integrate while demonstrating to people without disabilities that cognitive differences can be assets, he said.

Case in point: New annotators were identifying photos where at least 20% of a vehicle was in the frame. The trainer, who had 15 years’ experience teaching this work, explained that when it comes to close calls, they should play it safe and include the photos.

“One of the annotators, literally just looking at a Powerpoint slide in the training room, said, ‘No, no, no, it’s 17%,'” Kant said.

The trainer said it was close enough to include, but the team member insisted it shouldn’t be included. After the meeting, the photo was measured and sure enough, 17% of the car was in-frame.

Another employee is a whiz at computers who was working at a grocery store while pursuing her cosmetology license. She couldn’t keep up with these two jobs, however, due to a brain injury that was giving her seizures.

At Enabled Intelligence, she has quickly moved up the ranks. After getting her start identifying photos, she has been promoted to identifying audio files in a different language — which she has already picked up.

“She’s been a very valuable asset to us,” Kant said.

Kant says Arlington organizations have helped him hire employees and find advisors who understand how to work with people with cognitive differences.

He found employees through local nonprofit Melwood, which provides vocational training to people with disabilities. One of his advisors is Arlington therapist Ginny Conroy, who runs Social Grace, a local group that coaches people with disabilities and works with businesses to hire and retain neurodiverse employees.

Enabled Intelligence got its start in March 2020 but has been insulated from the worst of the economic impacts of the pandemic because government work has been relatively stable, he said. So far, Enabled Intelligence has booked $2.5 million in business and closed on a seed fundraising round that netted $1 million, lead by the Disability Opportunity Fund.

After being fully remote for more than a year, the company moved into its first, temporary brick-and-mortar office building just over the border in Falls Church (6400 Arlington Blvd). In the new year, Kant has his sights set on a permanent office so employees can handle more secure data and he can expand the company’s operations.

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