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Interview of Thibault Duchemin, CEO and co-founder at Ava

International ear care day is held on March 3 each year. According to the World Health Organization, over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss.

Ava is an app that aims at empowering deaf people by enabling them to follow group conversations with several persons speaking at once, which can be really challenging even if you know how to read lips. Partech Ventures invested in Ava via its Seed fund in 2015.

We asked four questions to Thibault Duchemin, CEO and co-founder of Ava.

  1. Ava shows users who says what around them in real-time. Can you explain the technology hidden behind the magic?

We make the experience magical through technology & design, and both are completely interrelated.

Technologically, Ava is based on very recent breakthroughs in speech recognition technologies (to know “WHAT” is said) and speaker identification algorithms (to know “WHO” said it). We're developing the core parts that have never been done before (as we have a very specific use case) and usually take what already exists as open source.

Design-wise, the main constraint is that everyone has to use a device of some sort to capture their speech. We balance this by having a really, really simplified experience after that: connection, time to make it work, all of it takes one tap.

Participants in a conversation powered by Ava open or download the app (on iOS & Android). They connect with each other using detection technologies or do so manually (if they have each other’s contacts for example), turn on their microphone and that's it. They can just keep having their conversation while the deaf/hard-of-hearing person follows what's being said. If nonverbal, Ava can voice what they type for them.

  1. Was your personal experience a determining factor in your motivation to create the app?
You can say that! My family is deaf; I'm the only one without hearing problems. I could not always be there to interpret, especially when I left for the United States, and the state of accessibility being what it is, there were so many things that would have needed to be fixed. I knew I wanted to do something related to this, and the two real questions to approach a sea of problems to fix (yes, an entrepreneur's dreamland) were 1/ how intensely is this solution needed? 2/ can one solution remove or solve all the other problems?

We iterated from several ideas by talking for hours to hundreds of users, under Steve Blank's mentorship. And Ava was the answer to both these questions.

  1. What are the next steps needed to take your company to the next level?

While Ava is just an app right now, it's designed to be much more than that, really. It stands for audio visual accessibility, and we really see it being the fundamental layer of total accessibility for the deaf & hard-of-hearing. See our manifesto. We started from the future, asking ourselves what a fully accessible life should look like. The population will keep aging, and when you're more than 75 years old, you're already more likely to be hard-of-hearing than not. So the question was not if it was the right direction to go but when we should start acting on it and what would be the steps to take. We're on track right now, focused on the first step which is powering every group conversation between deaf/hard of hearing people with people from their common circles. If people use Ava once and it answers their communication needs, and it's often the only one, why wouldn't they use it for every single following interaction with the same people? The next leap is becoming a 24/7 companion of accessibility and that's also why we're not called “DeafCom” or something else.

 
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