Education Desty teaches children emotional resilience

20 Aug 2018

Education Desty co-founders Noel and Stephanie O’Malley. Image: Michael McLaughlin

Our Start-up of the Week is Education Desty, whose mission is to help children discover their strengths and overcome challenges.

“Education Desty provides training, practical tools and ongoing support to parents, carers and educators to empower them to grow the emotional resilience of children in their care,” explained co-founder and CEO of Education Desty, Stephanie O’Malley.

Through her research, O’Malley discovered that children learn and ultimately live better and happier lives when they develop key social emotional competencies.

‘The ultimate goal is for Education Desty to be a market leader and trendsetter in the development of new technologies and models of support to grow the emotional resilience of children and the adults supporting them on a global scale’

Over the past number of years, O’Malley and her team have focused on developing her vision of the Education Desty Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) web-based software.

The market

“Our service and product offering is aimed at supporting children aged seven to 12 years in Ireland, the UK and within the international school setting,” O’Malley explained.

“Our current focus at the moment is on supporting vulnerable children – that is, children in care, children with health-related and family-related vulnerabilities, with an estimated market size of 3.9m children in the UK alone,” O’Malley said.

The founders

Education Desty co-founder Stephanie O'Malley smiling wearing grey top leaning against white wall.

Stephanie O’Malley, creator of a programme for helping children’s emotional wellbeing and building self-esteem, pictured in her home town of Westport, Co Mayo. Image: Michael McLaughlin

O’Malley trained as an educational psychologist and worked in Trinity College Dublin for a number of years before returning home to Mayo and working in the HSE.

“Prior to working at Trinity, I worked as a supervisor with Childline, worked with disadvantaged and homeless youth, adults with intellectual disabilities, and children diagnosed with additional needs such as autism and ADHD.

“I left my job in the HSE in 2016 to work full-time in the company. My husband, Noel, has been involved in the company from the beginning to varying degrees.

“He started a food company with his brother and was the key driving force behind its growth until he left in 2017 to join the team at Education Desty on a full-time basis. His role is the development and implementation of the sales and marketing strategy.”

The technology

adult teaching a child Education Desty programme using laptop and yellow fuzzy toy.

Stephanie O’Malley working on the Education Desty programme with a child. Image: Michael McLaughlin

Setting up the Desty programme begins with training the adult, who will be engaging with the child.

The training enables this key supportive adult, such as a parent, carer or educator, to understand and practise the Desty programme with a child who would benefit from additional and targeted support to develop their emotional resilience.

“We call the person we train a Desty Mentor,” O’Malley explained.

“Mentor training is conducted online. Once their training is complete, a Mentor is provided child passes to Desty Island. The number of passes provided depends on the package chosen. Mentors work with a child on a one-to-one basis.

“The sessions are child-centred and, to a considerable extent, child-led.”

During their sessions, Mentors use their student passes to enable their children to visit Desty Island, a colourful, interactive, online world that provides a safe space to explore and understand the six universal emotions (happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust and anger) and learn how to cope with life’s challenges. The Mentor is also equipped with a variety of practical tools, including Desty Feeling Cards and a Desty Puppet, which come as part of the Mentor’s Desty kit.

The Mentors are provided with ongoing programme and technical support and further training opportunities as part of their membership to the Desty Mentor network.

“The ultimate goal is for Education Desty to be a market leader and trendsetter in the development of new technologies and models of support to grow the emotional resilience of children and the adults supporting them on a global scale,” O’Malley said.

“The company is working to a five-year plan with a 100pc growth rate in the first two years and a 30pc growth rate in the subsequent three years.”


O’Malley said that since the company launched its online training platform in March of this year, it has experienced steady growth and secured contracts with several UK local authorities, including Hampshire, Knowsley, Brent, Sandwell and Surrey. It is very close to contract stage with Hounslow and Birmingham, the largest local authority in Europe.

“We expect to secure another five areas by the end of the year. We raised a small amount of investment in 2017 with the support of Enterprise Ireland’s HPSU [high-potential start-up] Fund.

“We aim to raise another round of private investment to match the second tranche of HPSU funding before the end of 2018.”

One of the key challenges Education Desty has experienced has been securing the technical expertise to build its product while competing with global technology companies that can offer exorbitant salaries and packages.

“We have managed to build a very robust team and we source additional skills and expertise on a needs basis; however, we are consistently working to build our own in-house capacity to enable us to develop and scale more rapidly.”

Cutting edge

Despite this, O’Malley believes the Irish start-up scene is an exciting and innovative space to be operating in.

“There is a constant drive to be at the cutting edge of new technologies and trends, so there are never-ending opportunities to learn and to grow from other companies and their success and failures.

“I believe there is a very strong drive to encourage early-stage companies to raise high levels of investment, which I can understand, but I also think there is real merit in encouraging companies to focus on securing sales, not just raising investment, to enable a company to be self-sustaining as early as possible.”

Her advice to fellow founders is to be original and avoid reinventing the wheel when it comes to building solutions.

“There are so many useful tools and technology out there already that can complement and add value to your offering. Always consider harnessing what is available rather than developing bespoke tools and applications that are not a core part of your business and innovation.

“We have learned the hard way at times that you can spend money developing new features or functions when it might be easier and more cost-effective to integrate a third-party application into our system.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years