2022 Michigan Business Challenge Spotlight – Phonica

Shannon Beeman
February 10, 2022

MBC Innovation Track Spotlight

The Michigan Business Challenge (MBC) takes participants through the entire cycle of new venture creation from creating a strong pitch to conducting a marketing and financial assessment and writing a comprehensive business plan. Twelve teams of student entrepreneurs are one step closer to over $100,000 in cash prizes. Meet these innovative Wolverines in our spotlight series.

Startup Description

Phonica Zell Lurie Institute University of Michigan Business Challenge 2022Phonica is a secure, HIPAA-compliant digital platform that uses AI to help speech therapists track their clients’ progress and offer more engaging, effective, and personalized therapy. The team includes Akhil Kondepudi (BS ‘22), Tejas Gumudavelly (BBA ‘24), Rohan Kodati (BSE ‘24), and Felix Hu (BS ‘23).

What was the origin of this venture? How was the problem or opportunity discovered?

I’ve stuttered ever since I was 6 years old and went to speech therapy since then but didn’t really find it to be effective or engaging. Later, in college, I was going through a rough spot and realized I could create an app that could analyze my speech and give me feedback, allowing me to track my stutter. After talking with speech therapists and others with fluency disorders, I realized I could help therapists with a similar type of software to keep their clients engaged, understand how well they are doing, and help them on their journey. And that’s how Phonica was born.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of launching your venture?

Our end goal is to act as a “speech buddy” for anyone with a fluency disorder–whether you’re in therapy or not–and to build a engaged and helpful community around our product. We hope we’re able to help people like myself overcome initial doubts and become comfortable with and confident in their speech.

How did you form your team?

Michigan’s amazing in that there are so many driven and talented students who are always looking for opportunities to better their skills and work on exciting projects. Akhil was able to tap into that network and out came our team!

How has participation in MBC helped move your venture forward?

To put into one word, exposure. We’ve met so many amazing individuals, learned about helpful marketing and business strategies, and got guidance and advice from the best. MBC’s allowed us to take a closer look at our business model and approach and make sure we’re on the right path, which can be difficult to tell sometimes.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the MBC experience (so far)?

There are so many incredible ideas out there! They all are extremely relevant and important, and I’m glad we have student entrepreneurs taking on these seemingly impossible challenges.

What are your plans following MBC? How would prize money help your venture?

We plan to complete testing of our prototype and launch hopefully within the year. The prize money would go a long way in helping us cover initial operating costs, do more market research, and start to build distribution channels to sell our service.

What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?

Make sure you have a support system, whether it’s your team, friends, or family. Sometimes it can get rough, but if you have that support and truly believe in the product and yourself, you can do amazing things!

2022 Michigan Business Challenge Finals 

Learn more about these innovative University of Michigan startups by following the 2022 Michigan Business Challenge Finals on February 11 on ZLI social media. Cheer for your favorite team during the MBC final presentations and applaud the winners!