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 referred to 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 known as laptop 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 elementary stage, it allowed corporations to construct laptop 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 workforce of 30 staff unfold throughout Toronto and Berlin, began out by licensing their platform to corporations 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 know-how in one in every of their product traces.

“We thought the know-how was sufficiently mature that you might give a lot of Fortune 500 corporations entry to it after which they might make their merchandise extra interactive,” Moritz Mueller-Freitag, co-founder and chief operations officer at TwentyBN, informed CNBC. 

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

“The non-tech corporations that we labored with do not have the in-house expertise and the sources to work with this platform in a self-service method,” mentioned Mueller-Freitag.

“We realized the market did not perceive the brand new sorts of functions you’ll be able to construct (with laptop imaginative and prescient know-how),” he mentioned. “That is after we began trying to find our personal merchandise.”

The pivot

The trio, who’ve raised $12.5 million from buyers 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 consider that not everybody desires to pay over $1,000 for intelligent health {hardware} developed by corporations like Tonal, Mirror and Peloton.

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

The app accommodates a digital health coach referred to as Allie who’s there to information the consumer by a collection of exercises. The pc imaginative and prescient software program throughout 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 does not suppose you are working exhausting sufficient. 

“We needed to create a product expertise that was enjoyable and that might 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 corporations 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 greatest public win is arguably a distribution partnership with GymPass, which permits folks to entry greater than 40,000 gyms and studios around the globe with one GymPass membership.

Via the partnership, Ally is obtainable to all of GymPass’s members without spending a dime.

Ally may face some very stiff competitors from Apple quickly.

The iPhone-maker is engaged on a brand new app with the codename “Seymour.” An individual aware of the plans informed CNBC that Seymour will information customers by 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 remains to be licensing its platform to different corporations however it’s being rather more selective, in keeping with Mueller-Freitag. 

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


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