By Jennifer Chung
SpeechTails, an online speech and language learning system, is already telling a successful story just two years after it was founded.
Launched by Amy Reno, a licensed speech-language pathologist, and her husband, Todd Reno, SpeechTails provides parents and professionals with a low-cost tool to assess and monitor speech development issues in children under the age of 10.
With more than 20 years of experience working in schools and in private practice, Reno saw firsthand the difficulties for many families.
“She recognized that not enough children were being assessed (for speech and language impairments) and quite often, those who were assessed didn’t have access to the frequency of speech therapy that they needed,” said Patrick Walters, SpeechTails’ CEO. “That was why she and her husband invested their own dollars in getting a product to the market, and they did so very successfully.”
Walters, a serial angel- and venture-backed entrepreneur and investor, saw the need for a product such as SpeechTails because he realized the market was unable to meet the demands of children at an early stage or provide adequate access to qualified therapists. He also found that current supplemental materials and services were offered in a disjointed manner, consisting mainly of books, DVDs and printed lesson plans.
The solution was not to replace one-on-one therapy but to aid parents and professionals in the early detection of problems and provide an affordable means of working with their children.
“SpeechTails is really a complementary product that provides a way of delivering therapy in a way that is highly engaging and increases the frequency,” Walters said. “Amy believes that if you increase the frequency and the level of engagement, you will increase the rate of correction.”
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities reports that about 10 million children under the age of 10 suffer from some type of speech development or delay issue, and of those about 85 percent are not detected or treated.
For some, SpeechTails may be the best available alternative in cases where traditional therapy is not an option.
Up to 10 years of age is the most critical time period for a child’s speech development. There are more than 40 million children in the United States under the age of 10. Walters is working to reach all of them, regardless of overt signs of speech problems.
“Our goal would be to build a platform that would allow assessments of all 40 million children or as many children as possible. We feel that only through proper assessment can you start the conversation around how to treat them,” he said.
Part of reaching that goal has been by offering free assessments through the company’s website. Parents and professionals can perform an initial assessment for any child at no cost. After the initial evaluation, SpeechTails offers an affordable monthly online subscription as well as other products such as an audio/video capture system for advanced evaluation, caseload management, reporting and compliance.
The other part of reaching the goal has been raising more capital.
“We are entering the ‘growth’ phase of our business and need to grow faster than the cash flow will allow us,” Walters said.
In the past, SpeechTails has received help from state and local programs such as BizStarts Milwaukee. The company also took second place in the Business Services category of the 2011 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Recently, it was chosen as one of 26 companies to present to angel and venture investors at this year’s Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, Nov. 13-14 in Madison.
Raising these funds will enable them to continue growing as a company and get closer to reaching those 40 million children.
“We have one customer, and that is the child. Our sole purpose and our sole focus is on the child,” Walters said.
— Chung is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.