BUENOS AIRES – Argentine entrepreneur Mateo Salvatto, now 21, created an app known as “Hablalo” four years ago that helps disabled people communicate more easily and which now has roughly 100,000 users.
But says he has much bigger goals and aspires to use his ideas to improve the lives of a much larger chunk of the planet’s population.
“I want to help 100 million people, not 100,000, and I want to impact as many people as I can, not only in Argentina but all over the world,” Salvatto said in an interview with EFE.
He currently is chief executive officer of Asteroid Technologies, a company whose flagship product is Hablalo, but he plans to launch more apps in 2021 and also has embarked on a book project with his brother to unveil a technology-focused model for lifting Argentina out of its economic doldrums.
Salvatto, whose mother is a teacher of the deaf and a sign-language interpreter, saw first-hand as a young boy the difficulties hearing-impaired people face in trying to communicate and decided to explore ways of leveraging his passion for computers and robotics to help them.
Having observed that many of the deaf people he knew accessed online translators on their cellphones to communicate with people in stores, pharmacies and government offices, he created an app that can be used without mobile data or Wi-Fi, makes it easy to visit different translation sites and features a “comfortable interface” to facilitate the process.
“Then when the project began to grow, we began to improve exponentially … and with the amount of tools we started incorporating the application became a multi-tool” app, Salvatto said.
With Hablalo, “a person with a disability … can customize the app virtually as they please so they can communicate offline and at no cost,” the young entrepreneur said.
Hablalo to date has been downloaded 178,000 times on Android’s Play Store (also known as Google Play) and 25,000 times on Apple’s App Store, while its users hail from 53 different countries, according to Salvatto.
The app’s developer lives in Buenos Aires’ Nuñez neighborhood, just two blocks from the headquarters of soccer club River Plate, and says he reflects on Hablalo’s impact whenever he looks at the stadium.
“I always think that the amount of people we help couldn’t fit in River’s home ground,” Salvatto said.
But the entrepreneur sees his mission as greater than running a successful business and even hopes to heal the longstanding divisions in his homeland.
Like in many other countries, Argentina’s politics are highly polarized; the concept of a “grieta” (crack or fissure) is often employed to symbolize the gap that separates the country’s two irreconcilable sides.
But Salvatto said his dream is that Generation Z (people born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s) will eliminate this breach in the future.
“Or reduce it to as little as possible so that people in this country no longer go hungry,” the entrepreneur said of the current deep economic crisis in Argentina, where, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census (Indec), 40.9 percent of the population is now below the poverty line.
He said he wants to convince as many young people as possible that Argentina and Latin America have a “possible future,” adding that his country’s stark political polarization has been holding it back for a century.
To that end, Salvatto has his sights set on educational projects to train the next generations in the new technologies and envisions Argentina becoming a potential technology leader and reversing its “steady decline.”
The young entrepreneur, who says he does not identify with any political party, has presented his proposals on television and received both positive and negative feedback.
Above all, he believes it is necessary for young people to try to discover more common ground.
“To be able to find more points of agreement than cause for fighting and hating one another,” Salvatto said.