Whispp gives people with disabilities their voice back

April 16th 2024

Have you ever wondered where business founders discover the inspiration for their companies? For Joris Castermans, CEO of Whispp, all it took was a look at his own life.

Growing up with a moderate severe stutter, young Joris often felt socially isolated. He found it difficult to make friends and struggled with seemingly simple tasks such as making phone calls. So what did he do? He came up with a solution: Whispp.

What does Whispp do?

Whispp is an assistive voice technology app that uses artificial intelligence to convert whispered and affected speech into a clear, natural-sounding voice. It allows users to make phone calls through the app, while converting their whispers or affected voice into their natural-sounding voice, complete with the right intonation and emotion.

“It was originally meant for people who stutter severely,” explains Joris, “because they tend to speak fluently when they whisper.” Over time, Whispp has expanded its reach beyond this initial idea, and today, it caters to a much broader audience, including people with voice disabilities as well as those who may have lost their voice due to illness, trauma, or old age.

How dit Whispp get started?

“The starting point was this insight that I had from being a stutterer myself; I wanted to see how I can use the positive effects of whispering to my advantage,” Joris recalls. “I came into contact with an IT company that was interested in AI, so we wrote a joint grant proposal. At that moment, we also hired a really good AI Master student from the University of Amsterdam — and we got to work.”

After Whispp launched as a simple website, interest in it quickly grew beyond the stuttering community. “Quickly, many people with voice disorders reached out to me: people with throat cancer, vocal cord paralysis, spasmodic dysphonia — there are heaps of voice disorders where the vocal cords don’t function anymore, or they are removed,” Joris explains. Over the next few years, Whispp secured grants, obtained innovation loans, attracted investment funds, garnered global press coverage — and won even more grants. Today Whispp‘s team is made up of nine people, and the technology behind it, which started as a simple website, is now its own app.

What about the promising student from the UvA? His name is Akash Raj, and he’s now the company’s Chief Technology Officer!

What role did PLNT play in Whispp’s Startup Story?

“I have been at PLNT ever since I started my journey with Whispp — because I live in Leiden and I really wanted to come to the office with my bike,” Joris laughs. “I wanted to be part of the Leiden ecosystem and feel the connection between the place I live and the place I work — and now I definitely do.”

When asked if he gained anything from being at PLNT, Joris doesn’t hesitate: “Yes!”

“First of all, the positive vibe of being here, having lunch with my team — and really just the inspiring ecosystem of PLNT.” For example, “Our software engineer, Thom, was originally working at MIDI here, and he’s now one of our core team members, all thanks to PLNT.” Secondly, “when it comes to fundraising, we greatly profited from being at PLNT thanks to its partnership with Leiden University. The latter actually helped us cross that first, really difficult funding phase — and that has been really, really impactful.”

How does Whispp help people?

“I think that speaks for itself,” Joris smiles. And indeed it does — literally. By giving those who need it their voice back, Whispp breaks down communication barriers and empowers individuals with speech disabilities to communicate confidently.

“We just want to help those who have an affected voice or stutter severely to be themselves again, and to express themselves.” In doing so, Whispp not only have a meaningful real-work impact, but also inspires empathic innovation in assistive technology, and makes significant steps towards a more inclusive world.

What’s in store for Whispp’s future?

“Of course, being a startup is really cool, but having a global reach is difficult,” Joris smiles. “My biggest dream is to help the 300 million people who need it.” One day, Joris hopes that his technology can be a fixed part of our devices, and help those who lost their voice.

“I envision Whispp as an integrated feature on your laptop or your phone, where those who need it can just select the Whispp-microphone instead or the normal one.” In their quest for growth, the Whispp team is always on the move, expanding their network at industry events and looking to connect with industry experts.

Word on the street is that they recently crossed paths with the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, at CES in Las Vegas — and are now in touch with the Microsoft accessibility team! The future looks promising for Whispp as they continue to hustle and make waves in the industry — and we’re excited to see where their journey will take them.

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