WeWork and Voiceitt: Giving voice to people who can’t be heard
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WeWork and Voiceitt: Giving voice to people who can’t be heard

Illustrative: Boy listening via tin can phone. (iStock)
Illustrative: Boy listening via tin can phone. (iStock)

With the advancement of voice-powered technologies — like Siri and Alexa — a world of information and entertainment is now available to millions who are unable to access a device because of disabilities. But these individuals often have another problem: because of their disabilities, they cannot speak in a manner that voice-powered tech services can understand — and they also cannot communicate effectively with loved ones, who have a difficult time understanding them because of speech issues.

That’s where we at Voiceitt come in. Our technology enhances people’s speech, enabling them to speak in their own voices, to communicate with friends and family, and with voice-powered devices and systems. Our Voiceitt system opens the world to millions who would never have been able to access information, music, video, news, or social media, and enables them to develop and nurture personal relationships. It is for that reason that WeWork presented us with a Creator Award.

Think of individuals with ailments like ALS, Cerebral Palsy, stroke, or Down’s Syndrome, whose speech is often slurred — making them very difficult, if not impossible to understand. The frustration is almost impossible to imagine, and, as a result, numerous systems have been developed to help the “speechless” to speak. But most of them are clunky and expensive, requiring elaborate equipment and complicated software that is difficult to maintain. And none of these solutions enables individuals to speak in their own voices.

Our Voiceitt solution — based on an application that can be used with easily-accessible smartphones — is a hands-free voice recognition app that enables face-to-face, real-time communication with friends, family, and strangers. In addition, our technology is designed for integration into smart homes, assistive and augmentative communications devices, smart speakers, voice-powered devices, and more. To accomplish this, we use cloud-based big data analytics. The system clarifies and sends back to their devices what the individuals have said, “cleaned up” from the interference that prevents their words from being understood

We are already testing our technology in five countries (the US, Israel, Spain, Italy, and the UK), using four different languages. To accomplish this, we have collected tens of thousands of speech samples — making our algorithms stronger every day. And, we’ve been feted by organizations around the world, from Verizon to Phillips to IBM, and many in between — but for us, the WeWork Creator Award is unique and special.

The Creator Award has truly helped take us to the next level. We have been able to recruit some of Israel’s highest-level speech recognition experts — making our team stronger than ever before. We have also been able to increase our partnerships and position ourselves more strategically. The WeWork award has also helped our community grow organically, with thousands from around the world reaching out to us — potential Voiceitt users, their families, therapists, caregivers, and other stakeholders.

Of course, it has also helped raise our profile with investors. As a social impact enterprise, we face a particular challenge when it comes to funding; traditional VCs may not see the larger market potential right away, and the traditional investor community may be wary of the double bottom line objectives (doing good while doing well financially) that is the hallmark of companies like ours. But those concerns have not prevented us from raising money. We have been able to raise funds through a creative combination of government grants, corporate cash prize competitions (like the Creator Awards), and investors who believe in our mission.

For us, and others like us, the lesson is that while most startups — and especially startups in the social space — fail for lack of funding, there are ways to survive, and thrive. Israel, in particular, has tremendous resources for socially oriented projects with deep innovation and potential impact, and for us, the Creator Award is a “crown jewel” in our fundraising efforts.

The past two years have been particularly exciting for our company. We have grown tremendously, and our technology development improving daily. In addition to the WeWork Creator Awards, we were also excited to win other global competitions, including Microsoft’s AI for Good prize and the Shenzhen Innovation Competition. We are so proud to be part of the WeWork community of creators, and it is through this kind of collaboration and innovation facilitation that Voiceitt can work to positively transform the lives of people all over the world.

RSVP for the Creator Jerusalem event on June 20: https://we.co/jerusalem-creator

Danny Weissberg, CEO of Voiceitt is an engineer  turned serial entrepreneur and a Technion  alum. Sara A. Smolley, VP Strategy at Voiceitt, spent  five years in Asia before  arriving in Israel in 2015. She is an alumna  of Barnard College, Columbia  University, and has an MBA from Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea).

In this unique partnership between the Times of Israel and WeWork’s Creator Awards, we invite you to meet innovators from across the country and learn more about their stories and how they are making the world a better place.

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