“We’re not trying to replace speech therapists; we only provide a tool that can motivate a child to participate in a therapy” says Veronika Štrbáková, the co-founder of the Slovak startup Speekle that has been receiving extraordinary media attention in the recent months because it demonstrated its potential to support speech therapists and thereby increase the effectiveness of their work.
There are a lot of children (and many of us used to belong among them) experiencing speech disorders that can last a lifetime without undergoing a proper speech therapy. The trick lies in succeeding to teach children to cooperate and regularly follow the instructions of a speech therapist when practicing at home, especially when they are still not fully aware of their problem. The founders of Project Speekle have done some out of the box thinking. With computer games they motivate kids to learn how to pronounce letters such as the Slovak ˈšˈ properly.
This year Speekle has been widely recognized as a successful startup with Slovak initial capital.
The product can be proudly labeled “Made in Slovakia” thanks to both its innovative idea and innovative technology. We asked how a group of four students from the Faculty of Informatics and Information Technology at the Slovak University of Technology came up with such an interesting and socially beneficial product. Veronika Štrbáková, the face of Speekle answers the question rather surprisingly: “We always knew we wanted to do something that helps people. At first we considered projects involving Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and various other problems, later we wanted to teach those suffering from hearing impairment to speak but we encountered substantial and complex issues at that point. We became involved in speech therapy when one of our professors pointed out there is no need to focus solely on those with hearing loss while there are so many regular children suffering from speech disorders.” Particularly surprising is the fact that their focus developed with time and was not narrowly defined at the beginning.
For example in the game Goldy the child saves a dwarf by lulling a dragon asleep by saying ˈšˈ correctly. Meanwhile the dwarf is gathering treasure but loses life power if caught by the dragon. A simple idea that works and it motivates children to practice. Speekle currently offers three games – Goldy, TailTrails and Squak while additional games are in production. License holders will be able to download their updates for free.
The idea of software that directly supports speech therapists started to take shape around the national championship of Imagine Cup 2013. The development of a brand new and previously non-existent platform went on and proved successful at other competitions as well, among others also by winning the prestigious Business idea award 2013 together with 33,000 euros.
A large part of this amount was offered in the form of marketing and legal services but it also provided the project – today a company with limited liability -.with the necessary financial support to enable further future development.
“We are still operating exclusively with our own resources, but we will certainly be looking for investors as well in the near future” said Štrbáková while adding that most investors are interested in a dialogue. Although the company currently has sufficient funds coming from competitions and the license sales to parents and speech therapists, it stays open to investors. Today, licenses are sold not only to speech therapist but also to home users, mainly parents who look for a tool that would persuade their children to pronounce words correctly.
Media and commercial success of the Speekle brand is still only gaining momentum. The current version for MS Windows operating system will be available on tablets as well thus being compatible with iOS and Android. The transition to mobile is spurred not only by increasing technological demands but also by the intention to offer licenses as paid apps via Google Play and App Store. Their price will be significantly lower compared to the desktop version and Speekle will operate with a modified business model.
Effectiveness is the key to commercially success with sufficient license sales to fulfill the long term plan. We wondered if Speekle already has any scalable data on real life progress in children. “We are unable to measure this type of data given we have been on the market for such a short time. Moreover we are not trying to replace a speech therapist; we only give him a tool that can motivate a child to practice. Therapy can thus proceed faster because the child suddenly wants to practice. And this works. We have received feedback from a speech therapist whose little patient finally learned how to position his tongue and pronounce ˈšˈ only because he wanted his dwarf to collect as many treasures as possible without being eaten by the dragon.
The founders of Speekle clearly identified and used their opportunity. What was formerly a student project turned into a real life business with outstanding prospects. The fact that Speekle is the only software directed at minor speech disorders on the market can be reassuring for many potential investors. Foreign competitors are virtually unable to launch their product as an alternative on the Slovak market. The true commercial potential of Speekle will be revealed by the end of this year and the beginning of next year with the release of new games and versions for mobile platforms.