Novel Speech

Shvimer-Rothschild: "It is important for us to make our treatment accessible to people around the globe."

Lilach Shvimer-Rothschild, Co-Founder and COO of NovoTalk. (photo credit: SELLY YAFFE-AVIDOR)
Lilach Shvimer-Rothschild, Co-Founder and COO of NovoTalk.
(photo credit: SELLY YAFFE-AVIDOR)
Two years ago, Lilach Shvimer-Rothschild, 41, a speech therapist by profession, together with her startup, Novotalk, a developer of technological solutions to treat stuttering as well as other speech disorders, stood at a crossroads: she and her colleagues needed to decide whether or not they should stick to their original treatment model, which meant continuing their individual work at their clinic with patients using their unique software, or changing direction to what she dubs an "asynchronous" treatment model - meaning upgrading the program so that it would allow patients who speak different languages around the world to go through therapy independently using a computer, a tablet or even their cell phone. This could be done from any place, and at any time the patient desires, and would make a visit to the clinic and meeting their therapist superfluous. At the end of the day, Shvimer-Rothschild and her colleagues chose the latter, albeit more ambitious model, and saw the fruits of their labor a few months ago, when one of the largest American health networks, Mount Sinai, decided to create with them a joint venture to commercialize Novotalk’s offerings in the US and Canada and to collaborate with them on research and development on new conditions. Mount Sinai also decided to invest money in the young Israeli company - the first investment they ever did outside of the US. In the near future, the company will publicly begin another fundraising round in North America, this time with the support of the prestigious chain of hospitals which wholeheartedly adopted them.
"This was a critical decision, since it not only required us to make fundamental changes to our software and approach to therapy, but also required us to divert a maximum amount of our financial resources towards continued technological R&D, instead of beginning the marketing process of the somewhat limited clinical platform we already possessed, and begin collecting money from clients," Shvimer-Rothschild, the company founder recalls. "it was then that we brought a new CEO, Zohar Beeri, on board, and we knew that this would require us to recruit additional professionals in the field. We were very concerned as no such model existed anywhere else and there was substantial chance of failure. On the other hand, I knew that if the new model will work, I would fulfill my personal vision of making speech treatment accessible to anybody who needs it around the world. And indeed, our software is available both in Hebrew and English, but in the future we plan on translating it into Spanish, French, German and even Mandarin, since stuttering is prevalent in all languages. We are already operating in Israel and we are launching our US platform next month, and patients can undergo therapy by simply logging to our website at novotalk.com."

What drove a speech therapist such as yourself to dive into the world of hi-tech?
"I had a private clinic for treatment of speech impairments . One day, my partner and I were watching an interview on a television program, which interviewed a person who introduced himself as an individual who stutters as well as a software engineer. He was talking about how he underwent therapy at a clinic in Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem using software they worked with at the time, but when he requested direct access so that he could continue the exercises he learned there at home, it turned out that it was not possible. He recounted that in light of this, he himself developed technological software for the practice of the techniques he learned during therapy, which would allow patients to continue their work at home, and that he was looking for partners and investors to kickstart this project".
And what did you do?
"We swiftly contacted him with the goal of adopting his idea. We thought then that it could be an effective training tool both for our therapists at the clinic as well as our patients, who could complete their exercises at home. We introduced add-ons to the software and it was then that we caught on to a very important understanding, which in hindsight changed the startup's trajectory – it became apparent that independent exercises that patients were doing at home were much more effective than one-on-one treatments with a therapist at the clinic. As a result, the idea arose to upload the software to the internet, online, in our case to a 'cloud', and in this way allow the patient to take responsibility for his own treatment. Zohar, the CEO, dubbed it 'disconnecting the plug between the therapist and the patient at the clinic', and I have to say that up until this point, it is working brilliantly."
As far as the patient is concerned, what are the advantages of doing independent therapy at home or anywhere else which is comfortable for him or her?
"In general, it is not easy to find a professional who specializes in your specific problem, and we know that in the field of speech and communication, the demand for professionals both in Israel and around the world, outweighs supply. Our solution also saves our patients and their surroundings, time and energy – they do not need to make an appointment ahead of time, and they do not need to drop everything and come in to the clinic once or twice a week, with all what that entails. They can stay at home and independently learn and practice exercises related to their treatment, with a clear mind and no distractions. By the way, the second we diminished patients' dependency on the human factor, meaning therapists, it turned out that there was a higher tendency to be consistent in terms of treatment. Last but not least, it is a more affordable solution, which is important since regular treatments at a clinic is not something that everyone can afford, and one of our missions is to make this treatment accessible to as many people as possible."
In practice, how does the collaboration between the speech therapist and the developers and programmers work?
"Let's say, for example, that I want to build a platform for hoarseness treatment - the clinical team give his insights, meaning we take our therapeutic reality at the clinic and translate it into guidelines for the technological team, who in turn, with the help of the information and treatment methods which we provided for them, build the appropriate algorithms. Later on, when the patient is doing exercises independently, we retain all of his or her exercise data for the purposes of analysis and follow-up. In general, our system is able to identify all the instances in which the patient is having trouble and consequently adapts his or her specific treatment plan".
What key tips can you offer managers and entrepreneurs who are just starting out? 

"If you have a dream, do not be scared of breaking out of your familiar framework and try to fulfill it. Worst case scenario, you will not succeed and that is not the end of the world. In my case, it meant leaving a successful private clinic for my personal vision. It's not that easy to dare and do, but if you'll never try, you will never succeed".