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Read about the new app, Lemmi from Jenix Technologies

Assistive speech app

We talk to Jemma and Will, co-founders of the assistive AAC speech app, Lemmi. The healthcare app that will transform the lives of people living with a speech impairment or language disorder.

Can you introduce yourselves, and tell us about the industry you’re in and the role you play?

Will: My names Will Nixon, I’m a software developer. I have been doing it since 2018, so relatively young in the world of software development!

Together we formed a company called Jenix Technologies Ltd. I work in both the web development side and the mobile development side, with Jemma. That’s the fun I get to do, build a company outside of work, which is awesome.

Jemma: I’m Jemma Grace. I have a background in graphic design, then was a make-up artist, and I currently run a beauty product business. Alongside that, I also work with Will where I handle the business strategy, operations and design side of things for Jenix Tech – two very different careers!

How did you meet and end up working together?

Will: It was back in 2007, in the Summer before I went to University. We both went on holiday to Spain where we met and have been friends ever since.

Jemma: Yes, I moved to London a few years later and we happened to bump into each other again, which reignited the friendship.

Can you tell me about Lemmi

Jemma: Lemmi is an assistive AAC speech app. Users press buttons to build sentences from words or photos which the app will read out loud for them. It is a subscription app, but there is a lite version that’s free.

Lemmi was a really personal project for me. My Grandma had a stroke in 2008 in which she developed aphasia and lost all her speech ability. I used to use images or children’s books, where she would press buttons and it would speak for her, from that I came up with many different ideas of how I could help her communicate further.

Years later, I thought other people really need to have better access to communication tools like this. It’s completely life changing if you have a loved one who can’t communicate and it’s so debilitating and frustrating for them. I had a chance catch up with Will, who happened to have recently moved from childcare into app development and told him about my ideas, not really expecting much. Then in 2019 on my birthday, Will sent me the first draft of the app. Since that day Lemmi was born and we became co-founders of Jenix Tech.

The app isn’t necessarily about helping people being able to speak fluently, it’s more of means to an end for users to get their point across which will help alleviate their frustrations, and give them an opportunity to be able to communicate their daily needs.

Our hope with the customisation and photos, is that these functions will trigger users memories and make the app feel very personal. Like a personal friend to them, that makes them feel connected with the people around them still.

Will: It’s fun, because Lemmi has been through a journey itself. When I was first building it, I had only worked in web development. So, we had initially built it as a web app. The goal was always for it to be available for anyone to use wherever they are.

I built it first as a web app that you would be able to download onto your phone as a PWA. That quickly became limited because the text to speech functionality. And the capabilities of speech on the web just aren’t as strong as mobiles. I took a step then to build it as a hybrid web/mobile app, which was fine, but again reached its limitations. It got to the point when I realised, I just needed to learn how to code for IOS and android, because this has to be a native app on peoples phones. To make sure that it could be handheld and be able to take anywhere possible.

Progression of the app

Will: It was after 6 months of the initial working app that we transitioned to a mobile app and we got to where we are now. It can be used wherever someone is and whatever device they’re on, which is what we set out to achieve. People can use it as simply or intricately as possible. You have the ability to choose pre-programmed words or to type out your own complete sentences.

There are other reasons why people might need text to speech assistance, and we wanted to make that possible; so, added the direct text input function so users could type out what they are saying. For example we read a lot about people with Autism, who can usually speak fine, but at times might go ‘non-verbal’. So adding this extra function where the user can type out their own words and have the app speak it for them, is massively powerful.

So the app has developed and evolved along the way, which is wonderful and what we think all apps should do.

What languages is Lemmi capable of?

Jemma: Currently just English but we’re working on a wide range of language options at the moment. We are self-funded, so it’s taking a bit of time as we are doing everything ourselves, or relying on our friends and contacts. We don’t want to leave anybody out, and we want to reach as many people as possible so we will definitely be adding more language options as soon as we can.

Will: Languages come with grammatical challenges as well. Forming sentences just out of single words in one language is very different to another. As we make revenue from the app, one of our focuses is to put that back into assistance with the translations.

Personalisation

Will: The idea is that not everyone has the same vocabulary. With the full Lemmi-Pro, we have 600+ words and phrases and we’ll be adding more as we go.  Because everyone has a different vocabulary or says things in a different way, we want users to have the ability to be able to add any words or phrases they want.

Because the visual aspect is so important, we wanted to make sure that they could add those photos alongside the words and phrases. There is also themes. We know people like to control the look and theme of their app. So, we have done a light and dark version for some people, but we want to take that further and create a general theming of the app further down the line.

What research did you have to do before the app was created?

Jemma: A lot! From my personal experience, I had a lot of understanding of aphasia and how it affects people and those around them. My Mother was also an occupational therapist who worked with stroke patients and Wills Grandma is a speech therapist, so there were a lot of people who were able to offer practical speech tool advice in our network.

We also reached out to friends of friends and family who had various speech impairments to ask them numerous questions and to also really test the app. We both also looked into the world of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) and what that means for people and how it best helps them. Through that we did a really deep dive into what’s useful and what we should cut out.

There are quite a lot of apps out there, but there is a lot of noise in most of them. Our whole vision was to keep things simple whilst still keeping personality. People can really make Lemmi theirs. It’s their way of connecting with people, and they can own how they use it and how it looks.

I had a very strong sense of what I wanted it to feel and look like. To be very modern and simple. Will was then really great at implementing that.

Will: Also making sure, to cater for those people who lose their speech after having been able to speak their whole lives. That’s a tremendously distressing and upsetting thing. Our dream for Lemmi is that it’s a comfortable and dignified app to use and doesn’t feel cold and clinical. It feels full of personality, a fun, nicely designed app that you would see on anyone’s phone.

What challenges have you faced before, during and after the creation of the app?

Jemma: We got it off the ground quite quickly because we had such a strong vision for it. But building it for both Android and iOS, and making sure the functions work equally well was a challenge.

The biggest challenge currently is how we successfully translate the app into other languages whilst keeping the predictive function grammatically correct – that’s been quite a challenge.

Will: I think anytime you are simultaneously working on two code bases in different languages, there are always challenges that come naturally to the IOS infrastructure. The android infrastructure can be quite different. We want the app to feel the same whether on android or IOS. But there are challenges, because you can do one thing in IOS very easily and to do that in android is more challenging, but we want to make it possible.

Time is also a challenge. I work full time and do this in the 20 hours or so that I can squeeze it in.

What are the developments for the app, what’s in line in the future?

Jemma: I think it will be nice for people to add even more customisation. We haven’t followed the ‘norm’ in terms of where we categorise words, we have made it more practical. It’s not necessarily the way other apps might do things, so we are taking a risk, but for us we feel this is a very logical way. So what we would like for the future would be for people to be able to move words into their own categories with things that are relevant for their lives. We’ll also be adding extra colours schemes so that people can make it even more personal to them.

Will: From an aspiration point of view, we want Lemmi to be the go-to app for this. In America there are over 100k people who are diagnosed with aphasia each year. We want Lemmi to be so desired and be the first place they go; because they see it like a close friend they can have in their pocket to help them when they need. All we can do to make it feel like that, is what we’re working on!

How is the app marketed?

Jemma: We’re working with a specialist freelancer who works on marketing apps to help us with promotion around key calendar dates. My dream, (because it’s so personal to me) would be to work with stroke charities and build awareness through health organisations like that. My role in the meantime is to build out our social media, getting ready for our full launch. I’m enjoying connecting with people and building a community, not just to promote Lemmi but to be there for people who are facing tough issues with speech impairments themselves.

Will: That’s Jenix as a whole. The healthcare side seems to be where we’re focusing the apps we are developing and the areas we’re wanting to work in. It is that social-community piece we want to help build and foster whenever we make an app.

Jemma: I think another way we will market what we do, is doing interviews like this, which also helps put focus on females in tech. It’s great that I’m supported by Will and have this opportunity; coming from such a different background in make-up and now doing this, I have learned so much having never done anything like it before and it’s a real passion of mine to inspire others to not feel fearful about getting into the tech side of things.

Female founders have such a role with creativity. They bring a different aspect and a different viewpoint on things. It’s been brilliant, we both love working on this.

Any future apps on the horizon?

Jemma: We have already built a second app. It’s still under wraps at the minute, but it’s another health app and it’s very different to anything on the market, again another very personal experience from my side.

We’re mainly concentrating on getting Lemmi launched. But in the background, Will is working on the new app, building it and I am getting the website prepared. So that will be our second, and we do have a third one which we both have a link to, again a passion project for both of us. So, we have another two projects to come, both exciting, both in healthcare, and then after that who knows!

Will: Before working with kids, I was a filmmaker, and ‘story’ is a massive thing for me.  I think we’re naturally drawn to building things that have personal stories behind them. I’m sure we’ll end up developing apps that are just a hole-in-the-market filler, but I think most of the time what we’ll end up doing is stuff that is personal to us, driven by a personal story that then links to other people’s stories. That’s a massive goal for us, to use our own stories combined with other peoples, to create things that can be a part of peoples own lives.

What advice would you give to anyone else who is on their journey of creating an app?

Jemma: Get ideas down. Even if you don’t know how to do it in the ‘usual’ way. Don’t be scared, just write down in a book or on paper laid out in front of you and start making sense of things and how it could work. Then from that, start narrowing the idea down and get rid of the bits you don’t need. Try to get the flow to be as simple as possible, then add extras in later.

Once you have a concise plan you think could work; look at the colours and branding and the feel of it. Talk to friends and contacts who might know developers and keep your ear to the ground in that way. There is always a contact somewhere you can use to get things off the ground. Even if it’s just a conversation with someone about how can I do this? Then don’t be afraid to ask and start it.

There are ways to get this done without spending tens of thousands of pounds. Just go for it!

Will: Just start is the best advice. I’m the worst person to start things, so for me just starting something has been the biggest thing! From an app development point of view, it can start out terrible and it’s like an artist sketching away. And as you go, you’re just refining it and refining it. Lemmi is a great example of how it went from web app, web page to mobile app for IOS and android. That’s because we just started it and now it’s here!

Jemma: It can be very scary as a founder by yourself. So, if you can find a co-founder or somebody you can work with who is also passionate about the project. It is a great way to have somebody you can bounce ideas off whilst also holding each other accountable.

Or, find your team or support network online. Research into things, Google questions, there are people out there who want to help!

Will: Yeah, the development community is incredible with that. There are various channels you just throw in a question and people are so willing to offer advice.

We’re just so passionate about this and we want it to be successful so that we can help people. If we reach ten people, then we’re helping ten people. If we can reach ten thousand people, then we’re helping ten thousand people. We just want to help as many people as we can.

Find out more about Lemmi on the website below

www.lemmichat.com

 

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Have you got a healthcare app you would like to tell us about? Are you looking to add to your team of developers? We would love to feature your story in our series! Contact Harriet at [email protected]

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