A couple from Northern Ireland are looking to tackle the waiting list backlog for accessing speech and language therapy in the UK with a new online platform that matches parents with qualified practitioners. 

Saltroad is backed by a £575,000 pre-seed funding round, led by Techstart Ventures and London-based Ascension VC. 

Saltroad co-founders Debi and Darren Lester, have backgrounds in speech and language therapy and building technology businesses. Debi has over 12 years’ experience as a speech and language therapist in both the NHS and the private sector, while Darren built, the leading online marketplace in the construction product sector in the UK, which he sold in 2021. 

This initial funding will be used to develop the platform and recruit engineers; building a core team in the Belfast area. The aim is to launch the platform in the next six months and onboard thousands of speech and language therapists over the next 18 months. 

Two million children in the UK (one in five) currently need speech and language therapy. Existing provision in both the NHS and with private specialists is nowhere close to meeting the level of demand. Going down the NHS route, it can take up to two years just to get an initial assessment. 

Private therapy, meanwhile, is something of a ‘postcode lottery’ with no way of assessing quality or value for money. With rising demand, prices have become unaffordable for many, with fees as high as £250 per hour. 

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“There are some 20,000 speech therapists in the UK with 5,000 in private practice and 15,000 in the NHS, many of whom are keen to take on part-time private work. If we can unlock this pool of talent, it goes some way towards alleviating the problem and helping parents to get an assessment within days not years,” said Darren. 

Saltroad is also targeting existing private practitioners by offering a solution to the ‘boom and bust’ nature of being an independent operator. The platform is intended to let them access to a steady stream of patients and remove much of the administrative tasks of running a practice, freeing up more time for delivering actual therapy. This is expected, in turn, to create further capacity in the market. 

“We understand the challenges and pressures on parents trying to access speech and language therapy, especially when you consider the impact of poor language skills on later academic attainment and life choices, so we try to make life easier for parents,” said Debi.

“They get a simple website, answer some basic questions, state their preferences in terms of budget and availability and get matched immediately with the right therapist for their child’s needs.”

Audrey Osborne from Techstart Ventures commented: “We are delighted to be able to support such a dynamic couple who want to grow their business from Northern Ireland. As a digital marketplace platform, it has tremendous growth potential beyond the UK.” 

Ascension VC’s Toyosi Ogedengbe added: “Darren’s previous experience in building, scaling and exiting a marketplace business together with the deep expertise and understanding of speech and language therapy that Debi brings, gives me strong conviction that Saltroad will make a significant impact in addressing a growing problem.”

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