DotCom Therapy Gets Shot at Silicon Valley VCs After Pitch Contest
DotCom Therapy, a Madison, WI-based startup that has developed software allowing the dozens of therapists it employs to provide remote speech therapy services to schoolchildren, captured first place in one of Wisconsin’s more closely watched pitch competitions on Monday.
The contest DotCom Therapy won was the fourth annual “Pressure Chamber,” which is put on by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. The event is one of more than 40 being held as part of Forward Festival, a yearly entrepreneurship-focused conference in Wisconsin’s capital city.
By virtue of its win, DotCom Therapy gets a spot on an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco in October to meet with Silicon Valley venture investment firms.
More than 8 percent of young children in the U.S. experience “speech sound” disorders, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Currently, there are not enough speech language pathologists to meet the needs of the estimated 25 million kids who require speech therapy, says DotCom Therapy co-founder Emily Purdom. One way of addressing this shortage is by having more therapy sessions take place online, rather than in person, she says.
DotCom Therapy mainly licenses its software to local school districts in the U.S., which are required by federal law to provide speech therapy services to their students, Purdom says. Two years ago, she and Rachel Robinson co-founded DotCom Thearpy. The startup was initially based in Springfield, MO, but later moved to Wisconsin.
Robinson and Purdom are both certified speech language pathologists. Purdom says that prior to founding DotCom Therapy, she and Robinson traveled to different U.S. locations—even as far as Alaska—to work with kids struggling with speech and language. Their experiences as traveling speech therapists were part of the inspiration for launching DotCom Therapy.
“We were being paid a really high rate to … fly all the way to Alaska in little tiny bush planes held together with duct tape, and [go] to rural villages to work with Yupik students,” Purdom says. “While we were in these rural Alaskan villages, we were working on-site with students. But they required—and they deserve—more than five visits a year.”
The startup now has 56 employees, most of whom are certified speech therapists. DotCom Therapy works with school districts in 18 U.S. states, as well as groups in three foreign countries, Purdom says.
Today, about 60 schools use DotCom Therapy’s software, Purdom says. During the 2016-17 school year, the company held more than 50,000 speech therapy sessions with students, who can range from preschool-age to teenagers, she says. DotCom Therapy’s 2017 revenues are projected to come in around $3.5 million, Purdom says, and the startup plans to raise a Series A funding round this autumn.
DotCom Therapy conducts its training sessions using videoconferencing software, somewhat similar to Skype or Apple’s FaceTime app.
Purdom says there are currently thousands of speech therapy positions listed on Indeed.com and other job-hunting websites. “It’s no secret that schools are looking” for the type of service her company is offering, she says.
PresenceLearning also offers online occupational therapy and mental health services, as Purdom says DotCom Therapy recently began doing.
One difference between the two companies is that PresenceLearning’s network of therapists are mostly independent contractors. DotCom Therapy by contrast classifies the therapists it assigns to school districts as employees, and offers them full benefits, Purdom says.
Many of the therapists on DotCom Therapy’s staff are considered full-time employees. However, Purdom says her company also has some specialized, part-time workers—therapists who speak multiple languages or can communicate in sign language, for example.
DotCom Therapy signs contracts with school districts and other clients spelling out their speech therapy staffing needs at the beginning of the school year, Purdom says. The startup pays its therapists based on the number of hours they work—typically 40 per week or slightly fewer, she says.
Asked to look five years into the future and name some of the companies that might eventually come to view DotCom Therapy as an acquisition target, Purdom mentioned telehealth specialists Teladoc (NYSE: TDOC) and American Well.
DotCom Therapy on Monday beat out Cardigan, Curate, SimpleMachines, and ThirdSpace. The results were determined by an audience vote, in combination with scores from a panel of judges that included venture capitalists from outside Wisconsin.
Last year’s “Pressure Chamber” winner was Polco, which develops software allowing cities and counties to solicit input from residents and use their feedback when creating public policy. In 2015, BluDiagnostics, a startup developing a saliva-based fertility test, took home top honors in the contest.