UNC Student-Led Startup LiRA, a developer of lip-reading technology for voiceless individuals, has won the $25,000 first-place prize in the Covintus Tech Tank pitch competition. Two BME PhD candidates Alison Schaefer and Dina Yamaleyeva are LIRA’s Chief Technology and Chief Design Officers respectively. “We started with the smallest possible version of the lip-reading problem, and incremental improvements have helped us win opportunities like Covintus,” said Alison, a 4th year PhD student in the Joint BME Department.
LiRA started in E(I) Lab – an entrepreneurship education program in the UNC School of Pharmacy – and originated from the experience that founder and CEO Andrew Prince, MD, had as a UNC Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery resident working with voiceless patients. LiRA’s leadership also includes Chief Operating Officer Nga Nguyen, a UNC medical and public health student. By developing easy-to-use lip-reading communication, the company is working to alleviate the handicaps in individuals who have lost their ability to speak or are impacted by voice disorders.
The Covintus Tech Tank pitch competition on August 17 was the culmination of the 10-week Covintus Tech Tank, a technology-focused accelerator. To complete the accelerator, each competing startup received $10,000; together with the additional $10,000 and $25,000 pitch competition prize money, Covintus handed out a total of $85,000 to the 2021 Tech Tank cohort. “Tech Tank has been an incredible learning experience, affording us a deep dive into software development,” Prince said. “This experience has already improved our collaborations with various consultants, and it’s certainly set us up to move forward more confidently as a startup.”
LIRA is currently looking for volunteers to further develop their lip-reading tool. All you have to do is sign up here, and record a “selfie” style video of yourself reading provided sentences, which you will then electronically upload. It only takes 3-5 minutes, and Prince and his team hope to have 15,000 people take part in this research study. To read the full feature, visit the UNC School of Medicine website here.