January 17, 2023
By Charles C Onu
At Ubenwa, we are creating a future in which babies will be screened for medical issues using a simple recording of their cry. We are building a platform for sound-based medical diagnostics, starting with pediatric health. For the last 3 years, we have partnered with pediatricians across 3 continents to acquire large, diverse and unique clinical data, and to build novel AI algorithms. In 2022, this culminated in key milestones: closing our $3.2M CAD pre-seed round of funding, scaling up of our research and development capability, and planning the launch of our first product for parents. It was indeed a year of growth for us. We started the year with a headcount of 4 and ended it with 13 talented team members who are passionate about our mission to save newborn lives. In this post, I dive into our main learnings, challenges and highlights of 2022.
If you would like to stay tuned in to the Ubenwa journey, sign up for our quarterly updates. We are presently hiring product managers well-versed in consumer apps and who are interested in building the future of newborn care. Apply here or drop a spontaneous application.
We hit a major milestone this year as we closed our first venture capital round of financing. We raised CA$3.2M from two of the best AI-focussed VCs in Canada and the US: Radical Ventures and AIX Ventures. We also convinced several AI luminaries to bet on us and participate as angel investors, including Yoshua Bengio, a deep learning pioneer; Marc Bellemare, CIFAR AI Chair; and Hugo Larochelle, the head of Google Brain in Montreal. Read the full press release.
Raising capital was far from an easy journey. We pitched to over 30 VCs, had hundreds of conversations, learned so much in the process and met so many brilliant people. I'm happy we closed successfully as capital provides the fuel to pursue our ambitious goals. You can read our feature in BetaKit and TechCrunch.
High quality clinical data remains vital to our research and development. We have been building the largest database of clinically-annotated infant cry sounds. In 2022, we solidified ongoing partnerships with children's hospitals around the world - in Canada, Brazil and Nigeria - which is enabling us to improve our models for detecting neurological injury from cry. We are now in advanced stages of talks with new clinical partners, who are world-leading medical institutions in the US and Canada, to validate Ubenwa's technology on a wider range of medical conditions. I'm really excited and looking forward to announcing these new partnerships when the time is right. So stay tuned! In the meantime, you can learn more about our clinical work and current partners here.
Our research team unlocked new insights about the relationship between acoustic biomarkers in the infants' cry and their physical needs such as hunger, pain and fear. This work, completed in collaboration with our partner, Montreal Children's Hospital, was presented at one of the top venues for pediatricians in North America – Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) conference. Check out our research page for this and other scientific publications.
Ubenwa aims to improve the lives of newborns wherever they are. Since babies tend to work from home in the first few years of their lives, this year we set out to launch consumer solutions that enable parents to use our technology to improve care for their infants. We began the design, user research and development process which culminated in our first alpha launch in 2022. We received signups from over 23 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. This helped us validate that parents all over the world have a common need to truly understand their infants. If you are a parent or soon to be and would like to receive a notice when the next iteration of the app is available for testing, you're welcome to sign up on this short form.
Building a successful product involves talking to a lot of the target users to understand their pain points. I and two of our interns traveled to Toronto in October to participate in MomFest as a vendor. We had a fun time engaging with new and experienced moms and dads (pleasant surprise to see lots of dads). We left MomFest with so many learnings about the parent journey and with connections to several parents who are excited about participating in the development and testing of the Ubenwa consumer app.
Every year, the Elevate Festival attracts over 30,000 guests. Speakers include individuals who are transforming the world at the intersection of arts and technology. I had the honor of presenting Ubenwa on the Elevate stage alongside pacesetters like Vinod Khosla (founder of Khosla Ventures) and Venus Williams (tennis champion and entrepreneur). In the fireside chat I had with the founder of Babbly, Maryam Nabavi, we covered salient topics including the Ubenwa founding story, why voice AI will facilitate rapid medical screening and the future of infant care. You can watch the full talk here.
AIX Ventures wrote the first check in our pre-seed raise. The entire process of pitching, due diligence and investment happened remotely due to the pandemic. In August, I got a chance to visit them in the Bay Area where I gave a short presentation to the AIX team, their LPs as well as other community members. The AIX Ventures investment partners consist of a stellar cast of AI forerunners - Pieter Abbeel, Anthony Goldbloom, Christopher Manning, Suchi Saria and Richard Socher. It was an honor to present Ubenwa to them in person.Watch the talk here.
This highlight is very dear to my heart. This year we sponsored a training for pediatricians in Nigeria, at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, on how to conduct the Bayley Assessment. The Bayley is a standardized exam for assessing neurodevelopmental delays in children. Bayley scores are important data we need for our clinical studies, but many centers in low- and middle-income countries are not equipped to conduct the exam. By upskilling the health professionals, they can effectively collaborate on our clinical studies, but also deliver better care to their patients. Growing up in Nigeria, I experienced first-hand the positive impact of having access to medical specialists as well as the tragedy of not having this. So it's really a gift to be able to contribute in this way.
Our most valuable asset is our people. This year, the Ubenwa team grew to a total of 13 persons including 4 PhDs. I feel very fortunate to be able to continue attracting such talented individuals to embark on this mission with us. We're building a company where everyone is able to realize their best self, work on cutting edge technology and achieve long-term financial success through our employee equity incentive plan. It has been so fun building and brainstorming together and I'm looking forward to yet another year of breaking new grounds!
We are actively hiring for a number of roles in both our Product and R & D teams in Lagos and Montreal. Check these out and apply if you'd love to join us on this special journey to save newborn lives.
On behalf of the entire Ubenwa team, I want to, as always, thank our community for the steadfast support and also wish you all a wonderful 2023.