VU start-up ReadLer: innovative AI-powered tool for children improving their speech

July 2, 2024

Once upon a time, data scientists from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam began translating their technological advancements in phonetics. Realizing the field’s vast potential for solving problems in speech therapy, they founded ReadLer, a start-up focused on children with speech and pronunciation challenges. After winning the Demonstrator Lab’s Summer Pitch Event, it’s time to meet two of the co-founders behind ReadLer: Gabriele Mingoli (data scientist at the VU) and Pascal Koot (business developer).

Can you briefly introduce ReadLer and its mission?

Pascal Koot: “As we say in our team: ‘ReadLer is on a mission to build a better world, one word at a time.’ ReadLer is an innovative digital speech assistant that provides tailored feedback on children’s speech and pronunciation. Acting like a teacher, therapist, or parent, ReadLer offers detailed guidance to help children improve their speech.”

What inspired those behind ReadLer? What is the dream that needs to become a reality?

Gabriele Mingoli, data scientist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: “Our tool complements parents, teachers, and therapists. We know there are waiting lists for speech therapy for children, so we hope to act as a bridge. Our ultimate dream is to give away one free app for every app sold, ensuring that every child has access to our tools, regardless of their circumstances.”

How does ReadLer’s AI tool work? Can you explain its core technology and the developmental steps ahead?

Gabriele: “Haha, it’s not easy to explain, but let’s give it a try. We’ve developed a machine learning algorithm that breaks words into phonemes and provides detailed feedback on pronunciation, making speech improvement fun and effective for children.”

Pascal: “We are now in the final stages of developing our prototype, focusing on the back end, front end, and user interface. This will enable us to showcase the prototype to investors. We hope to soon begin developing the actual product by collaborating with speech therapists who understand the challenge from their daily work, the linguistics department of VU and for example the Association of Speech Therapists.”

And what about start-up life and dealing with the challenges in bringing the innovation to market?

Pascal: ‘Challenges are part of start-up life! To reach a product available to tens of thousands of children, you need both cutting-edge technology and dedicated people who work out every detail. As a team, we measure our success by how many apps we can give away for free (one for every app sold) and we would love to collaborate with an NGO to help as many children as possible.’

Gabriele: “Speaking for myself, the technological challenges initially motivated me. Now, having a clear goal that positively impacts people is a wonderful motivation. Some team members plan to make the start-up their top priority as we continue this journey. We’ll keep evolving as a team.”

How are you finding your participation in the Demonstrator Lab?

Pascal: “We received great advice to clarify what ReadLer is not, making our message clearer. Also, through the Demonstrator Lab ecosystem, we’re applying for funding to develop a fully functioning prototype.”

Gabriele: “ReadLer participating in the Demonstrator Lab made our project feel real. The network and learning from others have been invaluable.”

Can you share a lesson learned of ReadLer’s start-up journey with others?

Pascal: “Be a team! It’s easy to get lost in the solution and forget about the people who will need or use your solution. Our team’s energy, the joy of developing ReadLer, and sharing the ups and downs together make all the difference.”

Visit ReadLer’s website

Photo credits: Caren Huygelen