February 7, 2018

Meet Soundskrit’s Co-Founders Who Make Microphones Smarter

Interview by Thomas Ragosta

Soundskrit creates microphones that can clearly hear and separate sound from multiple sources and directions. In December 2017, the team got incubated by TandemLaunch; a few weeks later, TechCrunch noticed them at CES 2018! We chatted with Sahil Gupta, Stephane Leahy and Iman Moazzen who met and assembled their startup through our Entrepreneur in Residence Program.

 

Tell us about your academic background and what you were doing before you joined TandemLaunch!

Stephane Leahy: I was doing my PhD in Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensor design at Queen’s University. I enjoyed my work but there was limited market potential for my own research.  Aspiring to be an entrepreneur, I had many other interesting tech ideas but, without proper guidance, I didn’t know where to begin. I then found TandemLaunch and I realized that it would be the best place to search for a good idea.

Sahil Gupta: I was completing my master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University. I was working with the MEMS lab to develop a sensor that could use the energy from its motion to transmit a signal. I always aspired to be an entrepreneur but decided that I would go into the industry and gain more experience first. However, towards the end of my master’s degree, people around me started becoming interested in my work, and eventually the university technology transfer officer (TTO) came to me asking if I had ever considered launching a start-up. I embraced the opportunity and decided to give entrepreneurship a try. I joined two accelerators before TandemLaunch but did not see a good opportunity for what I was working on. It felt like a solution looking for a problem. TandemLaunch was decisive in providing me with guidance and knowledge to find a new project which would become Soundskrit.

Iman Moazzen: Right before joining, I was an applied researcher for a wearable technology company. My job was to  combine signal processing and machine learning algorithms to  extract meaningful information from data sensors. Before that I was working at the University of Victoria as a postdoc fellow  and acting as an engineering design lab supervisor. A few years earlier, I had received my PhD at the University of Victoria in electrical engineering , specifically looking at directional microphones, which is very relevant to the work we’re doing at Soundskrit. During and after my PhD I was also working on two software-oriented start-ups. I always had a passion for entrepreneurship which is why I decided to join TandemLaunch.

Soundskrit’s co-founders: Iman Moazzen, Stephane Leahy and Sahil Gupta

 

What is Soundskrit?

SG: Soundskrit develops directional microphones to improve speech recognition and audio capture in noisy environments. With the impressive camera quality on smartphones and emerging voice interfaces seen in smart home devices,  people now want to take video recordings and capture sound, even at a distance. But if I’m picking up audio that’s a few meters away, I also capture everything else around me that’s also a few meters away. A lot of times, that drowns out what I really want to pick up. We are enabling the ability to capture clean and robust audio at a distance by making microphones directional thanks to our core innovative hardware technology.

 

What are some of the potential applications?

SG: The initial research done by Professor Miles at Binghamton University was originally  funded for hearing aids because many people who use directional hearing aids complain that they don’t provide much benefit in noisy environments. You could also imagine applications with a smartphone where your audio zooms in with your camera, picking up the audio of only what your targeting.

Another exciting application for Soundskrit is speech recognition. If this interview was recorded, our technology would allow us to pinpoint each of our voices and transcribe the speech rather than having you go back and re-listen to this conversation for the next two hours; it would make your life a lot easier! I really believe this can be revolutionary in the future of speech recognition.

Soundskrit demos how their technology can separate and transcribe speech for two people speaking side by side.

 

How do you envision the future of Soundskrit?

SL: We want to make Soundskrit microphones small enough to fit in any consumer product and make them a standard. In the near future, we will show major tech companies that our technology is better than any existing directional microphone on the market. Once our technology development is completed and we’ve proved our technology, we want to scale up our production to create hundreds of thousands of directional microphones.

 

What convinced you want to travel all the way to Montreal to start a tech company?

SG: The success rate and the mentorship were the two main factors: I found it impressive that almost every company built at TandemLaunch raises Series A after a year and a half. That meant I had good chances of getting there and beyond.

I also liked the fact that TandemLaunch has skin in the game, given that they get equity: the only way for them to be successful is to make their companies successful. Since executives are personally invested in the company, their door is always open.

IM: In addition to the success rate and the TandemLaunch’s core team, the idea behind Soundskrit intrigued me because it had a lot to do with my education . The industry connections were also crucial: we routinely get introduced to big players in the consumer technology industry. We’re able to speak to them and find out what they’re looking for and willing to pay for.

The early Soundskrit microphone prototype

 

What do you enjoy the most about the work you’re doing?

IM: The team atmosphere is great. Entrepreneurship is wonderful as it provides me with a new challenge every day. There is no way to get bored!

SG: For me, it’s the environment. When I was with other tech incubators, I was working on my own for most of the project, which can become frustrating and taxing. Here, we share a common space where everyone is very motivated and willing to talk about their venture and advancements. Just hearing others get excited about their start-ups motivates me to push harder and keep going.

The mentorship is also very helpful. A lot of different people will give you advice but many of them don’t have an amazing track record themselves. I really respect the mentorship that we get here because it comes from people with real, successful experiences.

SL: This is the one place where I’m always excited to get up in the morning whether it’s Monday or Friday. It would be hard to write a job description for each of us because we always working on something new.

I also appreciate the resources we have access to. For example, whenever I feel lost or stuck on a business or technical problem, I can always get connected to an expert professor or industry specialist who can get me back on track. They’re always excited to help because they find our product interesting and want to lend a hand. If you have a flame burning inside you, this is the place to get some wood, to turn that flame into a fire!

 

Thank you for your time!