Schooling is kind of important. Having students as engaged as they possibly can be is key too, right? But what if a pupil is struggling through a form of learning disorder like dysgraphia, dyspraxia or dyslexia; how can the classroom be more inclusive for them too? Thankfully, the award-winning Gippsland start-up Dystech is creating platforms to assist them.
Impressively, Dystech has built the world’s first app that swiftly screens for motor dysgraphia. And this is just the beginning, as Dystech team is also working on dyspraxia and dyslexia!
There are two types of dysgraphia: language dysgraphia which is characterised by a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes; and, motor dysgraphia characterised by a chaotic writing style. Motor dysgraphia is often associated with dyspraxia.
Experts are not sure what causes it, but early detection is paramount to put in place an adequate education strategy. The Australian Dyslexia Association believes that 10% of the population suffer from dysgraphia and/or dyslexia.
Hearing that the start-up was successfully utilising artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to assess a user’s likelihood for motor dysgraphia, we reached out to Jim Radford, a co-founder at Dystech, to learn more.
Gippslandia: When were the seeds for Dystech first planted? Where did the idea land from?
Jim: All four co-founders have a personal connection to dyslexia. The idea was first discussed in 2017–18. We wanted to develop something that uses AI and machine learning to predict the likelihood of dyslexia in an individual. It had to be affordable, accurate and easily deployable.
We first developed and used our algorithms on a small set of test data, and the results came back with an accuracy above 90%. We knew we were onto something.
In growing the company, how do you find the right staff to join the team?
Each co-founder brings their own level of expertise to the team.
Our expertise covers AI, mathematics, robotics, taxation, marketing, business planning, public relations, French and English. We have also hired server architects, web developers, computer coders, public relations specialists, lawyers and speech pathologists.
Our method has been for at least two of the co-founders to interview each individual and we make up our minds on the spot. This includes our engagement of service providers. One law firm we interviewed on Skype looked like they were sitting in their bathroom on camera. They were, and are very knowledgeable, and we engaged them for their services. Why? Because we have been very tight with money and we could see they weren’t wasting client fees on big leather couches and huge offices.
As a cutting-edge technology company, we use as many technical advancements as we can, which means a lot of online meetings and engagement via many different online portals. In some cases, we have never met some of our team members face-to-face. For example, you may be surprised to hear that I have never met one of the co-founders, who is based in France, in person.
You’ve been involved in several start-up programs — which have been the most beneficial and why?
Dystech Australia would have to be the most promising and most impactful. We are committed to changing the lives of children across the world. It’s important to point out that our dyslexia assessment app is not just for children with dyslexia, it’s also for assessing children without it. Many symptoms of dyslexia are similar to other conditions, and it’s helpful to know whether a child has dyslexia or not. Our company constitution dictates that if we reach a stalemate in our decision making, we ask ourselves, ‘Which choice will benefit a child with dyslexia the best?’ and we go with that.
How many students or how much data do you anticipate will be required to develop a dyslexia-detecting algorithm that’s accurate enough to be released to the market?
We have already built the algorithm and collected sufficient data, in fact, we have built an additional app that can predict the likelihood of dysgraphia and will be releasing this to the market shortly. The dyslexia app is on schedule for release by June 30, 2020.
What steps are taken to protect the privacy of your users?
This is extremely important. Any data collected on paper is destroyed after data entry. All digital data is de-identified and even our data collection procedures have been scrutinised for facilitating as much privacy as possible. Part of our journey has been to get ethics approval. This is something we are very proud of.
Our apps can be used to assess all children, so it is not a case of picking out individuals and having them stand out. Ideally, we assess all the kids in a group.
How do you design a platform that young kids want to use or interact with?
Trial and error. We have spent thousands of hours gathering input from children, adults, parents and professionals. All of this has gone into our design.
As one of Gippsland’s successful start-ups, who, locally, have you been mentored by?
This list is long and I apologise to those I may leave out:
Jeanie Hall from Latrobe Valley Authority
Michelle Anderson from Regional Development Victoria
Sarah Tate from Latrobe Valley Authority
Terry Plozza and Shannan Little, Latrobe City Council
Every school teacher in the area who has had time to talk to us has been a huge support
Local Speech Pathologists, especially Rhonda Campbell of Bellfield Speech Pathology, Warragul, who has been a wealth of knowledge and support.
Tony and Kay Radford, local entrepreneurs from Traralgon who have been instrumental with business mentoring.
We have also had a lot of support and guidance from the members of the Latrobe City Chapter of Business Networking International.
How does our region get more start-ups onto the world stage?
Support. Support. Support. Definitely keep the Startup Gippsland program going. Make it easier for younger people, in particular, to explore their talents.
Describe the benefits you eventually hope to bring to a young dyslexic learner once Dystech is really hitting its stride.
We started with the imagined (real?) scenario of a little Sally or Johnny struggling at school and/or at home with their homework. The adults around them hoping they would ‘grow out of it’. Teachers and parents working tirelessly to help them. Time passes by but they are still struggling. Someone suggests dyslexia might be the issue, triggering assessments, interventions and the like. All this adds up to time. Time that could be better spent on learning, developing, growing and building the foundations of a productive, contributing member of society. So what do we hope to deliver? Time. Time that would otherwise be lost, which creates real setbacks for people. There are awesome professionals out there just waiting to help. The sooner we can assess a child and get them on the right path of support, the better.
Visit dystech.com.au for more information on this tremendous new, Gippsland-based, platform, or download the Dyscreen app (available on iOS and Android devices) and each screening will cost $29.00.