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May 23, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Moon Ma’s “Big Idea” is helping non-native English speakers become more confident

She’s a native of China who moved to Knoxville in 2015 as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, so Ma has clearly experienced the challenge firsthand.

“I want to dedicate all my time to something I’m passionate about,” Moon Ma says. In her case, it is helping those who are not native English speakers become more confident, so they have better conversations.

She’s a native of China who moved to Knoxville in 2015 as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), so Ma has clearly experienced the challenge firsthand. In fact, she says that she struggled for the first two to three years after arriving in the U.S. to understand her professors.

In January after Ma was laid-off from her full-time job as a Machine Learning Engineer with Amazon, she decided to commit all of her work efforts to SpeakBit, a business that she pitched during the recent “What’s the Big Idea? Pitch Competition” organized by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

Ma told us in a subsequent recent interview that the idea was something she had been considering for a while, but the trigger was what a viewer of her YouTube channel about machine learning wrote in a message.

“That person said they loved the content but had a hard time understanding me,” Ma said. That led her to consider the possibility of the challenge being solved by machine learning.

“Each piece of the technology is there, I’m just putting them together,” she explains. The backend is a Google product, and the accent feedback is provided by SpeechSuper.

It’s a mobile app being developed initially for iOS devices to improve the confidence of individuals for whom English is not their primary language.

“It’s not language specific,” Ma adds.

She will begin Beta testing the app this month.

“I did the development without going through the customer discovery process,” Ma says. That is where her focus is going forward.

“The reason I care about language so much is to help improve a person’s mental health,” she explains.

Prior to moving to the U.S., Ma earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology from the China Pharmaceutical University and a Master’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Xiamen University. At UTK, she earned a master’s degree in statistics and has completed all but her dissertation for a doctorate in computational biology at the institution.

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