Purdue-based startup wins R&D 100 Award for app to increase communication in children, families affected by severe, nonverbal autism

November 15, 2016

Purdue-based startup wins R&D 100 Award for app to increase communication in children, families affected by severe, nonverbal autism

Masters SPEAK
Purdue speech-language pathology students Madison Logan (left) and Melissa Hajduch (right), together with assistant clinical professor Christi Masters (second from right), assist Victoria Casas and her mother, Elba Casas, with a language learning activity through the SPEAK MODalities app, SPEAKall!®. The company was recently announced as a winner of an R&D 100 Award. (Purdue Research Foundation photo)  Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – SPEAK MODalities, a Purdue-affiliated startup commercializing technology that helps communication and language development for children and families affected by severe, nonverbal autism and other communicative challenges, has won the 2016 R&D 100 Award in the software category.

 “All of us at SPEAK MODalities are so honored to win this award and appreciate all the support we have received to get to where we are today. We are excited to continue our efforts in producing scientifically guided innovations to help individuals with autism and have this award be another testimonial to those efforts,” said Oliver Wendt, co-founder of SPEAK MODalities. “The R&D 100 Awards are known as the ‘Oscars of Inventions’ and the awards ceremony is the place innovators in R&D gather and are recognized for their developments over the past year. When you are invited you know that you are being considered a top innovator in the R&D community. We are proud to see our research and technologies be recognized for excellence in innovation.”

Michael Zentner, CEO of SPEAK MODalities, said the R&D 100 Award provides an independent review of the company’s technology.

“Every nomination for a R&D 100 Award goes through a rigorous judging process. The 50-person judges panel includes outside experts with significant experience in the areas they are judging. They may be university faculty, industrial researchers or management consultants,” he said. “That is one of the reasons why winning this award is so special. Outside experts have given us an important validation that we are providing superior products that make a difference in the marketplace and in the lives of those individuals our technology assists. It also puts us alongside other organizations with internationally recognized names in innovation.”

The winners of the R&D 100 Awards were announced at the R&D 100 Awards ceremony earlier this month at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland. The R&D 100 Awards recognize excellence across a wide range of industries, including telecommunications, optics, high-energy physics, materials science, chemistry and biotechnology. There were 206 finalists and 100 of those were recognized for the most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year, and included high profile national labs, research universities and multinational corporations.

SPEAK MODalities is commercializing two apps, SPEAKall!® and SPEAKmore!™. SPEAKall! is designed to help children with autism who are minimally verbal, develop functional communication and initial speech and language skills by using photos and graphic symbols that represent what a child wishes to say and helps the child construct sentences from those images. SPEAKmore! is designed for children who have advanced beyond the initial app and now need to expand on vocabulary and complexity of messages. A video about the company can be viewed here.

The iPad applications were developed from research by Wendt, a Purdue assistant professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences and educational studies who has worked with individuals diagnosed with autism for more than 20 years. Michael Zentner, Purdue ITaP senior research scientist, and Diana Hancock, Purdue ITaP commercialization director, co-founded SPEAK MODalities with Wendt.

The SPEAKall! and SPEAKmore! technologies are patented and licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. SPEAK MODalities receives entrepreneurial assistance through the Purdue Foundry, a startup support center based in Discovery Park’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, and Wendt has participated as a scholar in the Purdue Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy.

Earlier this year, SPEAK MODalities received a certificate of recognition from the state of Indiana for making a critical impact on the lives of Indiana families affected by autism. SPEAK MODalities also received the 2015 Best of Education Tech Mira Award from the Indiana TechPoint initiative and placed second in the 2015 Purdue InnovateHER competition. Wendt was awarded the 2015 Outstanding Research of the Year award by the Autism Society.  The company won the International 2014 GAIN-TEN Business Pitch Challenge, an award for startups that have the potential to make an impact on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2013, the SPEAKall! application was recognized with the Focus Award for outstanding contribution to the furthering of Purdue’s commitment to disability accessibility.

About SPEAK MODalities

SPEAK MODalities was formed in 2013 and obtained an exclusive license to the SPEAKall! and SPEAKmore! technologies from the Purdue Research Foundation. The first commercially supported version of SPEAKall! was released in January 2014. SPEAK MODalities has a mission to expand the reach of SPEAKall! and subsequent products that assist children with special needs to develop speech and language skills.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university’s academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year from the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at innovation@prf.org.

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Hillary Henry, 765-588-3586, hkhenry@prf.org

Sources: Oliver Wendt, 765-494-2462, olli@purdue.edu

Michael Zentner, 765-494-7705, mzentner@speakmod.com

Diana Hancock, 765-494-0840, dhancock@speakmod.com


SPEAK MODalities is dedicated to providing the best evidence backed software solutions for developing language skills in children with autism and delays in speech development.


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