Where it's based: Mountain View, Calif.
When it was founded: 2000
Why it's Fierce: Audience takes voice processing technology to the next level with a system-on-a-chip solution. The company, which was founded by a CalTech student and researcher, Lloyd Watts, has found a way to mimic the biology of how humans listen and process sound--and suppress background noise. It does this in two ways: One is a mathematical process called fast cochlea transform that essentially allows the company to characterize what kind of sound is being spoken; the other method uses the phone's microphones to differentiate the primary signal--your voice--from background noise. This then gets routed through the chip.
Voice is becoming a key input method for smartphones, and Audience is working to make sure voice-based solutions work, even in noisy areas. The company's first voice processor chip was introduced for mobile phones in 2008; since then Audience's technology, called earSmart, has made its way into more than 50 phones. Audience is backed by investors including New Enterprise Associates, Tallwood Venture Capital, Vulcan Capital and VentureTech Alliance. The company works with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) as well as Samsung, LG, HTC, Sharp and Pantech in markets across Asia, North America and Europe. Audience's technology was used in Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Nexus One smartphone.
What's next: Right now the company is focused on getting its technology into more mobile devices, with a specific emphasis on smartphones. In addition, Audience is attempting to tap into netbooks and tablets that have voice capabilities and VoIP service, and also sees potential opportunities in human-to-human and other speech-based accessibility applications.
Article updated May 18 to reflect that Audience's earSmart technology is now in more than 50 phones, not 40.