Between 5% to 8% children in the US display speech pathologies that, if not remedied early, present them with increasingly negative socioeconomic ramifications as they progress in life. Unfortunately, a large portion of children treated successfully for speech pathology often hail from households on the upper half of the income spectrum. Lower-income families usually have neither the time nor the money to afford speech pathology treatment.
Furthermore, while traditional speech therapy is a growing industry, the number of speech therapists employed in the US is on the decline. ObamaCare has addressed wide gaps in the current healthcare system, but with TrumpCare potentially making an impact soon, children affected with speech pathology may face declining outcomes in the face of an uncertain future for the universality of American healthcare. Private innovation-based solutions must be ready to pick up the slack and provide for children whose families cannot.
David Cheng, a Cornell Tech student and former Deloitte tech consultant, thought the same thing. Last year, Cheng entered and participated in a Google Research challenge to combat fake news proliferation. There, he met and partnered up with Steven Chen, a former mobile games product manager for Disney and Kabam, Eliza Bruce, a clinical researcher focusing on stroke patients at Columbia, and Luis Serota, a Hamilton College computer scientist, to build an anti-fake news aggregator for Google Research.
“For both [my co-founder] Luis and myself, who both grew up attending speech therapy—me for articulation issues, and Luis for stuttering—we felt even though speech therapy helped us a lot, it was also tremendously uncomfortable at times, having an adult you don’t really know pick at an insecurity you never knew you had.”
“It is incredible to think about how often people take speech and communication for granted, and how impediments and disorders can drastically impact self-esteem, relationships, and even career potential!”
So, earlier last year, while studying at the Cornell Tech Startup Studio under David Tisch, the co-founder of BoxGroup, and Greg Pass, the former CTO of Twitter and Chief Entrepreneurial Officer at Cornell Tech, they used the skills they acquired to form Speech Up, a mobile app designed to bring speech therapy into the home for all children, regardless of background.
It gamifies the speech therapy process by providing puzzles and challenges that kids can complete by pronouncing words correctly. They have partnered with speech therapists across New York and Washington, D.C., and have incorporated evidence-based practices that traditional speech therapists use into their speech gamification technology. The technology itself is powered by a real-time feedback engine built by David and Luis, and emphasizes pronunciation as the main metric for identifying progress in children experiencing speech pathology.
Ultimately, David and his team see Speech Up moving from simple pronunciation issues into a wider array of speech pathologies. Stuttering, lisping, dyslalia, and others are possibilities as they continue their current course of growing the company. David and his team are also working extensively with speech therapists across the country to digitize practices and ultimately provide a fun, simple experience for children of all ages who need speech therapy treatment.
Speech Up is truly the first of its kind. Because of this, the app is sitting at the inflection point between speech therapy and tech, and is leading in its space. It is also highly disruptive, as speech pathology techniques have never encompassed or comprised mobile technology or digital applications, making their value proposition unique and valuable in a highly differentiated way.
Speech Up has high potential to reshape speech pathology as we know it. Speech Up has support from Cornell Tech faculty, which they have used to leverage appearances and demos at multiple TechDays, the Cornell Tech 2017 Kickoff, and the Rawhaus Competition. The team has also presented directly to former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and is fundraising, currently competing for a startup award of $100,000 in funding offered by Cornell Tech.
The Speech Up technology has the potential to dramatically alter the course of the lives of children with speech pathologies. Speech and linguistic communication skills are vital to emotional and social well-being in children. Early childhood social cues and difference recognition prime children to compare themselves to others in terms of relationships between behaviors and the effects of those behaviors on their and their peers’ treatment by other children.
Since children with speech pathologies (or, really, anything deemed “different” at all) are usually picked upon or ridiculed by their peers, such children often fall victim to low self-esteem and low self-confidence, causing first low academic performance and then low performance in other vital areas of life as they grow.
Speech Up, with its gaming elements and kid-friendly interface, allows any child with a smartphone and speech difficulties to quickly start learning to have fun improving their speech patterns, which can ultimately lead them to experience a better quality of life.
For more information on Speech Up, visit http://speechup.com !