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Why global investors remain upbeat about this speech recognition start-up

Umesh Sachdev, co-founder, Uniphore, has been using human speech in vernacular languages in order to help people communicate with computers better
Former Cisco chairman John Chambers claims that when he bet heavily on China in 1995, few people believed in him. But he was proved to be right over the next two decades. Now a founder of JC2Ventures, Chambers is doubling down his focus on India, especially on the thriving start-up ecosystem, which he believes is going to be the job creator of tomorrow, zipping past large companies. 

Chambers’ first bet in India was Uniphore, an AI-technology company. He has invested in two Indian start-ups so far. Chennai-based Uniphore recently raised $51 million in a Series C round led by March Capital Partners, with participation from Chiratae Ventures (formerly IDG Ventures), Sistema Asia, CXO Fund, ITP, Iron Pillar, Patni Family, and other investors.

Its co-founder Umesh Sachdev, who built the company with Ravi Saraogi in 2008 to bridge the communication gap between man and machine using voice and speech, has just returned from a week-long fishing trip to Alaska with Chambers and other CEOs. Sachdev, who met Saraogi at the Jaypee Institute of Information Technology during their engineering days, wants to enable every Indian to access facilities such as healthcare and banking through phones. Many of them are still disconnected from the internet since English is the primary language.

Like keyboards earlier and touchscreen later, Sachdev who is currently based out of San Francisco, feels ‘speech’ is the next interface. His vision from the beginning has been devising means to use human speech in vernacular languages in order to make people communicate with computers better.

For the rookie entrepreneur duo, Sachdev and Saraogi, this was their second venture together, after they failed to scale up their first company, Singularis Technologies, in their final engineering days. With Uniphore, which was incubated at IIT Madras in 2008, both believe that they have picked up an idea which would not only impact millions, but could also be commercialised. 

According to Sachdev, every single day businesses across the globe record and store 52 million hours of consumer-to-business conversations. Out of every 100 recordings, only 0.7 are picked up by a human being to listen to for quality assurance. 

The company, which focuses on the area of speech recognition and speech biometrics, is creating products for enterprises that leverage speech. Uniphore’s big data and analytics product called Aumina can take a large amount of speech data and convert it to text and do sentiment analysis. It further applies data analytics to support sales.

The second product called Akeira -- a virtual assistant -- is the enterprise cousin of Siri. For businesses, it holds location- and language-agnostic conversations with customers. Amvoice, its third product, prevents fraud and identity theft using voice biometrics, an alternative for user identification.

The company had seen 300 per cent YoY growth in 2018 and had an exciting Series B round with participation from various existing and new investors, including IDG Ventures, IIFL and JC2 Ventures.

“One of the privileges of working with a funded company is you can build a team with really strong individuals. That’s my opportunity to become better at my game too,” says Sachdev. 

For Sachdev, nurturing his company is the same as nurturing his five-year old daughter. It has made him more grounded and given him a wider perspective of life. 

He was globally recognised in 2016 as one of the ten ‘Next Generation Leaders’ by Time Magazine for his innovative work. The MIT Tech Review also recognised him as one of the ‘Innovators Under 35’. Sachdev has been conferred with the title of ‘Innovative Entrepreneur’ by the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Technopreneur Promotion Programme.

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