SoapBox Labs secures major partnership with big US edtech player

Amplify fast-forwards plan to integrate Irish company’s tech in its literacy tools

SoapBox Labs founder Dr Patricia Scanlon

SoapBox Labs founder Dr Patricia Scanlon

 

Amplify, a leading US edtech company that serves five million students across 50 states, is to integrate speech recognition technology developed by Dublin-headquartered SoapBox Labs in its literacy tools.

The deal is seen as a major win for the highly-regarded Irish company, which has spent years developing its ground-breaking technology.

It is also seen as significant because it is the first literacy assessment of its kind to enable remote evaluation of oral reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension-critical indicators of reading development for children.

Under the new partnership, SoapBox Fluency, a product developed by the Irish start-up, is being integrated into Amplify’s mClass suite under the “Text Reading Online” name.

Plans

SoapBox’s chief operating officer Martyn Farrows said the partnership with Amplify had been agreed some time back, but that the solution was not originally expected to be launched until next autumn. However, he said the coronavirus pandemic had led to Amplify fast-forwarding its plans to roll out the product early.

“Covid has accelerated conversations we were having and put a whole new emphasis on the importance of having technologies that can support kids remotely in a robust and trustworthy manner,” said Mr Farrows.

Founded as Wireless Generation, Amplify was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for $360 million (€303 million) in 2010. It was later sold to Emerson Collective, a philanthropic organisation founded by the late Steve Jobs’ wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, after News Corp recorded a $371 million (€314 million) write-down on its investment. The company has seen a reversal of fortune under its new owner.

“Amplify have been around for a long time and they have a very good reputation, particularly around innovation and in having really thoughtful applications to support kids,” said Mr Farrows.

“This is a long-term partnership with Amplify and so this announcement is the first of many projects we’ll be working on together,” he added.

Named one of Europe’s hottest start-ups by Wired UK in 2019, SoapBox Labs was founded by Dr Patricia Scanlon in 2013.

SoapBox uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to develop cloud-based speech recognition solutions specifically for young children aged between three and 12.

Behaviour

This technology has been popularly dubbed as “Siri for kids”, although it is more complex than that might suggest, as children’s speech behaviour differs greatly from adults’.

As well as being used by companies in the edtech space, SoapBox’s voice technology is also increasingly being deployed by toymakers. The company has secured close to 30 global licences with clients to date and is on target to hit profitability soon.

SoapBox raised an additional €5.8 million earlier this year to bring total investment to date to €10.2 million.

The company’s technology was recently selected by a leading US research institute for use in a $30 million (€25 million) educational programme focused on boosting literacy rates among children. The initiative is backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. SoapBox also recently teamed up with Microsoft to bring its technology to the tech giant’s Azure platform as part of a pilot project.

Mr Farrows said that after seven years of development, the company is in discussions with a number of organisations on potential partnerships for its solutions. He said Soapbox expects to make a number of other big announcement later this year.