Start-ups’ tortuous path in combating dyslexia and other learning disabilities

Posted on Nov 4, 2022, 8am

In France, the French Federation of Dys estimates that 6% to 8% of the population suffers from dys disorders. Most are dyslexic (reading disorder), dyspraxic (gesture coordination) or suffer from dysphasia (oral language). For many affected children, learning and school time can become hell.

In recent years, several start-ups have decided to put technology at the service of disability from two main angles: medical and educational. A sector still in its infancy, but one that sees actors multiplying.

Others act as precursors, such as Cantoo, born in 2009. This start-up creates a kind of digital notebook that brings together various tools (voice synthesis, spell checker, word spacing, etc.) to read, organize, take notes, etc. .). This all-in-one software has the advantage of addressing a broader target and various dysfunctional disorders.

An argument that allowed him to seduce investors. The start-up announces a fundraising of 1 million euros (including 750,000 in debt), led by the Investir & + impact fund. As traditional investors are often hesitant to support disability-related projects, raising funds in this sector is not easy…

find the model

“It remains a niche market and these populations tend to be more financially harmed. Many startups also attack just one type of dis disorder, shrinking the market. All this together can be discouraging”, says Mari Kameyama, investor at Investir & +.

Another thorn in the side: the economic model. It took Cantoo several years to find him. “We first approached the parents, but it was not feasible in terms of acquisition costs. We made a pivot and are targeting communities and gyms,” recalls Minashe Selvam, co-founder.

accessible books

The same story at Mobidys, a young woman who has been selling software since 2019 to facilitate reading and learning on tablets and computers. Its cognitive science-based technology is being implemented with book publishers, its initial customers.

From now on, publishers are partners, and the start-up sells its offerings to schools, colleges and colleges, or about 200,000 equipped students by the end of the year. Most publishers work with the start-up, like Bayard, Albin Michel, Nathan…

“If we are only in BtoC, it is families with significant cultural capital that will turn to these solutions. However, in the field of disability, solutions must be accessible to the greatest number and this often involves National Education”, explains Mari Kameyama.

The turning point of the health crisis

A large-scale event allowed this supposedly difficult actor to achieve a big leap: the health crisis. “I think we are at a turning point. Two before Covid, the market was very immature. There, we gained ten or fifteen years”, estimates Minashe Selvam de Cantoo.

Another advance, this time regulatory, allows the emergence of young shoots: the European legislative act on accessibility, which requires that certain products and services be accessible to people with disabilities, including disabilities. On paper, at least. This summer, France was notified by the European Commission for not transposing this act.

Integrate into the care pathway

If application times are long, so are start-ups in this sector, which are R&D intensive. Start-up Mila has just obtained the CE marking (which allows marketing in France and Europe) for its medical device. This medtech, which passed through Techstars, in the United States, is developing a video game with CNRS in Marseille that allows re-educating children about language disorders.

“We integrate in the trajectory of care alongside health professionals, such as speech therapists. The idea is that the child can continue their exercises at home”, specifies François Vonthron, co-founder, who raised 4 million euros with biotechnology funds last year. The entrepreneur works alongside mutuals and insurance companies so that, in the long run, the cost of the game is zero for the beneficiaries.

Still in the clinical phase, Mila should be marketed in 2023. Medical devices, however, fall into a dangerous sector. “In recent years, we have seen a huge wave of players offering solutions for individuals with unproven medical claims”, underlines François Vonthron.

The businessman thinks in particular of the American Lumosity, which offered an application to prevent cognitive disorders. In 2016, the start-up was arrested by US trade practices law enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission, and ordered to pay a $2 million fine for having presented an unproven scientific approach.

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