My Startup: Mable Therapy, Leeds

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Mable Therapy

Mable Therapy is the only online speech and language provider in Europe, offering a network of specialists therapists to deliver speech assessment and therapy sessions to children in schools across the UK.

Using digital technology, Mable is changing how special educational needs and disability (SEND) education and counselling is conducted, providing access to specialists from anywhere. The custom-built therapy platform is used by schools and parents across the UK.

Thousands of young people make use of Mable's service, which has no waiting lists, flexible appointment times, and tracked progress for the child being supported.

Founded: 2015

Founders: Martha Currie and Elliot Agro

Website: mabletherapy.com 

We talked to Martha about the background of Mable Therapy.

Why did you start Mable Therapy?

I’m a paediatric speech and language therapist. I've always loved language, and I have been fascinated with children’s acquisition of communication skills. I worked in the NHS for 10 years but I started to notice a big change. Services were underfunded and the demand for more children to be seen was higher and we were incredibly stretched.

It was disheartening to know I wasn’t doing everything I could for these young people.

A lot of my time was taken up by completing administrative tasks, which came to feel like just a box-ticking exercise. I’d also spend most of my workday traveling to different schools, adopting more and more of a hands-off consultative approach to intervention.

I couldn’t help thinking how much I would love to be doing “actual therapy” with children, rather than simply assessing and writing recommendations for pupils I never got the chance to know. 

One evening after work, my partner Elliot and I were sitting in a pub reflecting on our day. Elliot is a software developer, and at the time was working for another startup company in data analysis.

Elliot had the idea that I could deliver speech and language sessions via video conferencing. I would be able to stay in one place and attend virtual appointments to clients without the need to travel. We could also include automatic reporting and communication with parents and other professionals, all from the same system.

Tell us more about the tech behind the product. 

The technology behind Mable is bespoke; we use the latest browser-based developments which means we can deliver HD video streams on any computer with a webcam without the school having to install any additional software. It’s easy and accessible to everyone.

We have clinicians and developers working under the same room, so we were able to design custom-made games, appropriate for giving evidence-based input. Some of the reporting features the engineers have developed have enabled us to get some amazing data on how the pupils are performing in session.

As a speech therapist, it’s great to get this immediately as it means we can focus on delivering the intervention to the child instead of laboriously totting up scores on a piece of paper! The time saved has enabled us to pass an additional saving on to the customer, which means full assessments can be delivered through Mable at a relatively low cost.

Where are you at right now?

At the moment we're working on designing new games and activities for clients of different age ranges. Currently, there are a number of creative ideas we are working on to support teenagers in a social, emotional, mental health (SEMH) school in the North of England. So we are spending time with these young people so that we can work on our designs and make sure our product is engaging for everyone.

Another project we are currently working on is a CPD library for teaching staff. We’re designing interactive online training modules for TAs, Teachers and SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinators). They'll be able to upskill themselves in areas of speech, language, and communication, so they can provide support and consistency in not only children’s provision but their overall class teaching.

We are also pushing our technological boundaries, enabling the platform to be available on other devices and developing a supporting app for our counselling services. 

What are your aims for the next year?

We have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline. We are going to be working on a project with a young offenders team in the North East and we hope that the success of that will enable us to roll out our services to other parts of the UK.

We are developing the Mable Academy for teachers to learn online about special educational needs and we are continuing to develop our counselling service to support pupil and staff wellbeing. 

What's been the hardest thing about getting Mable Therapy off the ground?

Having live video in schools alongside interactive games means the video stream and games have to be synced with each other remotely in real-time. This was one of our first obstacles to overcome, but thanks to our tremendous developers, we managed to figure it out. 

Another challenge was scaling the company. This happened for us at quite a pace and was very stressful for a time. We now have an excellent head office team who have really pulled together when things have been hard and carried forward our brand message and goals. 

In the Speech and Language community, there has been some resistance to using technology, although recently this is becoming less of a problem. We have researched online therapy extensively and pupils are responding to it very well. This is the way the industry is moving, but not everyone will be happy about it because it is different from what they are used to. 

Why should more people be using Mable Therapy? 

Mable therapy is a specialist service which supports pupils to access services which may not be available to them locally. Children should not be on waiting lists for specialist services based on where they live, and Mable helps eradicate this issue.

We have some of the best specialists working in areas of the UK that simply don’t have the skills and staff to meet the needs of the community. The children and young people using Mable love it. The platform is familiar enough and engaging enough to support pupils anxious about communicating with new people.

For schools, we have quantitative impact measures and progress data demonstrating the effectiveness of each pupil and evidencing budget spend without additional paperwork. 

How much will it cost users - and why is it worth the investment?

We work on a cost-per-pupil basis. Assessments are £160 for a 45-minute appointment, a referral to one of our specialists, custom-made provision maps and a discussion with the parents.

We then charge £40 per therapy session, which includes a session report, homework activities and catch-ups with teachers and parents.