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TRT Speech Labs aids in quantifying speech development

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

Kenosha-based TRT Speech Labs has created technology that aids in speech therapy.

The creation, Hello Audrey, is a software program that measures and reports on the progress made in speech therapy by using algorithms that are highly sensitive to variations in human speech. Unlike voice recognition programs, this software focuses not only on the words that are said, but also on the way each sound in the word is pronounced.

The software company founders, Dr. Benjamin Taft and Joey Tenuta, describe the unique product as “MedTech adjacent.” When released, the business to business, software as a service product will be sold as an annual license to its institutional users.

Taft, who earned his PhD in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, has been working on the technology behind the software for over a decade. His interest in human speech patterns was sparked by his dissertation work studying the song of tree swallows. He discovered that the algorithms he created to analyze birdsong also worked to analyze human speech, with some modifications. “I had to write new feature detectors and adapt existing feature detectors to pay attention to the human specific acoustic features,” he explained.

“What this adds to the speech therapist’s expertise is quantification. Speech therapists go through years of training and have unparalleled expertise. But humans aren’t great at putting numbers on things like that. What our software can do is consistently put the same numbers on things,” Taft said.

“Our goal is that Hello Audrey would give each speech therapist or speech language pathologist one hour of their day back. If we can take that one hour a day and transfer it to direct intervention time, then we really shoot productivity off the charts and we provide a lot of value,” said Tenuta.

Tenuta explains, not only will it save time, but Hello Audrey will also track independent language work done in between professionally led speech therapy appointments. “They can get that child talking to Audrey, and over time they can see trends, patterns and outcomes. They can see how well they’re (the client) doing, and the care gets better because they’re not having to re-evaluate where to start for each session. They know exactly where to start,” said Tenuta.

The company founders were introduced by their silent partner in 2019. Tenuta, an entrepreneurial MBA who teaches businesses courses at Carthage College, was intrigued by the potential in Taft’s technical work. Months later, the trio launched TRT Speech Labs.

After years of work, the bootstrapped company has completed its minimum viable product and anticipates beginning beta testing in a clinical setting during the second quarter.

TRT Speech Labs recently completed the Kenosha gBeta program. The company is considering a number of options as they look to launch their product, including signing on to a business accelerator. “Having some reoccurring revenue would make us more attractive to accelerators and to equity investment, which will help the financial train catch up to the development train,” Tenuta said.

The growth-minded company has plans to tap into the talent pool in area schools.

“We’re looking to form partnerships where we have some interns. Even junior-level classmen working with us on some low-hanging fruit-type development projects, through senior design channels and ultimately have a group of senior design software engineers working on this (Hello Audrey) and then just transition into full-time employees,” Tenuta said.

TRT Speech Labs is committed to growing the company in the region.

“We’re really excited about being based in southeastern Wisconsin. Sometimes it causes double takes when I talk to people who don’t know us. I talk about the speech software startup and they’re waiting to hear that we’re based in San Jose or something. And then it’s like, ‘you’re between Milwaukee and Chicago? What?’ But it’s a great place. There’s lots of talent available. It’s a really affordable place to live. I think it’s a great place to have a software company and there’s a lot of infrastructure from the state, county and city organizations to try and help all kinds of businesses succeed,” said Taft.

To follow the development of this emerging company, connect with them here.

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