This Bengaluru startup has launched a first-of-its-kind teletherapy platform for patients with speech disorders
Telemedicine is in. Teletherapy is in too as demonstrated by healthtech startup 1SpecialPlace, which conducts online speech therapy for autistic kids and even adults with cognitive difficulties.
Pratiksha Gupta, a certified speech therapist and audiologist, started 1SpecialPlace almost out of an obligation.
After a brief stint in London, where she served at the UK’s National Health Service programme, Pratiksha returned to India in 2009. She was practising at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital, but had to move to Bengaluru in 2014 after getting married.
“My patients were left helter-skelter. They desperately wanted to stay in touch and requested for online therapy sessions. That prompted me to start this venture,” the Founder-CEO tells YourStory.
Stats validate the dire need for speech therapists in India. One in 68 children (under eight) are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that leads to speech issues.
In fact, one in 10 kids have been identified with speech delays and other developmental problems. And, then there are stroke patients, who face speech and cognitive challenges.
But there are only 3,000-odd registered speech therapists in the country, according to the Indian Speech and Hearing Association.
“There is a huge demand-supply gap. Autism is spreading like an epidemic, but the solution infrastructure is very weak. In fact, this is a global shortage,” Pratiksha says.
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The problem it solves
Hence, 1SpecialPlace was launched in 2015 as India’s first healthtech startup dedicated to speech therapy and counseling. The same year, it was selected in UK’s ESparks accelerator programme spanning four months.
“The accelerator programme validated our product and gave the company a shape. It gave us conviction that what we were doing was not off track. Our performance targets improved. We also started hiring better.”
Between 2016 and 2018, the startup claims to have conducted over 4,000 online sessions, and is doubling that number. 1Special has a team of 18 people now, including Co-founders Aditya Agarwal (CTO) and Aanchal Duggal, and 10 speech experts and consultants.
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Besides the “telepractice” platform, the bootstrapped startup also developed a mobile app known as Speech Doctor. It is available on both iOS and Android, and has recorded 50,000 downloads in total.
Released in 2016, it is a self-diagnostic app, which allows parents to detect speech and language anomalies in their children through a research-based questionnaire.
Parents have to take a ‘yes/no’ test with their kids. The test results are displayed in a colour-coded (red/yellow/green) format indicating the levels of speech difficulty in the child. If the score is red, the parent can contact 1SpecialPlace for a complete diagnostic evaluation by its speech experts.
Speech Doctor is available in three languages - English, Hindi, Kannada - and the team plans to soon add more languages, video tutorials, DIY answers, recommendations, and suggestions. It is also available as an Alexa Skill.
Pratiksha says, “Speech disorders are all about early identification and intervention. Speech Doctor was designed to help parents detect a problem early on and improve their access to speech therapy."
Sessions are conducted using an interactive video software developed in-house by the startup. Parents can even track their child’s progress by taking the tests repeatedly.
Pratiksha adds, “The idea is to add more fuel to Speech Doctor so we can scale it faster and impact more children. We also plan to introduce paid subscriptions soon.”
At present, the app runs ads, and users pay for the services they use.
The startup’s other mode of revenue is online courses. Several schools have also approached 1SpecialPlace to improve their access to speech therapy.
SaaS platform to expand teletherapy
1SpecialPlace is also beta testing its proprietary software platform TheraKonnect, which will connect therapists, clinics, and patients globally.
“About 50-60 clinics have already registered with us. We want to expand our love for therapy and telepractice through this,” Pratiksha states.
Essentially, TheraKonnect is a SaaS product with features such as teletherapy training, integrated video conferencing, appointment management, customer engagement, seamless payments, session recordings, data reports, and more.
While the startup has clearly identified a supply gap, the sector continues to be plagued by the fact that acceptance and awareness are still very low. “We are slowly getting there, but it’s a challenge,” says the founder.
On the positive side, however, there is a greater opportunity for the startup as speech disorders are not restricted to just kids. Even adults suffer from language disorders, articulation problems, voice modulation, stammering, and multiple cognitive difficulties.
"Several IT people look for online therapy because they do not have the time to visit clinics. Youngsters, who live in other cities, are opting for it for their ailing parents.”
And, to achieve that growth, the startup plans to raise a seed round of Rs 1 crore. “Yes, we are looking for a suitable investor,” signs off the founder.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)