Howard University researchers receive $50,000 grant, participate in NSF I-Corps Teams program

Researchers from Howard University received a $50,000 grant through the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program to explore the commercial potential of their speech development mobile application for Black children and their parents.

The team, Howard University’s first to participate in a National I-Corps Teams cohort, includes Symone Campbell, Race & Tech Postdoctoral Fellow, Howard University, as the I-Corps entrepreneurial lead, and Amy Quarkume, Associate Professor, Department of Afro American Studies, Howard University, as the technical lead.

Arielle Miller, researcher, educator, consultant, and nuclear engineer, is the team’s industry mentor.

Through the grant, the group participated in the NSF’s National I-Corps Teams program, held from February 26-April 12, 2024, virtually. National I-Corps Teams is an intensive, seven-week training that guides participants in engaging with prospective customers, partners, and others in the ecosystem to evaluate the commercial potential for turning their technologies into successful products.

“Participating in the NSF I-Corps program has been transformative,” said Campbell. “I-Corps clearly highlights the pathway from research to entrepreneurship. It has equipped me with not just the skills, but the profound understanding of navigating the complex terrain of innovation. This understanding has enabled me to translate the often abstract nature of research into tangible and impactful commercialized technological innovations.”

The team is developing a mobile platform called Worlds of Hello that helps children learn how to speak by using the voices of their own family members. Rather than the traditional white male voice found in many language-learning products, Worlds of Hello uses edited family audio recordings and carefully crafts them into fun and interactive language-learning experiences for kids.

Natural language processing built into the platform interprets and understands the spoken language, while speech recognition software recognizes spoken words and converts them into text.

Worlds of Hello could help kids learn to speak in a familiar, comforting voice, making the language-learning process much more enjoyable.

The Worlds of Hello team participated in an NSF I-Corps Hub Mid-Atlantic regional cohort in May 2023.