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Spring 2022
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LiRA: A Lipreading Tech Startup

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A focus on innovation at UNC Gillings helped launch this ambitious startup. LiRA's lipreading technology promises to improve health care by empowering the voiceless.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate and professional schools enjoy a close relationship that emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation among both faculty and students. Competitions that reward innovation give students an opportunity to gain practical experience in solving health care challenges and to win financial support for their early-stage solutions. 

One of those solutions is LiRA, a lipreading technology startup formed in January 2020 by five UNC graduate and professional students. The company is gaining marketplace momentum after consistently finishing in or near the top spots in competitions both at UNC and in outside innovation challenges. Nga Nguyen, a Master of Public Health student and medical student from Fayetteville, North Carolina, is LiRA’s chief operating officer.

“We want to develop technologies that build a world where each voice, every bond and all communication is realized,” Nguyen says.

"We want to develop technologies that build a world where each voice, every bond, and all communication is realized."

— Nga Nguyen

LiRA, which stands for “Lip Reading Assistant,” is developing technology called LipTrain that will improve communication for voice-impaired patients by tracking and translating their lip movements. Their goal is to transform how health care professionals interact with voiceless patients and to provide voiceless patients with the ability to self-advocate. The company is inviting volunteers to record themselves reading as part of a study designed to improve the technology’s tracking ability.

LiRA was a finalist in the 2020 Gillings Pitch Competition, finished in first place in the 2020 E(I) Lab hosted by the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, received a 2021 NCIDEA MICRO grant, won first place at the 2021 Big Launch Challenge Pitch Competition, and was named a co-winner of the 2021 RIoT Your Reality Challenge. Most recently, LiRA won the $25,000 top prize in the Covintus Tech Tank Pitch Competition, a technology-focused accelerator designed to groom startup founders. The company plans to collaborate further with Covintus in developing machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision resources.  

To learn about how you can support innovation at the Gillings School, contact Advancement: giving.sph@unc.edu or (919) 966-0198