The Talent Unleashed Awards have uncovered a wide variety of innovative companies over the years, with more than a few working to save or make lives better from the medical or health technology sector.
The latest to join this group of alumni is Australian startup Life Whisperer, which is working to better the often costly and lengthy process of IVF.
“Life Whisperer is software that uses artificial intelligence to select healthy embryos for IVF, and to ultimately improve outcomes for couples wanting to have children. IVF success rates are very low, and selection of a healthy embryo is critical to a successful IVF outcome,” cofounder Dr Michelle Perugini explained.
“The process is currently manual and subjective. Life Whisperer uses computer vision and deep learning to better determine the best embryo to implant for the highest likelihood of success.”
Joining Dr Michelle on the founding team are Dr Jonathan Hall and Dr Don Perugini.
The three cofounders each have impressive credentials: along with a PhD in medicine, Dr Michelle has over a decade of experience as a stem cell biologist, while Dr Don has a PhD in artificial intelligence and spent 10 years as a research scientist with the Department of Defense. The pair previously founded AI analytics company ISD Analytics, which was acquired by Ernst & Young in 2015.
Meanwhile, Dr Hall has a double PhD in physics and nanotechnology, with this expertise leading him to invent the technology that underpins the Life Whisperer offering.
The team is rounded out by Andrew Murphy, who previously worked with the Drs Perugini in the ISD Analytics, as software development lead.
The business also has a strategic partnership with the ASX-listed Monash IVF Group, which has already provided Life Whisperer critical data and IVF expertise, and will provide a “ready customer base” within Australia when the startup launches its first commercial product, Dr Michelle explained.
The idea came to Dr Hall while at the University of Adelaide. Here he entered a commercialisation program called the eChallenge, where Dr Michelle was assigned to be his mentor and “immediately connected with the concept”.
“Firstly, it fit well with my medical background and Don’s artificial intelligence and computer science background. Secondly, I found a personal connection to this idea. I had difficulty conceiving my first child and was weeks away from starting IVF, and I have many friends that have gone through IVF and had failed,” she explained.
“Don and I had just left EY following the acquisition of our first business, and saw this as an opportunity to commercialise deep technology in health and AI. Our team’s vision is to make IVF more successful and accessible for infertile couples.”
The business has come a long way in a short period of time: incorporated in December 2016 and officially launched as a business last February, it has since secured a commercial partner in Monash IVF and completed its initial validation in October through a retrospective study that showed a high level of accuracy in identifying viable embryos, Dr Michelle said.
“We are now conducting a clinical trial to directly quantify how much better our algorithms do when compared with world-leading embryologists, and we will be launching our product globally in the first half of next year.”
The Life Whisperer tool integrates into the existing process, during which clinicians take images of a patient’s embryos for their clinical records.
As Dr Michelle explained it, they then drop these images into the Life Whisperer software, where the AI tool then assess each image and, within seconds, delivers a report on the viability of each embryo.
“Effectively, what the software does is identifies morphological features that constitute a healthy embryo, including features that cannot be seen with the human eye. The clinician can then use this report to support their decision about which embryo to implant.”
Gearing up to launch its product, the Life Whisperer team late last year entered the Talent Unleashed Awards. At this stage in the company’s life, Dr Michelle said, the vetting of the business by independent experts as part of the Awards program would be beneficial for Life Whisperer.
“Having such a high profile judging panel made it a very easy decision to apply,” she said.
With Life Whisperer named a APAC finalist for the Best Idea – One to Watch award, Dr Hall pitched at the Awards night while the Drs Perugini were exhibiting at conferences in the US.
“Jonathan was extremely confident going into the pitch. He is an amazing technical mind and believes wholeheartedly in the technology, which makes it easy to pitch. [We] were anxiously awaiting the announcement of the winners in the middle of the night in New York,” Dr Michelle said.
A month on from taking out the global prize in its category, Dr Michelle said the Talent Unleashed Awards were a “fantastic” way to expose Life Whisperer and its mission to a large audience.
“The credibility of winning this global award is invaluable for a startup company such as ours. It provides us with incredible exposure and recognition of the value of our product. We are very proud of Life Whisperer and have a vision to make our product accessible and affordable for all patients and to improve the success for patients undergoing IVF,” she said.
The winners’ trip to Silicon Valley will also be invaluable to Life Whisperer, which has been spending a significant amount of time in the US ahead of Life Whisperer’s market entry.
“The opportunity to meet with Steve Wozniak and tour all of the large global technology companies like Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Tesla, and more will be an amazing opportunity to garner new relationships within these organisations,” Dr Michelle said.
“Having a one on one experience with Steve is a once in a lifetime opportunity. He has such a wealth of knowledge and experience, and we cannot wait to absorb any advice he has to offer us.”
As it looks to make the most of its exposure and the Talent Unleashed opportunity, Life Whisperer’s key goal is to make its tool available for use by Australian IVF patients within the first half of the year before expanding to the US.