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Waygo tears down language barriers with instant visual translation app (exclusive)

Above: Founder Ryan Rogowski presenting at 500 Startups Demo Day.

Image Credit: Facebook Waygo

Ryan Rogowski found the inspiration for Waygo while eating kung pao chicken.

Waygo is a mobile app that instantly translates text just by hovering a smartphone camera over it — no data connection required. Today, the startup announced raising a $900,000 seed round to improve its translation service and add new languages.

Rogowski, one of the founders, started Waygo after living in China and struggling with the language barrier. He ate kung pao chicken every single day because he couldn’t read the menus or figure out how to order anything else. He realized the need for a simple, mobile translation service that would help travelers order food, interpret signs, get directions, and easily navigate around another country without knowing the language.

Waygo’s visual translator works using optical character recognition (OCR) technology. Right now it is only available for Mandarin Chinese, but more languages are coming. The app translates Chinese characters into English text by seeing images, finding relevant text in its lexicon, and creating phrases out of them in the second language. Waygo claims that when compared to ABBYY, the top commercial OCR, its software is five times faster two times more accurate, and a tenth of the file size. Google Translate (on mobile) is also a competitor, as are voice recognition translators like Jibbigo and SayHi.

Waygo’s team has spent years working on the product and graduated from the 500 Startups accelerator in February, where it was one of the standout companies among 30. 500 Startups, AngelVest, Golden Gate Ventures, and angel investors participated in this round. Golden Gate Ventures is a new venture firm with headquarters in Singapore and Silicon Valley and dedicated to supporting Asian startups. With this financing, Waygo will add a Korean-to-English translator and release an Android version. The app costs $14.99, but is “on sale” right for for $4.99.

The team has seven employees and is based in Mountain View, Calif.

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