By the community

For the community

Sign-Speak wants to partner with Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities by creating tools that will enhance the interaction between Deaf/Hard of Hearing and hearing individuals.

Leadership Team

Yami Payano


Location: Rochester, NY

Yamillet (Yami) Payano is a first-generation afro-latina who is currently the CEO of Sign Speak. Currently she is developing the go-to-market strategy, fundraising efforts, and has written technical and business domain documentation for Sign-Speak. Previously, she was a Quantitative Analyst at The Federal National Mortgage Association‘s (Fannie Mae) Fair Lending Team. At Fannie Mae, she developed statistical programs in SAS and R to identify Fair Lending risk within Fannie Mae’s decision-making models. She graduated with a BS in Econ and Math with Minor in Chinese from American University in Washington,DC.

Nikolas Kelly


Location: Rochester, NY

Nikolas Kelly is a Missouri native and is Deaf. ASL is naturally his first language. He is a graduate of RIT/NTID. During his time at RIT/NTID he led a program called No-Voice-Zone, a program designed to teach hearing students ASL to communicate with their Deaf counterparts. A co-founder of Sign-Speak, Nikolas is Chief Product Officer overseeing Sign-Speak’s product offerings. Nikolas has an emphasis to build with, not for, the Deaf community. He thrives in situations where diversity and inclusion are of paramount importance and encourages others to be themselves at work.

Nicholas Wilkins


Location: Rochester, NY

Nicholas Wilkins was first introduced to Deaf culture while studying for his degree at RIT. He fell in love with not only the language, but also the thriving and vibrant community. After obtaining a BS in Computational mathematics and MS in Computer Science, he went to further his career as a Software Engineer at Google for two years. Unsatisfied with Big-Tech, he decided to start Sign-Speak with Niko and Yami. Nicholas’s technical expertise spans a wide range of domains including ML, back-end infra, and mathematical models. He is passionate about using deep-tech to improve the equity of modern-day solutions.

Brian Hertneky

Head of Relationships

Location: Cleaveland, OH

Brian Hertneky, a Pittsburgh native, was born Deaf, making American Sign Language his first language. With over 5 years of entrepreneurial experience, Brian possesses a wealth of knowledge in business and marketing. Fearless in the face of challenges, he is enthusiastic about creating businesses that not only generate revenue but also make a positive impact. Brian's greatest passion lies in collaborating with community members to promote accessibility, diversity, and inclusion, creating spaces where individuals can authentically show up as their true selves.