This Nigerian-American tech genius created speech recognition software for African languages


Abake Adenle is a Nigerian-American entrepreneur and developer of speech recognition and text-to-speech software for African languages. At the time she founded her startup, there were no known players in the speech recognition and text-to-speech software industry that focused on African languages.

Growing up, Adenle wanted to be a college professor but began her career in finance, working at Morgan Stanley as a quantitative strategist for eight years. “My role was to design and develop trading strategies for institutional investors. And I did that for about eight years, ”she told Techpoint Africa.

At Morgan Stanley, Adenle developed an app for learning the Yoroba language called Speak Yoruba App. According to her, she was inspired to develop the app after seeing her niece and nephew use a mobile app to learn to speak English.

“And it ended up going well in the App Store,” she said. “I got a lot of requests from people asking me to create a version of the app for the African language they spoke, which was good and was something I thought I could tackle. But I had a job where I worked from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and it was unrealistic to take on at that time.

Eventually, she quit her finance job after eight years to focus on her voice recognition application. According to her, the move was motivated by her desire to take her time and enjoy her intellectual freedom.

“I like the idea of ​​owning my time,” she told Techpoint Africa. “I also appreciate intellectual freedom. I’m working on something that I want to work on, ”she stressed,“ not because I was told to work on it, but because I really enjoy working on it. It’s something that I appreciate. “

As we ventured into the speech recognition space in 2017, it was a relatively untapped field and full of uncertainties. But she was unfazed. While developing her app, Adenle was a consultant in finance, in addition to exploring funding for her startup.

“For me, it was a question of developing speech recognition and speech synthesis as well as an implementation of a product with two African languages. So I developed a Beta One for Yoruba and Swahili, ”she said.

“We developed a male Swahili voice and three female Yoruba voices, one of which was based on my Yoruba voice. Additionally, we developed our basic speech recognition model as well as a few variations which were content-specific speech recognition models for Yoruba and Swahili.

You should know that voice recognition is the underlying technology behind Siri and Alexa.

While Adenle’s business proposition was laudable, many venture capitalists were unwilling to invest. So she sent a business proposal to Innovate UK and got $ 500,000 in seed funding. “For now, even though we’re still in private beta, we still have the widest native African language coverage,” she said.

The tech entrepreneur was born in the United States to Nigerian parents. However, she spent the first six years of her life in Nigeria before returning to the United States and then returned for her high school education.

She continued in the United States where she obtained a degree in Electrical Engineering from Morgan State University, Maryland. She also pursued a doctorate. program in signal processing with a focus on Bayesian inference from the University of Cambridge.

Today, she is the founder / CEO of ajala, a London-based start-up that develops enterprise voice technologies for low-resource languages, with a focus on African languages. Adenle considers her startup to be one of her strengths. For her, developing something innovative like the application she created is fulfilling.

In July, Women in Voice (WIV), a US-based nonprofit, presented its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI) in Voice Award to Adenle. The award celebrates and amplifies women and gender diversity in voice technology. The Nigerian-American financial analyst was recognized for his exceptional contributions to “making African languages ​​accessible to voice solutions”.


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