Therapy Box uses machine learning to diagnose, treat and support people with hidden communication disabilities

Rebecca Bright MBE

Rebecca Bright MBE

Therapy Box uses its expertise in machine learning to create tools to help diagnose, treat and support people with communication disabilities. Rebecca Bright MBE uniquely used her expertise as a speech and language therapist to help build a business which creates apps to help people with disabilities such as motor neurone disease, stroke and autism. The business has launched over 40 apps used by people all around the globe, to help them communicate better. The company is now focussing on using the latest in machine learning technology to help diagnose children in schools with developmental language disorders, which can affect up to 2 children in every classroom. Therapy Box is a successful business which has grown each year, adding new team members; expanding its technological R&D and creating wider impact.

Prior to starting Therapy Box, Rebecca trained and worked as a speech and language therapist in the NHS. Her first app was the result of trying to find better solutions for her patients. It is estimated that the NHS adopting the company's apps in favour of traditional products has saved the NHS over £6.8m since 2010.

As a mother of 2 boys, Rebecca is keen to also develop solutions which help diagnose difficulties children might have as early as possible. Her current NIHR funded project is looking at how machine learning can help in diagnosing children with developmental language disorder - considered the "hidden disability" in classrooms. In doing so, she hopes that more children will have access to the necessary input that can help them improve their communication; their access to education and their later lives.

The company is run with Swapnil Gadgil. Together the team comprises mobile and web developers; product designers; quality assurance engineers and data scientists. This expertise has been grown since the company launched and means that the team can focus on creating better products for the people who need them. The company has also expanded to work with other organisations to help solve every day problems using technology; and its client list includes the United Nations, many of the UK's best universities and government organisations. The team is proud of its work and achievements to date; and has an ambitious plan to grow.

Rebecca trained as a speech and language therapist in Australia. After graduating in 2001 she went on to work in the healthcare system in Australia before moving to London in 2005. Rebecca worked in the NHS specialising in helping people with communication problems after strokes, brain injuries and as a result of other neurological conditions. In 2010 Rebecca noticed that the communciation aids that were on the market at the time were expensive and cubmersome. People who needed technology to support their communication were waiting for years for funding to come through to purchase machines that cost between £5000-12000. Then it was not uncommon for these devices to languish on shelves due to their heavy and outdated nature. Rebecca turned to her husband to look at how they could create an iPhone app to help people with motor neurone disease to be able to communicate once they lost their speech. Using her experience and personal motivation given her Grandmother had passed away due to the disease, Rebecca and Swapnil designed the first version of the app, Predictable while still working in their regular jobs. The app launched in January 2011 and went on to be a big success. It is now in 11 languages and used by over 200,000 people. The success in finding a solution was certainly satisfying for Rebecca and Swapnil. From this pivotal early success the duo looked to find ways to harness mobile technology to create solutions to help solve other problems for people with disabilities.

Therapy Box is unique in that is the leading company focussing on speech and language therapy. This may seem a niche business; but with 1 in 7 people having a communication disability - it is certainly more needed than you may realise. The company uses innovative technology - from eye tracking to help diagnose autism in rural India (in a project with The University of Reading and Harvard) to using machine learning to diagnose developmental language disorders in UK schools, the company has taken its original clinical know how to become a growing UK business taking on new challenges in medtech and related industry.

The business has grown since launching its first app in 2011. Building slowly but surely, it has expanded from being a kitchen table start up to employing a team of 20 specialist developers and data scientists. The company has a unique perspective and a clear goal in relation to focussing its skill in this area.

It has been the successful recipient of grants to develop innovative technologies - including most recently an SBRI Healthcare grant to create an app which can let kids with cerebral palsy to be understood after it "translates" their disordered voice; to the NIHR funded ATLAS project which will look at developmental language disorders.

The company has been recognised by the media and its peers with a number of awards recognising its inclusive and innovative products and also the role of its female founder in promoting technology careers. In 2014 it was awareded the Queen's Award for Enterprise Innovation and in 2016 Rebecca Bright was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

This company not only strives to create technological breakthroughs, but also to make a difference for the people who use their apps.

The company has been bootstrapped by its two founders, with an initial investment of just £800 from their own savings. The company focusses on growth and by leveraging its expertise to perform across its diverse functions. It has acquired several repeat customers for its agency side of the business for example, who value the company's approach and expertise. These include the United Nations, Jisc, leading charities and universities.

The company has seen year on year growth of all areas of the business. The company invests in profit back into the business - focussing on research and development and employee retention and attraction. It understands the value of defining and protecting its unique IP. The focus in 2018/19 is on upskilling for the machine learning projects and ensuring that it is well placed to be the world leader in machine learning (AI) in the speech and language arena - with a focus on using speech and acoustics to detect disease and disability. Given the success of other medtech companies focussed in the AI sector, this is not just ambitious but also a well chosen path for a London based specialist tech company.