The
View from Initialized

Transcribing the World for the Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Community with Ava

Ava delivers superior AI-based captioning products that meet the standards of 460 million Deaf & hard-of-hearing people — a uniquely engaged audience

(Skinner Cheng, CTO & co-founder, Pieter Doevendans, COO & co-founder, Thibault Duchemin, CEO & co-founder)

Whether it’s because English is my second language or because I don’t want to wake my young kids while I’m watching shows at night or because my hearing has started to go in my old age, I am a huge fan of transcription. I always watch videos with closed captioning and would generally rather read a transcript of something than watch the video so that I don’t miss a thing. A decade ago, I even tried out Dragon NaturallySpeaking’s speech recognition software after developing carpal tunnel syndrome from hours typing legal memos and angry letters. It wasn’t very good. 

As it turns out, a lot of “high-quality” transcription technology out there isn’t very good, yet at the same time, the applicability of transcription is very broad – from court reporting to Zoom meetings to medical transcription. That’s what makes Ava, an AI-based and live captioning solution for accessibility, a venture scale company. However, it is a narrow niche of that broad market, captioning for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, that has given the team a clear mission and the ability to refine the product. The founders have combined a deep understanding of AI, and have used their own personal experiences with how the deaf community interacts with the world, to deliver exceptional captioning experiences for a uniquely engaged and enthusiastic audience. The technology is exceptional, years ahead of its time, and we’re proud to announce our participation in their latest $4.5 million seed round. 

The founding ethos of Ava was built upon the experiences of its co-founders. Thibault Duchemin grew up with parents and a sister who are deaf, and CTO Skinner Cheng has been deaf since age two. They have built a mission-driven team, some of whom are part of the deaf or hard-of-hearing community, to deliver two new AI-supported captioning products today. 

An estimated 5% of the world’s population, or about 466 million people, belong to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. During COVID-19, the need for technology to help alleviate the challenges experienced by the deaf community has only gotten greater. Masks have made lip reading impossible and the transition to online work and school has presented even more challenges. Ava saw a 5x increase in demand for their product during the pandemic, and more than 1,000 families used Ava to communicate better over Thanksgiving this year. 

Group conversations and conference calls require accurate live transcription and beyond that, accurate live diarization. A mass of text that isn’t separated by speaker is harder to keep track of, especially if the conversation is taking place live, which is why Ava’s app can separate out the captions by speaker. Additionally, existing remote communication platforms are not built for the hard-of-hearing or those with language barriers, and platforms like Zoom still lack live captioning capabilities. In contrast, Ava can layer on top of Zoom and other apps, equipping users with a tool that allows them full autonomy.

So much of what we do on a daily basis comes down to communication; it’s a fundamental part of business and an inextricable part of the home. For some, seamless and smooth conversations are taken for granted, and we have the luxury of using Ava’s captions as a substitute for better notes for meetings, classes and events. For others, Ava is a lifeline and a crucial means of communication. This is why Ava aims to enable true accessibility by leveraging the team’s deep understanding of AI and providing tools that work in real life situations. 

I’m excited to welcome Ava to the Initialized family and thrilled that Ava can continue to change people’s lives in a fundamental way. 

Try out Ava for yourself, and check out some of the amazing stories that detail the positive impact that the technology has made on people’s lives.