Merger in the Blindness Field

    

From the Editor: As we were going to press, the following press release arrived at the National Center for the Blind. It demonstrates that the blindness field has now achieved a maturity and significance never before seen. We reprint the release in its entirety and leave our readers to draw their own conclusions about its importance. Here it is:

    

     FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

     April 11, 2000

    

     Henter-Joyce and Blazie Engineering Merge

     to Form Freedom Scientific, Inc.

    

     St. Petersburg, Florida--Henter-Joyce, the leading U.S. software company specializing in products for blind people, has merged with Blazie Engineering, the leading U.S. manufacturer of Braille hardware devices, to form Freedom Scientific, Inc., a new company dedicated to offering a broad line of assistive technology products for people with sensory impairments and learning disabilities.

     Henter-Joyce, founded in 1987 by Ted Henter, who learned to program computers after losing his sight in a car accident, is known for having developed the world's best-selling screen reader software, called JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows. By allowing blind people to achieve the same or higher productivity in computer-based jobs as sighted people, JAWS has increased employment opportunities for people who are blind while helping employers and universities meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, Henter-Joyce employs seventy-one people, of whom thirty-one are blind or visually impaired--the majority working in software engineering, computer programming, sales, or technical support. Ted Henter will stay on with Freedom Scientific as vice president of advanced development for software products.

     Blazie Engineering, founded in 1986 by Deane Blazie, an electrical engineer with an advanced degree in computer science, manufactures a broad line of hardware products for blind people, including note takers, Braille printers, and Braille displays. Blazie developed the Braille 'n Speak, the world's first note taker - a personal digital assistant (PDA) with Braille input and voice or data output that allows blind users to take notes, keep their address books, and update their personal calendars without reliance on pencil and paper. Blazie now offers five different models of note takers and holds a leading global market share. Blazie employs seventy-five people at its facilities in Forest Hill, Maryland, and Stuart, Florida. Deane Blazie will stay on with the combined companies as vice president for advanced development of hardware products.

     Freedom Scientific is headed by Richard H. Chandler, founder and former C.E.O. of Sunrise Medical, one of the world's major manufacturers of rehabilitation products for the elderly and disabled. Chandler resigned from his post at Sunrise in October, 1999, after sixteen years, in order to form a new company focusing on technology-based products for people with disabilities. Freedom Scientific has been funded with an equity commitment from two leading private equity firms, Patricof & Co. Ventures, and Summit Partners, each of which has successfully invested in the past in businesses focused on disability products. Credit lines and additional equity investments have been arranged with two major banks, further contributing to Freedom Scientific's capital pool dedicated to the new venture in assistive technology.

     Henter-Joyce and Blazie Engineering will continue to design, develop, and manufacture their respective product lines in separate business development units, but their sales, marketing, order-entry, and administrative functions will be combined at the Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group, to be located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Freedom Scientific's corporate headquarters will be in Carlsbad, California.

     Commenting on his decision to merge with Blazie and form Freedom Scientific, Ted Henter said, "Deane Blazie gave me my start in business over fifteen years ago, and we have been close friends ever since. Our teams have worked well together on numerous joint efforts over the past several years. We've often thought it would be a natural alliance to put our two companies together, but each of us lacked the necessary capital to make it work. When Dick Chandler came along with access to venture capital sources, the pieces just fell into place."

     Deane Blazie said this about the merger: "Ted and I are similar in that we both have a love of product and fascination with technical challenges in the blindness field, but we found ourselves increasingly bogged down in administrative chores as our companies grew. The new company's structure will allow us each to concentrate on what we do best. Dick Chandler brings a background in professional management and a track record of building enterprises through acquisitions and expanding those businesses internationally. Our new company will benefit from numerous synergies, creating the same kind of potential."

     Chandler observed, "Ted Henter and Deane Blazie have both built highly successful companies committed to delivering technology-based products that open the doors of employment and education for blind and visually impaired individuals. In aggregate their businesses grew by more than 25 percent last year. This growth should be further invigorated by this merger, with its opportunity for offering customers a broad line of hardware and software products, along with improved levels of customer service and support. Ted and Deane will continue to provide strong leadership voices in the blind/low vision industry. Freedom Scientific, meanwhile, will seek additional acquisition opportunities in related assistive technology markets, such as products for the learning disabled and speech or hearing impaired."

     Freedom Scientific's mission is to change the world for people with sensory and learning disabilities by creating innovative, technology-based products and solutions.