UNC Student-Led Startup LiRA Wins Top Prize in Covintus Tech Tank Pitch Competition


LiRA, a developer of lip-reading technology for the voiceless, won the top prize of $ 25,000 in the Covintus Tech Tank pitch competition, a technology-driven accelerator designed to prepare startup founders.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – LiRA, a tech company created by a group of students from UNC medical school, won first prize in the Covintus Tech Tank pitch competition, securing $ 25,000 for the startup. LiRA started in E (I) Lab – an entrepreneurship training program at the UNC School of Pharmacy – and grew out of the experience Founder and CEO Andrew Prince, MD, had as a resident of UNC in Otolaryngology / Head and Neck Surgery working with speechless patients.

Once people lose their ability to speak, methods like writing notes are slow and often frustrating. LiRA gives them voice back with a tracker that reads their lip movements. By developing easy-to-use lip-reading communication, the company strives to alleviate the disabilities of speechless people affected by voice disorders, laryngectomy, tracheostomy and more. By restoring communication between aphonic and speechless patients and their providers and caregivers, LiRA is helping to raise the standard of medical care.

“Execution is an ongoing task. We started with the smallest possible version of the lip-reading problem, and incremental improvements have helped us gain opportunities like Covintus, ”said Alison Schaefer, LiRA’s chief technology officer and 4th year doctoral student in the department. joint UNC / NCSU biomedical engineering. . “This will allow us to grow our team and improve our capabilities faster than ever. “

The Covintus Tech Tank pitch competition on August 17 was the culmination of 10 weeks of Covintus Tech Tank, a technology-driven accelerator designed to ‘save’ startup founders. To succeed with the accelerator, each competing startup received $ 10,000; Along with the additional $ 10,000 and $ 25,000 in pitch competition prizes, Covintus awarded a total of $ 85,000 to the 2021 Tech Tank cohort. Prize funding is matched credits applied to software development, UI / UX design and / or technical advisory support and consultation with Covintus.

“Tech Tank has been an amazing learning experience, giving us a deep dive into software development,” Prince said. “This experience has already improved our collaborations with various consultants and has certainly allowed us to move forward with more confidence as a startup. The matching credit we have received will allow us to continue our collaboration with Covintus in the areas of machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision.

Members of the 2021 Tech Tank cohort included DC-based All Bets, Denver-based House of Trade, Boston-based Local Food Stuff, Richmond-based Nessle, and Chapel Hill-based LiRA. Nessle, an online directory connecting new and expecting parents with perinatal resources, received the second prize of $ 10,000.

In the pitch competition, an independent jury assessed each cohort member’s five-minute pitch, asked the founders questions, and scored them accordingly. The judges included Chris Trebour, president of Covintus; John Espey, CEO and co-founder of Defiance Ventures; and Blue Crump, entrepreneur and former director of the VCU da Vinci Innovation Center.

Through Covintus Tech Tank, Covintus has pledged $ 1 million for development and support enabling startups to achieve success and high growth potential. The cohort included virtual sessions led by experts advising cohort participants on how to master the optimization of digital product decision-making partners, development processes and methodologies, as well as intellectual property protection.

LiRA’s leadership also includes Design Director Dina Yamaleyeva, UNC Biomedical Engineering PhD Candidate, and UNC Chief Operating Officer Nga Nguyen, Medical and Public Health Student.

To participate in their research, you can volunteer to participate in a study that will help develop their lip-reading tool. All you have to do is sign up and record a selfie-style video of yourself reading the provided sentences, which you will then upload electronically. It only takes 3 to 5 minutes, and Prince and his team are hoping that 15,000 people will participate in this research study.


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