Article

Wispr AI: NEA’s Investment in the Next Generation of Human Computer Interface

by Greg Papadopoulos, PhD, Andrew Schoen and Hunter WorlandDec 17, 2021

Tanay Kothari and Sahaj Garg

This September, we met Tanay Kothari and Sahaj Garg—two college-roommates-turned-co-founders—for the first time. They were about to embark on a journey to build a revolutionary neurotechnology company. Heading into the Zoom meeting, our expectations were high. For one, Matt Kraning, the highly-respected founder and CTO of our former portfolio company Expanse (acquired by Palo Alto Networks), made the initial introduction with high praise. Additionally, world-renowned academics including David Eagleman (the repeat founder/CEO/Stanford neuroscientist), Sergey Stavisky (the co-director of the cutting edge UC Davis Neuroprosthetics Lab), Andrew Ng (the world-renowned computer scientist and AI expert), and Pranav Rajpurkar (who leads a research lab at Harvard that develops AI technologies for medical applications) had either joined the team as advisors or provided strong references on the founders.

These external references validated the prior accomplishments of Tanay and Sahaj and reinforced our excitement. Tanay previously published research at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and earned a medal at the International Olympiad in Informatics before building his first company, FeatherX, which he sold to Cerebra Technologies in 2020. Sahaj, after graduating top of his Stanford engineering class as a Henry Ford II Scholar, also previously published research at the same lab and then built out the AI team at Luminous Computing from the ground up.

Even more impressive than these accolades was the vision behind their company, Wispr. With its core product, Wispr aims to expand the boundaries of human productivity by reimagining human-computer interaction. This team of operators, engineers, neuroscientists, hardware experts, product designers and ML/AI experts is bringing together recent technological advancements across a variety of disparate fields to construct a neural interface device accessible to the masses. The end result will be a frictionless line of communication between mind and computer without the need to click, scroll, type, or speak.

This technology builds upon the might of the human brain—our own personal supercomputer comprising some 86 billion neurons. However, in comparison to silicon-based computers, we humans live with a fundamental limitation: the speed at which humans take in information is relatively high, but the human output level is incredibly slow (e.g., using two thumbs to type on a phone, two hands to type on a keyboard, or even occasionally using voice to speak to a virtual assistant). While our brains can process constant streams of information/inputs across our five senses, no tool (be it the pen, keyboard, or voice assistant) has properly allowed for the frictionless output of thought to record. Today’s most prolific mode of output to record, typing, requires nearly undivided attention and typically yields only ~45 words per minute on a full-size keyboard (less than a third of the rate articulated in speech) and 35 words per minute on a mobile phone. It is painfully awkward to use Siri, Alexa, or Google’s voice assistant in busy public settings. Additionally, small inaccuracies in interpretation lead to headaches from setting the wrong alarm to sending messages with unintended meaning, or worse, to unintended recipients.

While still early in the development of their device, we believe Wispr AI’s product will make a significant impact for users across a wide variety of settings—from everyday interactions to accelerating productivity at work to unlocking communication for populations of patients who otherwise struggle to interact. It’s easy to imagine the value Wispr AI’s product will deliver to some early adopters—professionals who work in noisy settings like factories or warehouses, military service members, those with hearing or speaking disabilities, the list goes on. But ultimately, it will be the activities, challenges, and tasks of the everyday consumer—you and me—that will determine the expanse of its application.

We’re thrilled to partner with Tanay, Sahaj and the whole Wispr AI team on their journey to change and accelerate human productivity as we know it.

About the authors

Greg Papadopoulos, PhD

Greg joined NEA as Venture Partner in 2010 after more than 20 years in technology and academia. He focuses on early-stage systems, software, and deep/hard-tech companies. Prior to NEA, Greg was EVP and CTO of Sun Microsystems. Before Sun, Greg was an Associate Professor of EECS at MIT. Early in his career, he was an engineer at both HP and Honeywell. He co-founded companies in video conferencing, AI accelerators, portable PCs, and CFD. Greg earned a BA from UC San Diego and an SM and PhD from MIT.
Greg joined NEA as Venture Partner in 2010 after more than 20 years in technology and academia. He focuses on early-stage systems, software, and deep/hard-tech companies. Prior to NEA, Greg was EVP and CTO of Sun Microsystems. Before Sun, Greg was an Associate Professor of EECS at MIT. Early in his career, he was an engineer at both HP and Honeywell. He co-founded companies in video conferencing, AI accelerators, portable PCs, and CFD. Greg earned a BA from UC San Diego and an SM and PhD from MIT.

Andrew Schoen

Andrew joined NEA in 2014 and invests in founders innovating in AI/ML, fintech, frontier tech, infrastructure software, technically differentiated SaaS and security. Prior to NEA, he was a member of Blackstone’s M&A Group. Prior to Blackstone, he founded Flicstart. Andrew serves on the Cornell University Council, the Advisory Council for Entrepreneurship at Cornell, and is President Emeritus of the Cornell Venture Capital Club. He earned his master’s degree as a Schwarzman Scholar and his bachelor’s degree in economics and science of earth systems in engineering at Cornell.
Andrew joined NEA in 2014 and invests in founders innovating in AI/ML, fintech, frontier tech, infrastructure software, technically differentiated SaaS and security. Prior to NEA, he was a member of Blackstone’s M&A Group. Prior to Blackstone, he founded Flicstart. Andrew serves on the Cornell University Council, the Advisory Council for Entrepreneurship at Cornell, and is President Emeritus of the Cornell Venture Capital Club. He earned his master’s degree as a Schwarzman Scholar and his bachelor’s degree in economics and science of earth systems in engineering at Cornell.

Hunter Worland

Hunter is focused on consumer and enterprise technology investing—working closely with companies like Kindred, Fabric8Labs, Rocket.Chat, Juvo, Stash, and LXA. Prior to joining NEA in 2021, Hunter was an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company in New York, where he worked with media, financial services, and medical technology clients. Hunter graduated from Harvard University with a degree in history and government, as well as a certificate in Latin American studies and a Hoopes Prize.
Hunter is focused on consumer and enterprise technology investing—working closely with companies like Kindred, Fabric8Labs, Rocket.Chat, Juvo, Stash, and LXA. Prior to joining NEA in 2021, Hunter was an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company in New York, where he worked with media, financial services, and medical technology clients. Hunter graduated from Harvard University with a degree in history and government, as well as a certificate in Latin American studies and a Hoopes Prize.