Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Digital Tool To Help People With A Stutter” With Mallory Stempfley of Speechagain
Although stuttering has not been represented in the media until recently, there are over 70 million people worldwide who stutter! Out of these 70 million, we’ve found that 80% are not receiving any kind of speech therapy due to lack of resources, financial difficulties, or time constraints. Our digital stuttering tool is affordable, accessible, and can be used anytime, anywhere. This provides a great deal of people who stutter a way to receive speech training, which was not available previously.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mallory Stempfley.
Mallory is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and the first United States-based employee of Speechagain. Being with the company since the start, she has held many responsibilities including marketing, sales, customer service, business development, etc. Mallory’s passion is empowering others and Speechagain has allowed her to do just that on a broad scale. She believes in the growth of digital health and is excited to modernize the speech therapy world! When she’s not working, she is a certified yoga instructor for both pediatrics and adults (not sure if we need the last line but thought I would add something a little lighter in case you wanted that as well).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks so much for having me! This specific career path came about in an interesting way. During graduate school, while getting my degree in Speech-Language Pathology, I was fortunate enough to have an incredible professor who taught the stuttering course, igniting my passion for speech therapy and stuttering. Around this same time, I was also assigned an internship at the Ohio Virtual Academy, providing teletherapy to students (before it was the “new norm”). These two experiences of stuttering combined with teletherapy led me on my path to Speechagain, a digital tool for people who stutter.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There have definitely been many interesting stories working for a start-up! One of the best stories occurred when I was hired, as I was the first United State-based employee. With me being the only native English speaker, I “starred” in all the Speechagain videos during my second week working for the company. This experience was terrifying but also incredibly fun to be part of something bigger than myself and really collaborate with the team from the start.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Sure! In short, Speechagain is a digital tool for people who stutter and for speech-language pathologists to use with their own clients who stutter. Our technology uses voice recognition and artificial intelligence to provide instant, personalized feedback for the users. We’re also very proud that our training tool is patented! Our mission is to empower those who stutter to be their most confident selves!
How do you think this might change the world?
Although stuttering has not been represented in the media until recently, there are over 70 million people worldwide who stutter! Out of these 70 million, we’ve found that 80% are not receiving any kind of speech therapy due to lack of resources, financial difficulties, or time constraints. Our digital stuttering tool is affordable, accessible, and can be used anytime, anywhere. This provides a lot of people who stutter a way to receive speech training, which was not available previously.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As a speech-language pathologist myself, one of the questions people ask me is if I’m okay with Speechagain essentially “taking my job” from me. My answer to this is that a personal approach is always needed for stuttering. Stuttering involves training your voice, but there are also many more secondary and emotional components that go into speech therapy. For this reason, we always provide our users the option to supplement the program with a Speechagain therapist, meeting with them virtually to discuss techniques, social situations, and personal goals. The “human connection” is always needed in some degree.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Our program was originally founded over 20 years ago in Germany, by Dr. Alexander Wolff von Gudenberg. Dr. Gudenberg is a person who stutters himself and the founder of the Kassel Stuttering Institute, the leading stuttering institute in Europe. After seeing the incredible success of the program in Europe, it was brought to the U.S. in 2018 through the German Accelerator Program.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
As a start-up, we have an incredible and hard-working team! Our biggest obstacle at the moment is simply getting the word out to both people who stutter and speech therapists. We were fortunate enough to air our first commercial in the New York state area this summer, which was amazing exposure. We hope to use this as a launching pad to connect with more members of the speech and stuttering community!
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
As mentioned before, we were very excited to launch our first commercial campaign this past summer! The commercial starred Harrison Craig, the winner of The Voice Australia and a person who stutters himself. We also remain active and supportive in the stuttering community, hosting virtual Roundtable Discussions with inspirational speakers who share their stories, offer personal advice, and answer any questions the viewers have. Our future goal is to create an Ambassador Program with speech pathology students in universities and colleges, collaborating with young professionals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely! I’m incredibly grateful for our CEO, Johanna Joch. To begin, she’s the one that brought Speechagain to the U.S. through the German Accelerator Program. She’s been an incredible leader and I can’t thank her enough for taking a chance on a young speech therapist from Ohio to join an NYC start-up company. Not only is she a teammate, but also an incredible friend. Her and I have been together from the start of Speechagain and have seen incredible ups and downs in both our company and our personal lives. I would not be where I am today without her, and neither would Speechagain.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s amazing to work for Speechagain because our mission is to empower others! As a speech therapist, my goal has always been to help people find their voice, but Speechagain has allowed me to help so many people on a broader scale than I ever would have imagined. Getting to talk to users who now feel confident to attend job interviews, go on dates, and even ask their boss for a promotion is incredible!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You wear many hats in a start-up company. Coming from graduate school as a speech pathologist, I had no idea what the start-up world was like. I quickly realized that my job not only entailed speech therapy but also marketing, customer service, business development, PR, the list goes on and on. There are days where this is difficult, but the experience is priceless.
- The workday is not 9–5. When I first began working for Speechagain, I was also working full-time in a special education high school, providing speech therapy to the students there. My days consisted of starting at the school at 7:30 am, working until 2:00 pm, and then running to the Speechagain office from 3:00–8:00. The idea of a workday being 9–5 does not exist in the start-up world.
- Connections are everything. During college, I had a friend tell me “it’s not about the grades you make, it’s about the hands you shake”. This quote infuriated me at the time, as my grades did matter to apply for graduate school. I now completely understand what they meant though. It’s important to remember that networking is everything and befriending everyone is only a plus!
- American and German cultures are different. After joining an all-German team, the cultural differences were quickly evident! Americans beat around the bush and love to make small talk. Germans are direct and get right down to business. Our team now has a great mix, as I’ve learned to be more direct through my German coworkers, and they have learned to make “small talk” about the weather and the weekend (very important things here in America).
- Ask for what you want. I’ve learned this by being part of a very small team. It’s important to establish yourself from the start and make your role clear. When I began working for Speechagain, I was mainly in charge of customer service, as I was a native-English speaker. I love to connect with clients, but I knew this was not my long-term goal. I’ve learned to be upfront and clear about where I see myself going professionally and ask what the steps are to get there. If you never ask, the answer will always be no.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
That’s a great question! Speechagain has begun a movement on social media titled “Yes, I Stutter”. The goal is for people who stutter to share an accomplishment, showcasing that their stutter has not held them back from living their dreams! Some submissions we’ve had include “Yes, I stutter, and I read my wedding vows”, and “Yes, I stutter, and I landed my dream job”. I love this movement not only in the stuttering world, but also for any individual who has been told that a personal characteristic will hold them back. No matter what gender, race, and/or sexuality you identify as, you can still live your dreams!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I recently heard the quote “Life does not have to be busy and stressful to be successful” and it really resonated with me. When I first moved to NYC, I was of course inspired by the hustle, but at times the hustle is a dark and lonely place. Yes, I still work long hours and probably could put my phone down more often, but it’s important for me to remember that I don’t have to feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel to feel “successful.” We must enjoy life as well!
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 😊
Let me introduce you to Josh. He is a 27-year-old student with a severe stutter. When you meet him, you can see and hear his symptoms: the blockages and interruptions occurring in every sentence. This makes daily situations especially hard and even painful for him.
Stuttering exist regardless of language, geography, or ethnicity. In many countries, stuttering still carries a huge stigma. It is not uncommon for people to associate stuttering with a lack of intelligence. But people like Josh are just like you and me. They know exactly what they want to say. And now imagine you want to tell your friends something important, but you are unable to get the words out of your mouth. That’s life for 85 million.
Until now, 85% are not in therapy here in the U.S. That means: A lot of people suffer and have no access to an evidence-based therapy method. Here comes Speechagain: It is the world’s first digital speech therapy for people who stutter. We offer a patented training tool using speech recognition and AI that is available anywhere, anytime on any device.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow us on all channels of social media, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube by searching @Speechagain.