SpeakSee, an Australian-founded speech-to-text startup designed to bring deaf and hard-of-hearing people back into conversations, has raised $107,660 ($US80,000) through crowdfunding in just 10 days.
Sydney-based designer Joshua Flowers tells StartupSmart SpeakSee was inspired by his grandad, who as a “late-deaf adult” was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with family conversations.
For people like Flowers’s grandfather, deafness can be a “profoundly isolating experience and incredibly frustrating,” he says.
The SpeakSee system uses voice-to-text technology, translating words spoken in a group situation to an app on a phone or tablet. Different people in the conversation use different-coloured clip-on mics and the app displays each person’s comments in clearly defined coloured speech bubbles.
The startup launched its crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo on June 19 and raised more than $100,000 in its first 10 days, smashing its $67,300 ($US50,000) target. At the time of writing, SpeakSee’s campaign has raised just over $118,000 ($US87,700).
For people who “normally only hear 20% to 30% of the conversation,” Flowers says the SpeakSee device “increases comprehension dramatically”.
It was initially designed for use within a family context but the product “could also work well in a business context,” says Flowers.
Having started showcasing the product he has seen “lots of interested parties”, he adds.
There’s also a focus on the design, with the SpeakSee product intended to be stylish and gadget-like, rather than medical.
The purpose here is to break down the stigma of hearing devices, moving away from flesh-coloured plastic hearing aids, which are “designed to be hidden away because they’re something to be ashamed of”, Flowers says.
“SpeakSee is designed to be fun, friendly and universal,” he says, adding that he wants people “not to feel embarrassed about using [it]”.
“It looks beautiful and it’s easy to use,” Flowers adds.
A “mission-type company”
The SpeakSee concept was born when Flowers was studying industrial design at the University of New South Wales. He spent a year designing the product and creating a working prototype, but after graduation he landed a job as an industrial designer in Denmark and halted work on SpeakSee.
The product didn’t become a business until 2016, after Flowers was awarded a Young Australian Good Design Innovation Award for the product. He was contacted by various interested investors and collaborators, including Dutch entrepreneurs Jari Hazelebach and Marcel van der Ven, who became his co-founders.
“We had some initial funding from some private investors, which was enough to get started,” he says.
Hazelebach and van der Ven run the business side of things from the Netherlands and Flowers is the lead designer. He’s still based in Sydney, “doing industrial design remotely”.
For Flowers, the crowdfunding campaign is just the beginning. He sees the raise as something of a validation and “the first stage to getting VC funding”.
The funds raised on IndieGoGo will be channeled directly into production and manufacturing, getting the first product run out to market, Flowers says. Then, later, the team will “definitely” look to raise venture capital.
Flowers calls SpeakSee a “mission-type company”, founded by people who are passionate about making a positive impact on people’s lives.
“It’s not a product anyone else would be able to dream up,” Flowers says.
“It’s a very specific use case, but for the people who use it, it’s a godsend.”
Working as an industrial designer, Flowers says he designs a lot of products, but “making a huge positive impact on someone’s life is something else”.
In fact, Flowers says he didn’t expect his project to turn into a business at all, let alone to raise more than $100,000 in funding.
“It was just fantastic to see that people were excited and that they could see that this would help them. Being a niche assisted device, we didn’t expect millions to roll in, but the response was really strong,” he says.
“This is just the start of our mission, we would like to make other assisted devices in the same vein,” he adds, although he declines to share any more details on what the follow-up devices may be.
For other founders thinking of turning a passion project into a business, “the most important thing is finding a need, and finding something you can simultaneously get excited about”, Flowers says.
“Some people find needs but are not passionate about it, some people are passionate but find that no one wants it,” he says.
“Find that mythical middle point between your passion and unfilled need.”
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