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Health – Tech: Speech Tools

Woman looking at Christella VoiceUp on a tablet
Image credit: Speechtools

Speechtools originated in 2011, after Sam Brady, a Speech and Language Therapist, became frustrated with Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF) technology. After seeing a patient with Parkinson’s Disease struggle with the available technology, which was clunky, expensive and slow, Sam took her concerns to her husband Garry, a software developer at Hewlett Packard. Working overnight on a new easy to use, modern and cost appropriate app, the pair developed ‘DAF pro’. 

A leading regional health-tech development company

One minute warm-up appDAF pro works by enabling someone to hear their speech in an altered manner. This disruption to the normal auditory feedback loop causes them to slow down and thus speak more clearly. This technique is particularly useful for patients with Parkinson’s disease or those who stammer. Since DAF pro, Speechtools have gone on to develop four further apps to help combat problems in other clinical areas: 

  • Swallow Prompt – buzzes or beeps when it’s time to swallow. This was developed to remind people to swallow their saliva at specific intervals (such as those with neurological conditions as Parkinson’s Disease). This helps a patient feel more in control of themselves and reduces embarrassment and the loss of self-confidence.  
  • Voice Analyst – (winner of the 2020 South West Medilink Award for Health Tech Innovation) – monitors pitch and volume of voice and gives visual feedback and statistics. The app is used by Speech and Language Therapists, patients with voice or neurological conditions, trans women and singers. The recordings can give a baseline from the start of treatment to the end, so progress can be measured and sustained. The app replaces an equivalent voice monitoring technology called ‘Visi Pitch’ which cost £3,500 and is no longer available. Voice Analyst is endorsed by Parkinson’s UK.  
  • Christella VoiceUp – developed in partnership with Christella Antoni, UK leading speech therapist for treating trans women.  Christella VoiceUp is specifically for trans women (who are transitioning from male to female).  Trans women take the hormone oestrogen which unfortunately does not change voice quality (as the male hormone testosterone does) but, by using the app, women on the waiting list to see a speech therapist (which could be up to five years) can practice and reduce the number of 1-1 sessions they need. The app has become popular beyond the UK, particularly in the USA and Australian market.    
  • One Minute Voice Warmup – has been developed in partnership with Jeremy Fisher and Gillyanne Keys, UK leading vocal coaches. The app is used by anyone wanting to work independently to improve their voice and this can be anyone from teachers, to call centre workers to those needing to give presentations at work.  The app is also used by Speech and Language Therapists to supplement their individual therapy and useful for patients to use when being discharged from their speech therapist as an extra support tool. 

Speechtools’ apps, are used by over 10,000 people a month, including Speech & Language Therapists and patients in over 170 countries.  

Helping others to move forward

The freedom and advancements that Speechtools apps give clinical staff and their patients has improved patient recovery and means greater connections between patients and their clinicians. Feedback received by the team include stories from patients who say that the apps have changed their lives and allowed them to live with more freedom and independence. The apps have meant some patients are able to stay in employment longer and they have increased confidence in their ability to communicate and their voice. The apps have provided ‘at home support’ for many who would otherwise be on lengthy waiting lists, and it has enabled some patients to reduce their need for 1-1 time with a clinician thereby reducing overall waiting times.  

Regional support for Speechtools

Being based in the West of England has meant that Sam and Garry have been able to tap into the burgeoning networks for life sciences and Health-Tech within the region. Beginning with a funded program in 2017, from incubator SETsquared (the #1 university incubator) and the West of England Academic Health Science Network, Sam was able to learn about business models and ways of work,  practice investor pitching, speak to established partners about funding opportunities, network and collaborate with other like-minded individuals. 

 Additional support from the Health Tech Hub in 2019 came in the form of 12 hours free 1-1 business support from James Barsby of Bristol Ventures. Networking meet-ups, the opportunity to showcase Speechtools to the Health-Tech cluster and the various events in and around the region have been invaluable in helping a micro business like Speechtools understand and navigate the larger business world and plan for it appropriately.   

Sam said” There is a really supportive network in the region, and people are willing to give their time to help you develop ideas or discover where the next funding round can come from. I’d definitely say to any new start-up get your connections sorted from the beginning. I think if we’d started networking sooner and made more use of what we’ve now found out that would have been an advantage in the early stages. The sector is very welcoming and innovative and it’s an exciting place to develop Health-Tech.”  

The advance of Health-Tech

Voice Analyst appThe Health-Tech sector is rapidly growing and Sam and Garry are proud to have been part of this from the early days of the smartphone.  Current and future technologies will continue to enhance, improve and transform the way Speech & Language Therapists work and Speechtools are proud to be leading the field in this area.    

“We love being in the West of England, there is so much opportunity here to grow and mature. We’ve noticed that our sales since the beginning of Covid-19 have increased due to patients having to stay at home. Speech Therapists recommend our products to their teams and we’ve noticed an uplift in our word of mouth marketing during this time. That’s amazing for a small company like us. We made these apps because Sam was frustrated by older out of date expensive technology  and because we knew patients deserved better, more modern solutions.”

The Health-Tech sector here is so exciting because it takes the research and the knowledge from health care and fuses it with the awesome tech scene that happens in the region. I don’t think we’d get that anywhere else.”  

Sam Brady, Founder

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