Manny Duran stands outdoors against a light blue background, smiling broadly

Howe Innovation Center community profile: Manny Duran

Manny Duran is a long-time champion of accessibility and inclusive design - and he's bringing that expertise to the world of DisabilityTech as part of the Howe Innovation Center advisory group

Manny Duran, a venture capitalist at UM6P Ventures, is one of the earliest members of the Howe Innovation Center advisory group and a long-time champion of accessibility and inclusive design.

Innovation – especially in DisabilityTech – takes community, collaboration and communication. The Howe Innovation Center is working hard to connect and convene the folks who are out there helping us ignite the spark of change in creating a more accessible world. That’s where folks like Manny come in.

Get to know him in this community profile:

What sparked your interest in DisabilityTech?

In high school, I was required to do volunteer work. My friend’s dad was in a nursing home and she volunteered there, so I thought “Sure, I’ll volunteer there, too.” And it turned out to be a really cool experience.

I connected with one of the deaf patients, and she provided my first exposure to sign language. She would teach me things like “tea” and “coffee” during dinner time, and I would ask her things like, “How do you say ‘yes’?” and “How do you say ‘no’?”

That time with her led me to enroll in ASL classes that I took through my last years of high school.

So, this was really my first experience with the disability community, which led me to explore and study more as I got to college.

At Middlebury College, I got a BA in International Studies and French, and also completed coursework in Arabic and Disability Studies. My research abroad included residency at Yaoundé’s School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Cameroon and a Fulbright grant in Morocco where I explored technologies and policies to support language acquisition for Deaf students in multilingual societies.

Now, even as I work in finance, I try to keep the community – particularly universal design – at the forefront in everything I do.

When I was a Senior Associate at Silicon Valley Bank, I worked with early-stage startups. I carved out a niche in my portfolio for EdTech, accessibility tech, and global tech companies.

Now, I’m with Mohammed VI Polytechnic University and UM6P Ventures, where I make accessibility and disability advocacy part of my due diligence: where can innovation span not only the purpose of a startup, but incorporate disability as a base? I always try to think about inclusivity and universal design.

What do you enjoy most about working with the Howe Innovation Center?

I’ve been involved with the Howe Innovation Center since February 2023, and, early on, I really enjoyed having conversations with Sandy and the team about how to define the DisabilityTech market – we talked about inclusivity, technology, accessibility. My undergrad work in disability studies played into it and it was really cool.

I’ve also loved having the opportunity to participate in judging the Mass Challenge competition – I got to see innovative DisabilityTech startups applying inclusive design in tangible ways. There were overlaps with DisabilityTech, health tech – really exciting.

What’s the last book you read?

I recently started rereading a book from a college course called We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. It explores bodily autonomy and human connection within a dystopian world. I really like science fiction, dystopian stuff, and anything that holds a mirror up to us in a way.

What do you like to do for fun?

Whenever I’m hanging out in my place and listening to some tunes, I like to sign the songs I’m listening to. One that I’ve been signing recently is “Moment 4 Life” by Nicki Minaj – it’s a bop!

If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I do consider myself an adventurous eater, but as I get older, I find that I crave the foods I grew up eating. So I’d probably say rice, beans and chicken with a lot of avocado. I get some carbs, protein and greens – that’s enough for me.

What would you say to someone curious about volunteering with Howe?

Reach out! Explore it. When I tell people that I’m involved with Perkins School for the Blind and Howe Innovation Center, people initially think that it’s something very niche, just a “school for blind.” But Perkins covers so much more! It offers an intersection somewhere that will interest someone: accessibility, innovation, global development, education and more. Anyone can carve a space for themselves because it’s so much more than it seems.

What are you looking forward to in your work with Howe Innovation Center?

Coming off of Mass Challenge, I want to continue to be involved in helping DisabilityTech entrepreneurs and innovation move forward – accelerators, incubators, mentoring, thinking about social impact and inclusivity. I just want to keep going down that path, because talking is one thing, but supporting is another.

Stay in the conversation

Innovation can’t happen without all of us. Together, we can solve real accessibility problems.

If you want more from-the-front-lines perspective on what’s happening across the DisabilityTech market, join the Howe Innovation Center community. You’ll get members-only access to resources and insight that’s not available anywhere else, including our white paper, Defining DisabilityTech: The Rise of Inclusive Innovation.

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