Being able to follow group conversations despite being deaf or hard of hearing – it sounds like science fiction. However, thanks to an app developed by student start-up Ava, this dream is a lot closer to being realised. The app, invented by an international company including, among other people, by EUR student Jari Hazelebach, was awarded the top prize at the annual final of the Philips Innovation Award Ceremony.

The app writes out conversations which are taking place in deaf persons’ presence, with about a one-second delay. This allows deaf people to read on their phones what is being said. Since the telephones of all people taking part in the conversation ‘listen in’ by means of their microphones, deaf people can also see who is saying what. According to Hazelebach, the application even works relatively well in noisy surroundings.

Deaf parents

Jari Hazelebach Philips Innovation Award portrait
Jari Hazelebach

Ava’s team consists of people from several countries, and many members have experienced deafness in their own families and circles of friends. RSM student Hazelebach, 21, was allowed to deliver Ava’s pitch in the final of the competition. During this pitch, he told the crowd about his personal ties with the product: both his parents are deaf. “My father is a technical engineer with TNO, but he has always been unable to follow work meetings. Thanks to Ava, he will soon be able to do so.”

The English-language version of the app already works; the Dutch version is still experiencing a few teething troubles. However, that looks set to change over the next few months, says Hazelebach. “My parents are extremely proud. They just love it.”

At the moment, the Ava app is still in beta mode (testers are welcome!), but once the app is released to the general public, a plan will probably cost €29 per month. Ava hopes insurers will be willing to pay this sum for its deaf and hearing-impaired clients. “America’s health insurance system is rather different from ours, so that’s not going to work. But in Europe, and particularly in the Netherlands, we think our app may stand a chance.”

Money and services

The Philips Innovation Award is the Netherlands’ most prestigious student entrepreneurship award. The winner receives a prize worth €50,000, which partly consists of cash and partly of services such as consultancy, legal advice and patents services. A total of 331 start-ups took part in this year’s competition.

Ava will use the money to further develop the app. “Over the next few months we will launch the app in the United States, and between October and January we hope to do so in the Netherlands,” says Hazelebach. “We were able to move up our entry into the Dutch market, since some of the services we have won are geographically tied to the Netherlands.” Hazelebach himself will go to California in July so as to gain valuable experience for the Dutch launch of the app.

philips innovation award 2016 ava