What questions would you ask the firm’s founders before making your funding decision? What answers would satisfy you?
YOU BE THE VC 6.2 COMPANY: Ava
Pitch: It is difficult for people who are deaf or hearing-
impaired to follow conversations in group settings such as a family
dinner, a business meeting, a presentation, or lunch with friends.
Even in a setting where every par- ticipant knows sign language,
picking up an entire con- versation is challenging. Sign language
relies on people watching each other sign, and in a group setting
people often talk that are not directly looking at each other. The
only option that people with hearing problems have to fully capture
a group conversation is to hire a transcriber or interpreter.
That’s an impractical solution, given that transcribers and
interpreters charge up to $125 per hour. Hearing aids are available
for people who are hearing- impaired, but the cost is often a
deterrent and hearing aids have varying levels of
Ava is a smartphone app designed to tackle this problem. Here’s how it works. Ava connects all the smartphones in a room via an app. All a person with hearing difficulties has to do is invite the people in the room to participate, and if they have Ava on their phones, they can accept the invite. Ava will then, through the microphone in each par- ticipant’s smartphone, transcribe the conversation in real time and display the transcription on the hearing-impaired person’s phone. Each person’s comments include their name and show up in a different color. Ava’s interface will also show a small photo of each person who is involved with the conversation. So if Jane, who is deaf, invites Ava at the beginning of a family dinner, and all the members of Jane’s family have the Ava app and accept Jane’s invite, Jane can follow the conversation on her smartphone. The transcriptions, which are made possible via the speech recognition technology, are made in less than one second. Ava allows people with hearing difficulties to connect, engage, and enjoy rather than dread group conversa- tions. The value that Ava adds to its users’ lives is very personal for two of its three founders, Thibault Duchemin and Skinner Cheng. Cheng has been deaf since he was two years old and Duchemin is a coda, meaning he grew up with deaf family members.
There are 360 million people in the world who are deaf or hearing-impaired, which is roughly 5 percent of the world’s population. Ava’s mission is to make its solution available to anyone who can benefit from it anywhere, enriching the social engagement of the people who utilize the service.
The most relevant questions while making an investment decision will be.
1. The technological competency of the company to keep up with rapidly changing technology in the internet of things and provide cutting edge products that enhance customer experience to the next level.
2. Business acumen of the team to make the strategic decisions leading to rapid growth and capturing of the huge untapped market, not only as a socially inclined venture, but a full fledged business, and to deal with the competition which may arise in future.
3. Innovative potential of the company to devise more products catering to different types of impaired people and expanding to the other markets.
4. CSR policies of the company, so that benefits of such a noble venture are not limited to the rich and informed people. The plans to cover the most vulnerable and affected people, who form major part of the target group.
For being satisfied to put in money, the team should be capable enough to innovate, strategise and come up with the best products in the market, it should have ability to cope up with the competition through building expertise and should have vision to extend the benefits of the technique to the masses at reasonable cost.
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