The tortuous path of start-ups tackling dyslexia and other learning disabilities

Posted Nov 4, 2022, 8:00 AM

In France, the French Dys Federation estimates that 6% to 8% of the population suffer from dys disorders. Most are dyslexic (reading disorder), dyspraxic (coordination of gestures) or suffer from dysphasia (of oral language). For many affected children, learning and the school period can become a real 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 which sees the actors multiply.

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 help dys in their daily school life ( reading, organizing, taking notes, etc.). This all-in-one software has the advantage of addressing a wider target and various dys 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 are often more financially damaged. Many start-ups also attack only one type of dys disorder, reducing the market. All of this put together can be off-putting,” says Mari Kameyama, investor at Investir & +.

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

accessible books

Same story at Mobidys, a young shoot that has been marketing software since 2019 to facilitate reading and learning on tablets and computers. Its technology based on cognitive sciences is being implemented with book publishers, its initial customers.

From now on, the publishers are partners, and the start-up sells its offers to schools, colleges and high schools, or around 200,000 students equipped by the end of the year. Most publishing houses work with the start-up, such as Bayard, Albin Michel, Nathan…

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

The turning point of the health crisis

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

Another advance, regulatory this time, allows young shoots to emerge: the European legislative act on accessibility, which requires that certain products and services be accessible to people with disabilities, including dys disorders. On paper, at least. This summer, France was put on notice by the European Commission for non-transposition of this act.

Integrate into the care pathway

If application times are long, the same is true for start-ups in this sector, which are intensive in R&D. The start-up Mila has just obtained CE marking (which allows marketing in France and Europe) for its medical device. This medtech, which went through Techstars, in the United States, is developing a video game with the CNRS in Marseille allowing children to be re-educated on language disorders.

“We integrate into the care pathway alongside health professionals, such as speech therapists. The idea is that the child can continue his exercises at home”, specifies François Vonthron, co-founder, who raised 4 million euros with biotech funds last year. The entrepreneur works alongside mutuals and insurers so that in the long term the cost of gambling is zero for the beneficiaries.

Still in the clinical phase, Mila should be marketed in 2023. Medical devices nevertheless fit into a perilous sector. “In recent years, we have seen a large wave of players offering solutions for individuals, with medical claims that are not proven”, underlines François Vonthron.

The entrepreneur thinks in particular of the American Lumosity, which offered an application to prevent cognitive disorders. In 2016, the start-up was pinned down by the policeman of business practices in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission, and ordered to pay a $2 million fine for having put forward a scientific approach that was not proven.

> Fundraising, decryptions, key figures… To not miss any news from French Tech and start-ups, subscribe to our newsletter > Register

Leave a Comment