About one in 13 Americans experience voice problems each year. For singers—whether they pursue it as a profession or a passion—experiencing hoarseness or losing their voice is practically an existential issue. Yet despite the prevalence of voice problems, there has been relatively little focus from the medical or scientific community.
Launched in March of 2022, Raleigh-based SonoVoice is a vocal evaluation and training platform that will address this problem by improving the voices of these “vocal athletes.”
The startup is “a platform for taking a snapshot of the current health of your voice, and then proactively training it to meet your voice goals,” said Sandeep Bhatt, the startup’s CEO and Founder.
SonoVoice’s initial target market is the many singers who place enormous demands on their voices by practicing and performing multiple hours each week. In the future, the startup plans to expand its audience to include teachers, call center operators, fitness instructors, and other groups that depend on their voices for their careers.
Bhatt said the past several decades of voice science research have proven that singers’ voices can be trained like an athlete trains their body by using exercises backed in science. This can improve the efficiency of singers’ voice production and reduce the likelihood of injury.
A singer himself, Bhatt studied Indian classical and gospel music. His passion for singing led him to try to improve voice care for the 15 million American singers—mostly untrained amateurs—who need voice injury prevention, he said.
SonoVoice is participating in this summer’s cohort of NC State’s Andrews Launch Accelerator; Bhatt earned a Masters in industrial design from NC State’s College of Engineering. [We previously profiled other cohort members TutorSmith, LetsGoRaleigh, and Nature’s Throne.] During this program, Bhatt and his team are working on adding new engineering team members and obtaining more protections on SonoVoice’s intellectual property (IP).
The startup is developing a portable device that is designed to be used with a smartphone app.
The device can provide exercises that are often used in voice rehabilitation. Completing these voice exercises can reduce the likelihood of injury to your vocal folds (also known as vocal cords). The device can use an algorithm that allows people to see the state of their vocal health.
“What we’re trying to do is bring more insight into the function of the voice,” Bhatt said, “and to help distinguish between healthy and disordered voices.”
Aaron Johnson, the startup’s Voice Science Advisor, said his team’s goal is to make voice training more accessible and affordable.
“A lot of the techniques that are used in voice therapy and in voice training are similar” to the device’s functions, he said.
The SonoVoice device can measure how high or low you sing and the amount of air pressure used during the vocal exercises.
“It can help facilitate increased range,” Johnson said, which is really important for most singers.
The portable device incorporates semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises. SOVT exercises teach vocalists to partially close their mouth while singing or speaking. That leads to more economic voice production, which can minimize vocal injury, Bhatt said.
Leda Scearce, SonoVoice’s Content and Engagement Advisor, was a professional opera singer and voice teacher before becoming a speech language pathologist. Scearce is the Director of Professional Voice Services at Duke’s Voice Care Center within Duke’s School of Medicine. Scearce and Johnson are shareholders in SonoVoice and both have served as presidents of the Pan American Vocology Association.
Said Scearce, “The device itself is based on the principle of semi-occluded vocal tract exercises or SOVT exercises, in which a little bit of resistance is created. This resistance has a number of proven benefits.”
The SonoVoice app will then provide feedback to users about their ability so they know how to train and improve their voice.
The app and device will be sold together on a subscription model. Bhatt and Scearce participated in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps program at NC State, which helped them conduct customer discovery and market research.
Bhatt compared the device and app he is helping to develop to Fitbit, except for your voice rather than your body.
The startup has worked closely with experts from Duke and N.C. State to research and test this technology.
SonoVoice plans to pilot an early prototype of the digital device and app this summer to get feedback from users, with a goal of having the products available to consumers within 18 to 24 months. SonoVoice is currently working on patenting the device’s technology.
The company has been bootstrapped by the team so far, but they plan to close a friends and family funding round by the end of the summer. The team also hopes to execute another funding round with angel investors by the end of 2023.