Kids Speech Labs voices a therapy solution

Irish entrepreneur Shona D’Arcy is addressing the need for timely provision of speech therapy for children across Ireland and the UK through her business Kids Speech Labs.

Kids Speech Labs is delivering the next generation of data-driven solutions for early childhood development.

Its remote monitoring technology moves the early stages of managing speech and language development into the home, empowering parents and supporting large-scale screening of children to ensure no child falls behind.

“We’ve been sending parents tailored resources that can be used at home while on a waiting list and seeing early signs of parents removing themselves from the waiting list”

“In Ireland today there are 45k children waiting for speech and language therapy, 30% are waiting over 12 months,” explained founder and CEO Shona D’Arcy.

“This is not just an Irish problem, in the UK children from disadvantaged backgrounds are missing out on timely identification and intervention resulting in significant long term educational, behavioural and mental health consequences.  Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are 4 times as likely to know have the speech and language delays identified until later in life.”

With a global shortage of speech therapists, D’Arcy warned the likelihood of children falling behind in their communication development is growing increasing the social and economic costs associated with this.

“This is an area of healthcare left behind in the digital transformation of healthcare over the past decade. However, with the speech therapy market in the US being worth $6bn, coupled with the AI in healthcare (one of the fastest market segments projected to reach $194bn by 2030) the market opportunity is significant.”

A problem shared

Kids Speech Labs’ technology SHARE is a remote screening platform to support providers of speech and language therapy triage their services to address the long waiting lists and provide support all children when they need it most.

SHARE allows Speech and Language therapists (SLTs) gather important information from parents, children and even teachers about a child’s development and from this they are able to identify the best course of action for that child.

“We’ve been sending parents tailored resources that can be used at home while on a waiting list and seeing early signs of parents removing themselves from the waiting list,” D’Arcy explained. “This is down to understanding when their child’s speech is on track and/or seeing improvements from home based programs that reassure parents that their child is improving.

“SLTs have supported hundreds of children through our platform and parents are responding very positively to this proactive approach to screening and supporting speech and language development.”

Applied expertise

Shona D’Arcy is the founder of Kids Speech Labs with a background in speech recognition technology and digital health research.

She brought together her expertise to try and solve a problem that has be left alone for too long. D’Arcy has had experience at all stage of digital health solutions from ideation and prototyping to clinical validation.

Her wide range of experience gives her a unique insight into the needs of all stakeholders to deliver innovation solutions that are effective.

Deep tech middle ground

She believes the Irish start-up ecosystem is well served with resources.

“The early-stage start-up ecosystem in Ireland is fantastic, the New Frontiers programme is an exceptional programme allowing so many entrepreneurs to take the initial leap into the unknown,” says D’Arcy.

“Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Startup Fund is another great programme. There are plenty of other events/resources to help at ideation, prototyping stage and even at the scaling stage.”

However, when it comes to advanced deep tech, there is work to be done on the funding front.

“I would say the middle ground for deep tech solutions is a little less developed in Ireland. For ambitious companies they are fewer avenues for funding particularly in healthcare where the lead times are a bit longer than other markets.”

The company is currently in the midst of raising funding.

“We need to raise €1m this year to grow our commercialisation and begin the AI roadmap.

The business currently operates purely remotely. “We’ve been remote for the past two years so staying connected and able to adapt is critical. We find Google Suite and the suite of Atlassian tools help us stay on top of our plans. We stay agile by always assuming we don’t know everything, we constantly speak to our users to understand their needs and build our technology to be as flexible as possible so that when our users tell us something critical we can respond as quickly as possible.”

The road to where Kids Speech Labs is today wasn’t all smooth. “Outsourced app development can be a nightmare; we wasted a lot of time and money not really understanding what we needed to build and the best way to do it.”

Her advice to fellow founders is to network. “Find a tribe, a few founders that are at similar stages and use this as a support network. From getting a copy of a term sheet to having a rant about something that went wrong. This is a unique experience and rarely does anyone know exactly what to do at every stage, but having other founders you trust to bounce things off is invaluable.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.