Voss ’16 respected in Silicon Valley, founded Sension startup

Oct. 1, 2013, 2:36 a.m.

Balancing homework, a social life and extracurriculars is one challenge, but for StartX Innovator in Residence Catalin Voss ‘16 those things just scrape the surface.

This year Voss founded his first startup, Sension, a visual interface company that aims to make human experiences with computers more interactive. Most of Sension’s founding staff includes Stanford students.

After having a mixed experience with a class using the flipped class model, Voss and Jonathan Yan ‘16, product and distribution manager of Sension, decided to address the root of the problem—the human-technology interaction.

Sension is developing computer vision technology to use webcams to evaluate users’ facial expressions.

“I don’t know about you, but if I have to watch a 20-minute video sitting at home in my underwear I’m just going to fall asleep,” Voss said. “If the computer senses that you’re falling asleep or you’re not paying attention, it’ll ask you a question and depending on how you answer the question, it’ll skip around or re-explain a concept that you missed and adapt to your learner type.”

There are many other applications of the face-tracking technology—autism, for example.

“With Google Glass, we were able to port our code into that device to recognize emotion in real time so [a] kid with autism can come up to you and interact with you appropriately,” Yan explained.

Despite his young age, Voss has experience working with prominent people in Silicon Valley, including Steve Capps, one of the original developers of Apple’s Finder application. However, working in Silicon Valley before hitting 20 proves a challenge for him at times.

“You got to prove yourself in a different way,” Voss said. “But this is a place where people are much more open to that than anywhere else in the world.”

“You’re measured by what you create. If people like what you’re doing, and whether you’re 15 or whatever, it doesn’t really matter,” he added.

Yan, on the other hand, considers Voss mature beyond his years, especially given his dedication to the company.

“If you ask any other employee, one of the top reasons they joined is because [Voss] is there,” Yan said. “He really inspires that trust and belief as a CEO, even so young. We have Ph.D.s working for us and they respect him.”

Although Voss balances being an Innovator in Residence at StartX and being a full-time student, he said he was getting more sleep than he had in high school.

Outside of his academics and business commitments, he enjoys music, playing the piano and guitar and DJing.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time I spend with him is work, but with that work comes fun,” Yan said. “We hang out and definitely have a good rapport outside of Sension. What we really share is a vision—and a lot of people say they have it but they don’t do anything about it. Catalin does.”

Contact Catherine Zaw at [email protected].

Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected].

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