Alice Kahrmann interviews Rebecca Bright, co-founder of Therapy Box.

Awards abound in this day and age, syndicated, subsidised, there’s almost an award for every startup stretching its legs and attempting to walk unaided onto the startup scene, but in the midst of all them are The Natwest Everywoman Awards, a seismic endeavour celebrating the achievements of the fairer sex.

A yearly ceremony held in the plush surroundings of London’s Dorchester hotel, attended by the great and good, this year defined by a stand out speech from Kelly Hoppen, ‘the only thing in my life that’s always been successful is my hair’ – yes it was nothing if not a galvanizing day, but amidst the razzmatazz, a company certainly stood out; Therapy Box, the winner of The Iris Award (sponsored by IBM) for 'the most inspirational and successful female entrepreneur who runs a business that uses technology in an innovative and disruptive way.’

So what’s the USP? Communication centric, app led software to aid those with a range of disabilities arising from cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease, autism, Brain Injuries and other neurological and developmental disorders. Quite the mission for founder Rebecca Bright.

Indeed it was when working as a speech and language therapist in 2009, that Bright had her light bulb moment; focused on clients with disabilities, ‘mostly adults, young adults in particular who had a history of degenerative disease, at the time I was working for the Carphone Warehouse in a commercial role, which got me to thinking about apps etc, understanding the market from a commercial perspective, what was possible because at the time communication aids cost around five thousand pounds, and were limited to software on out of date PCs, so we were quite keen to think about a more affordable solution.’

Of course entering a market that had been established for quite a while threw up its own challenges; ‘Devices were PC based, quite locked down, there was a bit of scepticism about whether an app would deliver on what people with communication difficulties needed.' Nevertheless the founder and her team set about adding ‘built in speakers and extra batteries; the device needed to be used all day, perhaps on their wheelchair or in quite a rugged environment, so it was quite protective for them. When we launched our first app, the Ipad had just come to fruition. It was quite early days accepting that mobile technology would be the way the market would move.’

So what does the average day ask of its founder? Meetings with team members, assessing foreign markets, planning for events, brainstorming strategies to further engage their customer base and ‘then we’ve just come out of a meeting talking about Google glass and how we’re going to incorporate that.’ Ah yes the disruptive innovation that’s just hit the UK, not without its detractors, but Bright isn’t one of them. ‘It’s all about how to manage privacy issues but also from our point of view how people with disabilities can reduce the amount of kit they need to carry around. It’s early days but we’re about to start looking at development.’ The usual rigmarole of running a business is combined with ‘testing the apps that are going to be released in the next little while and another app which is for one of our third party clients.’ From the genesis of an idea to fruition. ‘It takes a lot longer than people might think, there is a lot of time at the beginning, planning, looking at the functionality and the features, researching the market, understanding what we need to add in, so it can take anywhere from fourteen months to eighteen months to get an app out to market.’

With specialist teams, ‘experts in the field’, many of them young ‘tech savvy’ graduates with lots of energy and enthusiasm Bright's staff are on high alert, ‘they bring a fresh perspective; I just came out of a brainstorming meeting where everyone was coming up with great ideas; new apps and new ways of working with new technology so it’s a team who are very aware.’ Therapy Box is nothing if not a grass roots business that thrives on customer service ‘we have a lot of interaction with people actually using our apps, and I think that’s the biggest thing with regards to development. Fixing things that people didn’t like or taking on suggestions.’ Occasionally customers come into the office ‘when we’ve got something new coming out; their feedback is invaluable.'

Bright is not the only founder at the helm of Therapy Box however; she is joined by Swapnil Gadgil, though the co-founders have clearly defined roles with Bright focusing on new business, organisation and marketing, ‘working with a team, working very closely with the app store, developing the process, making sure that they’re not just user friendly but suitable for people with disabilities,’ whilst Gadgil ‘looks after the commercial side, overseeing development, the day to day running of the business, making sure things are tracking to schedule, on time, on budget etc.’

As the years have gone on, Bright has learnt from others around her; 'My partner has a very commercial background so he has a more business head than I do, that’s been a real benefit, the main thing is to keep people onboard who can do things you can’t. And when you can’t do it not stretching yourself thinking you can; that’s how I’ve managed to run a business, coming not from a business background at all.’ Which brings us to the nuts and bolts, advice to pass onto the next generation of award winners. ‘Try to stick to your specialist area; now we only do things for the very specialist area of speech therapy, don’t try to conquer everything, cater to your market, aim to be the leader rather than covering too broad an area, find as many ways as possible to talk to your customers so that you can make a better product and drive more sales, do not miss opportunities for people to report a bug or complain about something, and find out more about how customers are interacting with your product, make it better, make sure you’ve got time to work on the business rather than in the business, time away from the day to day things so you can reflect on how it’s going, keep a close eye on the numbers, you need it to be profitable.’ And finally, ‘do something you enjoy so going to work each day is rewarding, so you’re not counting the minutes.’

There it is, a whistle-stop tour of an incredibly altruistic online presence, no surprise there are a slew of rewarding anecdotes for Bright to recount; ‘One customer said that prior to using our apps he felt locked in, and that after, he finally had a way to communicate things, he was able to tell his wife that, he was really quite limited in all senses, it really opened up his sense of autonomy. A lady also emailed us to tell us that because her husband couldn’t communicate, the apps had actually saved their marriage.’ As well as the Iris Award, more recently Therapy Box received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, and were we to hazard a guess, the awards will keep on coming.

Read about past winners of everywoman Awards and their favourite sites by clicking here and here

Alice Kahrmann, July 2014