As part of the startup Interview series, we are going to interview Mrs. AnaMaria Onică from Voxi Kids, a woman-founded startup from Romania offering a personal speech therapy app to help children and adults, who struggle with hearing and speaking impairments.
AnaMaria, thanks for taking the time to catch up with us. Can you briefly outline the company’s story, what is Voxi Kids’ key goal? Who are the founders and how it all became what it is today?
Back in 2018 two friends wanted to make a real impact and change using the knowledge they had. From the first idea to the first MVP, a year passed. Thus, in March 2019, the first draft of the mobile application was launched. I resonate with this niche more than my colleagues, also because of having unilateral hearing loss. I perfectly understood the difficulties that children with speech and/or hearing impairments go through.
The company founders are Cristian Baita as CTO and AnaMaria Onica as CEO.
We are lucky to have Cristian Baita as CTO. His technical background and previous experience as a leader in large companies not to mention the fact that he was previously involved in other start-ups, has a great impact in product development.
As a CEO, I am mainly focused on business growth, new partnerships that can improve the impact we are having, and scouting new markets. My background in UI/UX had a great impact on the way the product looks and feels. More important for the product impact is the fact that we are closely working with professional speech therapists.
From then until now, the business developed, currently, we are around 10 people, passionate and with a common drive and vision.
What kind of products and services does your company offer?
Voxi products are targeting the e-health sector, focusing on mental health problems, especially in children. We have launched 2 products – VoxiKids mobile, designed to help children with speech and pronunciation problems. Thru a series of serious games, children can learn while having fun, in this way the recovery process is shorter.
While VoxiClinic, the second product – is connecting patients with speech therapists no matter the distance. By offering to speech therapists a virtual office equipped with specialized content and management tools that allow them to perform with success, therapy sessions in an online environment or in the office.
What’s the latest progress in the project, and what are you focusing on right now?
From 2020 we are focusing on VoxiClinic, because in the Covid 19 pandemic context, the digital clinic was a real help for children and speech therapists. We managed to keep them in contact even in lockdown and moreover, we helped other parents to connect with a speech therapist they needed. Right now we are expanding the content and add new tools which will be beneficial both for speech therapists and their patients/clients.
What pain of your customers are you helping solve? What is your company’s offering and what kind of customers and partners are you looking for?
The number of children that are registered to have pronunciation and speech deficiencies is rising. In most of the countries, 1 in 4 children has such an issue. Moreover, we have countries where a parent must wait between 6-12 months to have access to a speech therapist.
With VoxiClinic a parent can find a speech therapist for their children and start having online professional speech therapy, all they need is an internet connection and a laptop or tablet.
As a speech therapist, you can start working from home or from your office withing VoxiClinic. Create an account and you have your virtual office from where you can access specialized content, manage your time better, have more efficient therapy sessions, and even grow your business. VoxiClinic can be used both online and in office speech therapy sessions.
In conclusion, we help children to have a voice, a better future, and a faster recovery time by connecting them with professional speech therapists and giving them access to a mobile app designed especially for them. As a company, we are aiming to be present in new markets, we are always looking to partner with clinics, hospitals, or other start-ups that are focusing on e-health in order to help each other grow. Our target is to be a leader in providing quality specialized care for mental health patients.
What differentiates Voxi Kids from its competitors?
Voxi products are a complete package, we have VoxiClinic accessible from any browser available in Romanian and English language, and VoxiKids – mobile app (iOS & Android) to help exercising from home. We are using advanced technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), to deliver individualized interventions that accelerate patients’ progress and shortens the recovery time.
Through VoxiClinic, designed as a one-stop shop for e-health, we provide online speech therapy sessions (video/audio) and help speech therapists to have more time, earn more, and access specialized content. All the available content is created together with speech therapists, mixed with e-learning games and animated rewards, so the kids are learning and having fun. In conclusion, we are not just another platform, we are a digital clinic that helps children, parents, patients diagnosed with a stroke, and specialists in speech therapy altogether.
Do you have any projects related to COVID-19 research? If so, can you explain how your product is contributing to a global fight against coronavirus?
We can proudly say that during these harsh times, our products helped hundreds of families to continue therapy by using VoxiKids mobile app. From the end of 2020, we also helped speech therapists to perform their job from home, since there are few digital products designed for them. We will continue to support them by bringing the necessary tools to enhance speech therapy sessions and empower all speech therapists so that as many children/patients as possible can have access to the therapy they need.
What is your business model and how are you planning to get early customers onboard? Have you already raised money for your operations and building the platform?
When we started building this product, we used initially our own money. We, as founders, wanted to use our knowledge in technology for good. But since we wanted to grow and expand the product capabilities, we attracted investors from the private sector. Until now we raised two rounds of investment from VC and business angels.
We are a B2B2C company, that has already over 10.000 downloads on the mobile app and around 100 speech therapists in VoxiClinic since the official launched in January 2021.
VoxiClinic can be tested by speech therapists for 30 days, and after that, they can choose one of three subscriptions that are appropriate for them. Also, we provide live demo sessions sustain by our customer care manager. In VoxiKids mobile app, we gave around 40 free exercises so anyone can test the app and see if is appropriate for their children.
What milestones have you had in fundraising and where are you now?
Our second round was closed in May 2021. The goal is to establish our presence on a new market, look for strategic partnerships and show that we have not just a market fit product but a business that can grow. Right now, we are working to improve customer experience and to add new content to the platform.
In autumn, we will launch a new set of tools (patient wallet, appointments, etc) that are a must for all speech therapists and most beneficial for their children/patients.
What was it like growing your team? What are the challenges and surprises you encountered? What tips do you have for building a solid team?
For us growing a team that resonated with our vision and mission was challenging. As we needed a good development team, finding them was difficult since the IT sector is the most expensive but also with the highest demand on the market. To overcome this, we talked to those we already knew in the field, passionate about what they do, and we proposed to them to join us. Thus, we formed a part of the team, completing the rest from outsourcing resources. Another challenge was to find specialists in speech therapy from every country we targeted, to ensure that the content was one of great speech therapy value. We were lucky enough that in Romania we were guided to the best specialists. For the UK we have met one of the most passionate speech therapists with a good understanding of the digital field.
Building a solid team takes time, patience, and good communication. Also, as a leader being able to convey the vision and mission to the entire team is key. The basis of a good product is not only a very good idea but a cohesive team with a flexible leader in thinking with a vision that is able to convey to everyone.
What are your company’s plans for the future, your major dream in 2021?
In 2021 we want to increase our presence in English-speaking markets to improve more children’s lives than we currently do. But the main goal for us is to be a reference digital clinic for all patients with mental health issues with access to the best specialists in the field.
What do you think about the business climate in Romania and in the EU in general?
Beginning with 2019 Romania has become more attractive for investors. The IT (digital) and business sectors are most wanted when it comes to investment. Regarding the European Union, we can say that it has a role of a strategic partner for the Romanian investment ecosystem since a big percent of the investments are coming from EU countries. Still, a notable growth came from regional investments, Romanian VC or/and business angels.
Romania has a difficult battle to fight to increase attractiveness for foreign investors. We need support for small and medium-sized enterprises, stronger environmental policies, access to credits, and a strong fiscal system.
However, I think we are on the right path since in the last year the number of women that started a business has raised but we still have a long way to come.
To summarize our interview, I would like to ask your opinion about the future of the HealthTech industry, especially considering the impact of pandemics and all this economic turbulence.
In the past years, we were witnessing a huge transformation in healthcare due to the impact of digitalization. Telemedicine, artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled medical devices, and blockchain electronic health records are just a few concrete examples of digital transformation in healthcare.
The future of medicine is still shaping up, due to technologies such as robotics or nanotechnology. Technology has a huge impact on health care by equalizing the relationship between medical professionals and patients and moreover can help us win the battle with the deadliest diseases. In my opinion, AI has the potential to change healthcare completely.