Guided by voices: Irish start-up Whispr gets Bose as a backer

Venture capital arm of audio equipment company and Seedcamp invest in start-up

Whispr co-founders Keith Saft and Hugh O’Flanagan. The start-up has raised $750,000 in a pre-seed funding round

Whispr co-founders Keith Saft and Hugh O’Flanagan. The start-up has raised $750,000 in a pre-seed funding round

 

Irish voice technology start-up Whispr has raised $750,000 (€666,495) in a pre-seed funding round led by Seedcamp and including participation from audio equipment giant Bose.

Established by Hugh O’Flanagan and Keith Saft just nine months ago, Whispr has developed a real-time interactive voice technology platform that “whispers” guidelines and instructions to frontline employees working across multiple industries.

Built on natural processing language and artificial intelligence, the technology promises a new way to help workers carry out tasks, no matter whether they are doing aircraft inspections, hotel room housekeeping or office cleaning.

Increase efficiencies

The mobile app, which replaces the need for paper checklists and is intended to increase efficiencies and improve productivity, allows users to ask questions, proffer suggestions or seek additional information as and when needed.

Mr O’Flanagan said Whispr is deliberately targeting the more than two billion front-line employees who have been ignored when it comes to technology advancements.

He said while such people make up 80 per cent of the world’s workforce and play critical roles in sectors such as transportation, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing, just 1 per cent of all venture capital (VC) investment goes towards these employees.

“People who work on their feet have seen no major technology improvements over the last 30 to 40 years. That is no longer acceptable,” said Mr O’Flanagan.

“All organisations employing front-line workers are run using standard operating procedures and checklists. We can take all that information and make it available as voice guidance which can easily be relayed to users when they most need it.”

Mr O’Flanagan said because of its technology, Whispr can also take on board user feedback and therefore be used to trial alternative ways of doing things based on what it has learned from how employees work.

Whispr intends to use the new funding to further improve its solution and to take on additional staff at its offices in Dublin and Copenhagen.

Seedcamp, which led the pre-seed financing round, is a well-known early-stage VC firm with close to 300 start-ups in its portfolio, including Revolut, WeFox and Transferwise. Among the Irish companies it has supported are Pointy and Profitero.

Opportunities

“When we invest at such an early stage, the key thing is the quality of the team and we believe Hugh and Keith have the right skillsets to go after the opportunities in this space,” said Sia Houchangnia, a partner at Seedcamp.

“We think the market that Whispr is going after is a particularly interesting one due to increased enterprise use of voice. There is also a huge untouched opportunity in making solutions that empower front-line workers,” he added.

The investment by Bose, which came via the company’s $50 million (€44 million) venture capital arm, marks the fund’s first investment outside the US.

“Whispr’s concept of combining voice and wearable audio technology meshes well with our strategic vision – not only as a VC investor, but through our corporate affiliation with Bose and the audio products and technologies we offer,” said Bose Ventures managing director, Steve Romine.

“This field, and Whispr’s solution offering, provide an excellent opportunity to explore how wearable, open-ear audio products might benefit from audio augmented reality technology as an effective tool for front-line workers. This is something Whispr will evaluate through our investment and ongoing support,” he added.

Other participants in the new financing round included Denmark’s PreSeed Ventures, which has backed more than 400 start-ups to date, including Trustpilot.