Soapbox Labs secures €2.1m to fund ‘Siri for kids’

15 Jan 2018

The Soapbox Labs team. Image: Soapbox Labs

Since making a splash at Inspirefest 2017, Irish start-up Soapbox Labs has revealed it has received substantial funding to make its platform multilingual.

It was around this time last year that Soapbox Labs announced it had secured crucial seed funding worth €1.2m to help the company – founded by Dr Patricia Scanlon – to achieve its goal of developing speech technology specifically for young children.

After attending Inspirefest 2016, Scanlon went to the Astia Angels venture showcase in Dublin. There, Soapbox Labs attracted investment from Elkstone; Enterprise Ireland’s High-Potential Start-up Fund; a consortium of private investors from Ireland, the US and Asia; and Astia Angels.

Now, SoapBox Labs has announced a further €2.1m in funding to bring multiple languages into its children’s speech-recognition platform, which offers a cost-effective and scalable solution to help address global literacy challenges.

This covers many of the world’s most spoken languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, German and Italian.

The breakdown of the investment includes €1.5m in Phase 2 funding from the EU’s SME Instrument, awarding Soapbox Labs the competitive EU SME grant, of which 10 are awarded out of an applicant list of 500 companies.

The remaining €600,000, Soapbox Labs said, came from some of its previous list of financiers.

‘Globally, we’re facing a literacy challenge’

“We’re excited to now announce our multilingual innovation project that will enhance literacy and language learning for children around the globe,” Scanlon said.

“Globally, we’re facing a literacy challenge where children are falling behind in their reading skills at a critical age in their development, and learning new languages is becoming increasingly more important.”

The company grew from Scanlon’s observations of her daughter interacting with mobile devices. She noted that apps and web services for children lacked accurate speech-recognition capabilities, particularly in noisy environments such as homes and schools, which motivated her to start developing a solution to this problem.

“How do you get speech tech into the hands of kids who could use it?” Scanlon asked the crowd at Inspirefest 2017. “Imagine a child using an iPad or a cheap smartphone to help them with their reading or to learn English.

“If a child is pre-literate and can’t read, why shouldn’t there be a natural interface? And it makes sense [that] it should be used for children.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic