IGNITE's Bright Spark
Clare Meskill is the founder of Teleatherapy, an award-winning MedTech company providing voice therapy to individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Here, UCC alumna Clare shares how she built her company on the IGNITE programme, and how Teleatherapy is improving patients’ lives. In conversation with Jane Haynes
For those all over the world living with Parkinson’s disease, one of the most heartbreaking prospects and realities – for both them and their loved ones – is losing their voice. And while voice therapy has been proven to be helpful to those patients experiencing difficulties with their speech, access is not often readily available or convenient.
Enter Clare Meskill, a UCC and IGNITE alumna, and the founder of Teleatherapy, a MedTech company that provides voice therapy to individuals with Parkinson’s disease via a care management platform. Through this app, patients can get access to care without the need to commute to appointments, practising as much as they want, in their own time, with real-time feedback from their speech and language therapists.
Clare, from Waterford, initially got the idea for Teleatherapy during her third-year work placement while studying Speech and Language Therapy at UCC. There, she witnessed first-hand the power of voice therapy on adult patients with Parkinson’s disease.
“We had this one patient with Parkinson’s who we saw for really intensive therapy. And he came every day for four weeks, for an hour of therapy. And, from start to finish, it went from him being quieter and not engaging with his family to being able to pick up the phone and make a call, and chat to somebody on the bus when he was on the way to therapy. Just four weeks made such a difference,” recalls Clare.
Clare knew this was the area she wanted to work in, and while exploring the different avenues of employment available, she had a light bulb moment.
“I wondered why there wasn’t a Duolingo or some sort of app where people would be getting this therapy all the time, so they didn’t need to wait for an in-person session,” she explains.
"It went from him being quieter and not engaging with his family to being able to pick up the phone and make a call, and chat to somebody on the bus when he was on the way to therapy. Just four weeks made such a difference" - Clare Meskill, Founder of Teleatherapy
Equipped with her degree and a wealth of experience and training, Clare decided to turn her idea into a business. She applied for, and was readily accepted onto, IGNITE, UCC’s award-winning business incubation programme supporting recent graduate entrepreneurs.
Undertaking the 12-month programme – remotely, due to the onset of the pandemic – was a game-changer for Clare, who admits she ‘really had no idea’ where to begin with getting Teleatherapy off the ground.
“[IGNITE] just covered all the basics that you need to know. And if they don't know something or don't have the expertise, they point you in the right direction and make the contact,” says Clare.
“So, to be honest, I didn't do it by myself. I had the idea, but I had so much support to turn it into a business, and that was mostly through the IGNITE programme to start off, for sure.”
Clare launched the Teleatherapy app about eight months into the IGNITE programme and, while she admits there were still ‘so many unknowns’, she knew exactly where she was going with the company.
“There was quite a structure in IGNITE, that we learned how to develop our roadmaps and set ourselves small targets along the way, to hold ourselves accountable. I think that whole process of development and creating milestones definitely helped,” she adds.
From speaking to Clare – who volunteers with the Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists in her free time – you get a real sense of her passion for her work and its impact upon people’s lives. Indeed, it’s not surprising to discover what the highlight of her time on the IGNITE programme was: “It was having our first patient use the app, or the day that somebody rang and said ‘we would like to use and pay for the service’. It had been an idea for so long – then, it was finally taking off.”
With Teleatherapy going from strength to strength, those stories of impact continue to flow. Indeed, visitors to the company’s website will be met with a video, presented by Clare, in which she shares the following testimonial:
“Catherine’s voice had begun to deteriorate because of her Parkinson’s disease. Three weeks into using our app, she reported she could now sing nursery rhymes with her grandchildren and hum along to the radio.”
“It’s affecting people on different levels,” she says, “Everyone has a different goal; everyone experiences Parkinson’s differently, and some people’s goal is just to maintain the voice they have.
“Others will say, ‘my daughter was home visiting from Australia, I haven’t seen her since before the pandemic, and she said my voice is the same – which is good, because they don’t want to lose it.
“And then, other people are regaining strength in their voice – they can engage more in conversation, chat to grandchildren…
“Some of them end up staying in their jobs. We have a counsellor using it – his voice is very important to the work he does.
“So, there are a lot of success stories when it comes to feedback from a patient.”
Now a company of three – counting Chief Technical Officer Dave Calnan and Operations Executive Kevin Bourke among the ranks – Teleatherapy is about to take another exciting leap, having won the Health Innovation Hub Ireland Open Call in May.
“We can now trial our software in clinics in the HSE,” says Clare, “The learnings we’re going to get from that will be invaluable, so that gives us a lot of opportunity.”
Fresh from winning Start-Up of the Year at the recent UCC Research Awards, it’s safe to say that the future is bright for Clare and Teleatherapy.