10th Anniversary “Startup Spotlight” Series: Virbby

This year, the Ideas x Innovation marks its 10th anniversary. We’re celebrating that milestone with a series of spotlights on southeastern PA’s most interesting innovators and entrepreneurs. 

This week, i2n director Patrick Hayakawa sat down with Paul Villasenor, co-founder of Chester County startup Virbby, makers of a new mobile app that connects users to bilingual individuals on demand.

PH: Paul, tell us about the problem Virbby is trying to solve.
Paul Villasenor

Currently, there is no reliable solution for people who need language interpretation for everyday conversations. Machine translation apps like Google Translate are good for a sentence or two, but they’re awkward for high-paced conversations like the one we’re having now. On top of that, the accuracy can be iffy. There are also professional language services–those are accurate and precise, but can also be very expensive. Plus they’re overkill for conversations like this one.

The ideal solution would be a bilingual bystander, but you never know when one is going to be around. We want to make a bilingual bystander available anytime you need one and fill that gap between machine translation and professional language services.  

Where did you get the idea for Virbby?

The idea came to me when I was walking through Honolulu and saw a lot of signs in multiple languages. I was thinking, if they have all these signs in different languages, there must be a lot of people who don’t speak English. And if they need the signs to get around, how do they communicate with people who don’t speak their language?

So originally we focused on tourism. Now I also volunteer as a family doctor at a clinic in West Chester, Community Volunteers in Medicine. A lot of the patients I see don’t speak English. We have volunteer interpreters that help us with patient visits, and it made me wonder, “Okay, we’ve got the interpreters here, but what do the patients do out in the community?”

Ok, I gotta ask, where did you get the name?

Virbby is short for virtual bilingual bystander!

What’s been the hardest thing about being a startup founder?

What’s not hard about being a startup founder?! I guess when you’re in the corporate world, you’ve got a manager to tell you what to do. When you’re working at a startup, it’s on you to figure out what to do and hope that you’re right. Or, if you’re wrong, hope that you can pivot without a lot of wasted effort and resources. 

And the best thing?

Full autonomy. In contrast to the corporate world, when you have an idea or think of a better way to do something, you can’t always pursue it in that setting. When you’re running a startup, you can actually move forward with it.

The other great thing is the collaborative nature of the community. If you need help, it’s not hard to find someone who’s willing to help you. 

Through i2n!

Exactly! The resources I’ve accessed and connections I’ve made have been invaluable.

Ok, shameless plug aside, what’s next for Virbby? 

Right now, we are exploring education as a target market. We have our minimum viable product developed and are running a pilot with a school in New Jersey. We are hoping to run pilots at more schools in the area. So anyone who works in education, drop us a line!

The data from those beta tests will help us find the right balance of bilinguals to clients. That information will help us as we scale. 

ICYMI – Part 2 of the Startup Spotlight Series was just released. Learn about Pression.

Know a local entrepreneur that should be featured in the “i2n Startup Spotlight”? Send your tips to Cheryl Korn, ckorn@ccedpa.com