Ava, a Euro-American startup building software to help deaf and hard-of-hearing people participate in everyday conversations, has secured $4.5 million in funding and launched two new products at a time when the pandemic has raised the barriers for that community. The round was co-led by Initialized Capital and Khosla Ventures, bringing the company’s total funding to $6.5 million. Citing that group conversations have always been a struggle for the deaf and hard of hearing (it’s nearly impossible to lip read multiple mouths at once), the startup says COVID has exacerbated the situation. Masks — and conference calls with the video turned off — leave people entirely out of the conversation, and leaves them dependent on others to be included. Ava set out to solve the challenges of both accessibility and autonomy. CEO Thibault Duchemin grew up in France as the only hearing person in his deaf family, while CTO Skinner Cheng is deaf. The young founding trio also includes Pieter Doevendans, an entrepreneur from the Netherlands. Starting in 2014, the team built an app that acts as a personal mobile captioner. Today’s new products address professional needs. The first new product, Ava Closed Captions, provides closed captions for all online meetings and videos on Mac, Windows, and Web. The second, Ava Scribe, gives users instant access to 99 percent accurate captions using a mix of real-time AI-based captions and live transcription. “450 million deaf and hard of hearing people simply cannot wait anymore for society to catch up with their accessibility needs,” says Duchemin. Founded in 2014, the startup’s teams are divided between San Francisco (product and development) and Paris, where the AI team is located.
Photo: Ava's founders Skinner Cheng, Pieter Doevendans and Thibault Duchemin