Stark is a startup that wants to help designers make the software and websites more accessible for people with disabilities, and they’ve created a set of tools that plug into popular design tools and browsers to help.
Cat Noone, co-founder and CEO at Stark, says she and her co-founder and CTO Michael Fouquet launched the company out of a desire to simplify accessible design. “Stark has a very big mission to make the world’s software accessible for everyone. And we help companies supercharge accessibility from months to minutes with a very simple end-to-end workflow,” Noone told TechCrunch.
Today, the company announced a $6 million seed investment along with the release of a suite of tools to make it easier for individuals and teams to build accessible designs.
She says they do this through automated intelligent analysis and by providing seamless fixes for both design and code as part of the process. The Stark Suite of tools is trying to make it easy for designers to build accessibility into their designs by plugging directly into popular design tools including Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD, and popular browsers including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Opera and Brave.
Designers can check for elements like font size, color choices, contrast, and alt text, among other things, and look for the most accessible choices, making accessibility part of the design process. Noone says that at least 1.5 billion people in the world report having at least one disability. She sees making software and websites accessible, not only a fairness issue, but also one that increasingly involves compliance, with a growing body of accessibility regulations, not unlike security or privacy.
“Accessibility is not a small problem. It’s part of what we call a company’s internal PSA – privacy, security, accessibility – and accessibility [stands] right alongside privacy and security as one of these three major issues in software development that’s been ignored,” she said.
Benedikt Lehnert, Stark’s chief design office, who previously held design roles at SAP and Microsoft, says the company is trying to make accessible design available to designers wherever they are working, which he sees as a major difference between his company’s offering and other similar products, which tend to cover only website accessibility.
“Stark empowers software teams to design, build and test accessible products of all sorts, whether those are marketing websites, SaaS products, mobile apps or any other software,” he said.
He added, “It’s a suite of tools, and when you buy into the Stark ecosystem the whole philosophy is that we hook into the tools that your product team is already using, whether you’re the designer, developer, project manager or QA expert, and stitch them together into an accessibility workflow,” he said.
Today, the company has four pricing tiers, starting with a free offering along with paid tiers for pros, teams and enterprises.
The founders originally conceived of the idea in 2017, and formed the company officially in 2020. They raised a pre-seed round that same year, and closed the $6 million seed round earlier this year.
The startup currently has 18 employees in a distributed team, and plans to be conservative when it comes to hiring, letting the market guide them. Noone says from a diversity perspective, a company that is aiming to make software and websites more accessible has to be open to hiring people with disabilities.
“Here at Stark a majority of the team is disabled. I’m a female founder, but I’m also a disabled CEO, and a majority of the people on the team have some form of at least one disability, and we’re all very open about it. It’s something that we don’t we don’t shy away from. We lean into it,” she said. And it helps them build a better product.
The $6 million seed investment was led by Uncork Capital with help from Darling Ventures, Indicator Ventures and a variety of industry angels.