Up to 10% of all children can be placed somewhere along the dyslexic spectrum. Linda O’ Sullivan first became concerned when her own son, Oisín, was seen to be having difficulties at school. He was having problems with with reading fluency and comprehension and was beginning to fall behind his classmates.
Oisín was diagnosed as having dyslexia and Linda took him along to the Dyslexic Support Centre in Limerick.
The Centre was founded by Marie Stubbings who works with evidence based teaching and intervention methods for children who are dyslexic. Using a number of different teaching intervention methods she worked with Oisin on a number of different levels and according to Linda, “His reading improved quite a lot during that time.”
It occurred to Linda that, “These exercises would work very well in a game based environment driven by an animated story.” When she looked around she found there was nothing available.
“Children… need something where their attitudes towards reading and learning become more positive. Kids in that situation can often develop negative attitudes towards learning whereas in a games environment kids can become more positive and use that positive energy for learning.”
Linda initially thought about using her ideas as the basis for a possible PhD research project. However, after speaking to the University of Limerick and NUI Galway she realised that her ideas were more suited to a business project.
“I really felt because I was on my own I needed the structure of some business support and the business development expertise of pulling the finance together.” So she enrolled on the Limerick Enterprise Acceleration Platform (LEAP) which is housed in the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre in the grounds of the Limerick Institute of Technology.
“I picked up a lot of knowledge and also because a lot of the businesses in there are technical there are a lot of techies in the building. That was helpful to me to get up and running in the business. It was in there as well that I met Jennifer Keane who became my partner in the business. The program suited my needs exceptionally well.”
The 12 months that Linda spent on the program allowed her to put together a business plan, to market research and bring together an educational advisory panel. The prototype of the product was developed and testing was done with dyslexic children.
To round the year off, Footbridge Interactive (as Linda’s company was now called) won first prize in the LEAP Business Awards. The prize of €50,000 in investment funding came from sponsors AIB Seed Capital Fund.
“What our product does is it allows the child to play in a fun environment while reinforcing the skills necessary for fluent reading. The program also tracks the areas of the child’s strength and weakness.
“Our real motivation is for this to be a home based product. Even with the schools working with us we need the kids to be allowed to do this at home so this can reinforce the learning support they’re getting at school.
“The idea is for it to be in game-time or leisure time, when the child is relaxed and we believe this is where this product will have most benefit.
“Our first export market we’re concentrating on for the first 12 months is the UK. From the very beginning we have been speaking with the British Dyslexia Association. We have someone from their tech committee on our board of advisors.
“Breaking into the online space and becoming known brand will be our biggest challenge. It will take a huge amount of intensive labour at making that breakthrough online to become a known port of call where parents and teachers looking for extra learning material will go.
“I have to keep reminding myself the whole reason I have this project is because of my children. While in some ways it may be a handicap in other ways it gives me the edge as well. I understand my market, parents and mothers in particular, and the worries and stresses they have about their children’s future.”