TalkiPlay founder Dr Annie McAuley shares her story for International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day, recognised globally on 8 March, is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
In acknowledgement of this special day, The Sector sought out Dr Annie McAuley, founder of early childhood speech and language development tool TalkiPlay, to learn more about her business, leadership philosophy and personal journey.
TalkiPlay has experienced huge growth since 2017, much of it backed by female-specific support such as Scale Investors and BlueChilli’s SheStarts accelerator grants for women entrepreneurs. We began our conversation by asking Dr McAuley about the value of these spaces and investments in supporting her personal and professional growth.
“Each of these outstanding ventures have enabled women like me to have the confidence to develop ideas and business opportunities and given us supportive access not only to funding, but to networks, and expertise in areas lacking in our own portfolios,” she said.
“They help build a community, so it never feels like you are alone. There’s a shared experience with the women running these innovative enterprises, which makes a huge difference when you are moving into a completely unfamiliar world.”
Building on the idea of unfamiliarity, we then spoke about the STEM space, and the world of app and tech development, which are traditionally male dominated spaces.
“It has been great to see an awakening around what STEM means and what it can mean,” Dr McAuley said.
“I have a science brain – helps with being a scientist – but I had to learn a whole new set of skills when it came to building an app and working on hardware technology for our device. My advice to other women is that as in most things we do, it helps if you are passionate and have a strong driving force – I had my daughter. The number of women working in STEM is growing, making it that much easier for the rest of us to have our voices heard.”
Dr McAuley’s daughter was the impetus behind the creation of TalkiPlay, which she developed to support her to overcome speech and language difficulties, and engage more fully with her early learning opportunities.
What many are unaware of is that Dr McAuley experienced a traumatic brain injury at 18, losing the ability to walk and talk when she was hit by a ski falling from a chair lift, giving her lived experience of the challenges faced by children who struggle to be understood.
“The accident changed who I was,” she shared. “I couldn’t walk or talk properly – I couldn’t do or be any of things I had taken for granted. I was fortunate to regain my life and, in some ways, to have the insights that helped me recognise the depth of my young daughter’s struggles to communicate. I felt her frustration, confusion, and disappointment when she was not understood. I wanted to do everything I could to give her a voice.”
From this experience, she developed TalkiPlay, a tool which supports children to practice their speech at home and while attending early learning.
“The pandemic has resulted in huge increases in the numbers of children under five years of age experiencing speech and language delays,” she continued.
“Lacking the ability to effectively communicate impacts on all aspects of their lives from making friends to expressing their emotions and their capacity to learn. The parameters around supporting children to develop their communication skills have led to limitations on educators and speech pathologists having the support and access they need to help children.”
While it has been challenging for Dr McAuley’s business to be peaking at a time of global disruption driven by the pandemic, she credits the play-based philosophy at the heart of TalkiPlay with getting her through.
“Play is important for all of us right now – so if you spill flour on the floor, try adding some water to make playdough so you can have fun cleaning up the mess.”
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