Why a Microsoft-backed start-up pivoted to a fitness app after helping Fortune 500 firms to build machines that can ‘see’

TwentyBN founders (L-R): Ingo Bax (CTO), Roland Memisevic (CEO), Moritz Mueller-Freitag (COO).


In 2016, Roland Memisevic, Ingo Bax and Moritz Mueller-Freitag — the three entrepreneurs behind a start-up known as TwentyBN — got down to create a platform that companies may use so as to add a type of synthetic intelligence to their merchandise often called pc imaginative and prescient. 

Constructed off the again of analysis carried out at Toronto College and Mila (a Quebec AI Institute), TwentyBN’s platform is comparatively technical and sophisticated. However at a basic degree, it allowed firms to construct pc imaginative and prescient options into their merchandise in order that machines can “see” and perceive what’s round them. The primary use case has been with digital assistants. 

The founders, who oversee a group of 30 staff unfold throughout Toronto and Berlin, began out by licensing their platform to firms in automotive, well being care, retail, and manufacturing. TwentyBN mentioned a number one client system producer, who can’t be named for contractual causes, used its expertise in considered one of their product strains.

“We thought the expertise was sufficiently mature that you can give numerous Fortune 500 firms entry to it after which they may make their merchandise extra interactive,” Moritz Mueller-Freitag, co-founder and chief operations officer at TwentyBN, advised CNBC. 

However TwentyBN, which stands for Twenty Billion Neurons, was mistaken.

“The non-tech firms that we labored with haven’t got the in-house expertise and the assets to work with this platform in a self-service means,” mentioned Mueller-Freitag.

“We realized the market did not perceive the brand new sorts of functions you may construct (with pc imaginative and prescient expertise),” he mentioned. “That is after we began trying to find our personal merchandise.”

The pivot

The trio, who’ve raised $12.5 million from traders together with Microsoft’s enterprise arm, M-12, determined to create a health app after concluding that such software program may benefit from a extra visible expertise. The choice was additionally impressed by the truth that they imagine that not everybody desires to pay over $1,000 for intelligent health {hardware} developed by firms like Tonal, Mirror and Peloton.

Because the world went into lockdown, TwentyBN rolled out a health app on Might eight known as Ally on Apple’s App Retailer, making it immediately accessible to tons of of hundreds of thousands of iPhone and iPad homeowners. The corporate in the end hopes that Ally will find yourself being as in style as health apps like MyFitnessPal, Nike Coaching Membership, and Strava.  

The app incorporates a digital health coach known as Allie who’s there to information the consumer by way of a collection of exercises. The pc imaginative and prescient software program inside the app means Allie can “watch” the exercise. Regardless of being little greater than a digital avatar, she’ll right poor type and pull you up for slacking if she would not suppose you are working onerous sufficient. 

“We wished to create a product expertise that was enjoyable and that would maintain them accountable,” mentioned Mueller-Freitag, including that it could actually actually measure efficiency and the way you enhance over time.

The app, as a result of be launched on Android at a later date, has been downloaded by hundreds of individuals and two well-known tech firms have made Ally a part of their worker advantages providing, however they cannot be named because the offers have not been formally introduced.

The app’s largest public win is arguably a distribution partnership with GymPass, which permits folks to entry greater than 40,000 gyms and studios world wide with one GymPass membership.

Via the partnership, Ally is obtainable to all of GymPass’s members free of charge.

Ally may face some very stiff competitors from Apple quickly.

The iPhone-maker is working on a new app with the codename “Seymour.” An individual acquainted with the plans advised CNBC that Seymour will information customers by way of exercises through the iPhone and the Apple Watch. 

The app is being spearheaded by Jay Blahnik, a health teacher and creator who joined Apple in 2013, the individual added. 

Along with the health app, TwentyBN continues to be licensing its platform to different firms however it’s being far more selective, in keeping with Mueller-Freitag. 

TwentyBN has additionally created datasets that AI researchers use. AI researchers at massive tech companies together with Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have used TwentyBN’s datasets for publishing educational papers. TwentyBN fees a small payment for entry to the datasets. 

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PJ is the Digital Marketer & Founder of PJ Digital Marketing, has involved in this field from 2010 onwards. Also the owner of a few more sites in different fields.