Ubenwa, a pioneering developer of diagnostic software for the rapid detection of medical anomalies in infant cry sounds, announced a pre-seed financing led by AI-focused Radical Ventures and AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio. A spinout from Mila, Montreal’s AI research institute, Ubenwa is working with Montreal Children’s Hospital and paediatric hospital networks around the world, to build a platform for sound-based diagnostic tools, combining groundbreaking AI research and clinical insights.
For both clinicians and parents, an infant’s cry is difficult to diagnose. Babies cry for several reasons such as when they are hungry, exhausted or have colic. However, a baby’s cry can also be a signal that more urgent care is required. Delayed diagnosis may lead to severe, long-lasting effects or fatality. Ubenwa has developed accurate algorithms for cry activity tracking, acoustic biomarker detection and anomaly prediction, turning infant cries into clinically relevant insights and potential diagnoses. The company’s first pilot on detecting neurological injury due to birth asphyxia showed about 40% improvement over APGAR scoring, the most common physical exam at birth.
CEO and Co-founder of Ubenwa, Charles Onu, who has pioneered the use of audio signal processing and machine learning to better understand infant cry sounds said, “Ubenwa is building a diagnostic tool that understands when a baby’s cry is actually a cry for medical attention.” “Ultimately, our goal is to be a translator for baby cry sounds, providing a non-invasive way to monitor medical conditions everywhere you find a baby: delivery rooms, neonatal and paediatric intensive care units, nurseries, and in the home.”
Ubenwa’s technology is based on a foundation of scientific research developed in close collaboration with Mila, and six hospitals in three countries, including Montreal Children’s Hospital, Enugu State University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, Rivers State Teaching Hospital in Nigeria and Santa Casa de Misericordia in Brazil. The company has the largest and most diverse clinically annotated database of infant cry sounds, an essential asset for the development of audio-based biomarkers.
“Cry analysis has the potential to provide critical information for identifying babies with evolving brain problems,” said Dr Guilherme Sant’Anna, Neonatologist at Montreal Children’s Hospital and Professor at McGill University. “A non-invasive diagnostic tool of this nature would be a powerful clinical resource for paediatric medicine. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Ubenwa and realise this through well-controlled clinical studies.”
Ubenwa raised $2.5M USD in a pre-seed round that attracted top AI venture funds and researchers. Radical Ventures led the round, which included participation from returning investor AIX Ventures, a fund co-founded by AI researchers and entrepreneurs Pieter Abbeel and Richard Socher. Turing award winner Yoshua Bengio also invested in Ubenwa alongside Google Brain’s Hugo Larochelle and Marc Bellemare. “Supported by a strong clinical foundation, Ubenwa has developed a proprietary innovation for an underserved and important market,” said Sanjana Basu, an Investor with Radical Ventures who joins the Ubenwa board. “Deciphering a baby’s cry using machine learning can open up a range of possibilities in the consumer and clinical paediatrics market where demand for better digital products is only growing.”