Trending: 5 things no one tells you about starting a startup

The Aspinity team, from left to right: Brandon Rumberg, Thomas Doyle, Steven Andryzcik, and Don Boucher. Photo via Aspinity.

Voice-activated products require constant power as they “listen” for wake words. Now one startup is helping manufacturers reduce the power needed in these devices with an innovative chip.

Founded in 2015, Aspinity is a company based in Morgantown, West Virginia that has developed “selective wakeup technology” that uses analog signal processing to conserve power required in applications like voice control. It also can be applied to IoT devices or biosensing devices for medical applications.

The six-person company was co-founded by West Virginia University Professor Vinod Kulathumani; WVU Research Assistant Brandon Rumberg; David Graham; and CEO Thomas Doyle.

Aspinity is part of the inaugural Alexa Accelerator, a new program that Amazon is running in partnership with Techstars in Seattle to support startups developing technologies related to its voice platform.

We caught up with Doyle for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Aspinity CEO Thomas Doyle.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We prevent Amazon Echo and Alexa-enabled devices from wasting power on listening for ‘Alexa’ when no one is talking.”

Inspiration hit us when: “During university research and development, we were trying to monitor audio with early IoT devices and realized we could be more efficient by extracting intelligence from the signal at very low power levels. When rolled up to the product level, we saw that this offered significant power savings for battery-operated devices.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Funding for about eight years has been through university and government-based grants. Since coming out of university two years ago, we have secured a small amount of angel funding and also sold product to the DoD (and received funding). Chip business is usually tough for VC funding, so best to go with grants and government until traction with a strong customer — e.g. Amazon.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “New breakthrough chip that changes the paradigm from digital processing — where ARM, Intel, and others operate — to analog processing. This new chip controls these digital chips based on the application at hand, and turns them off or into low power modes based on the specific event to be detected (e.g. voice, breaking glass, set tones, etc.).”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Joining the Amazon Alexa Accelerator powered by Techstars. This really helped to move our technology/company forward as we have been exposed to a large number of mentors and industry leaders who help us with our company strategy, plus exposure to product developers at key companies such as Amazon.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Wasting time on traditional VCs. They seem to be focused more on short-term software plays, and not companies with a hardware model — even if the hardware model has unique and innovative aspects.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “We enable such a broad range of use-cases that they will all be in our corner, but Bezos first since Amazon is such a driving force behind voice as the next interface for the world’s devices.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Exploring the Seattle scene, both in the city and outside. Not being from Seattle, it is great to get a taste of the various neighborhoods, the islands to the north, and the hiking and exploring just outside of the city. Plus the good seafood and IPAs are great!”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Eagerness to get hands dirty with any aspect of the business. Being a small business with a handful of folks, everybody needs to jump in and do what is needed — and this can change multiple times in a day!”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “It is rough, especially raising VC, so plan for it to take a while. Don’t get discouraged, but listen to what they are telling you, and come back when you have it solved.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the nine companies in the Alexa Accelerator leading up to their Demo Day Oct. 17.

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