Commercialisation case study: creating the ReadClear app - ESRC

About the product

The ReadClear app can turn a smartphone, tablet or computer into an assistive reading tool for people with peripheral dyslexia. This is a type of reading disability caused by damage in the part of the brain that controls vision.

Dr Aida Suárez-González

Dr Aida Suárez-González, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Principal Research Fellow at University College London, is principal investigator for the Making Reading Real team.

A research team at University College London, led by Dr Aida Suárez-González, has developed the app from their research on brain-related visual impairment and evidence-based reading software.

Dr Suárez-González, a clinical neuropsychologist and Principal Research Fellow, was supported through a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Healthy Ageing Catalyst Award in 2021, and has recently applied for the UKRI accelerator award.

Below she talks about her journey from academia to commercialisation.

Research origins

“I am a clinical psychologist with expertise in neuropsychology. I worked as a clinical neuropsychologist in a tertiary (specialised) hospital for nine years before becoming a researcher.

I’ve seen people with brain-related visual dysfunction and reading difficulties in the clinic all my working life as a clinician. I have a lot of clinical experience with this patient group and have researched the topic.

Dementia and neuropsychology are my areas of research. I investigate non-pharmacological interventions and assistive technologies to support people with dementia to live well.

This means I study ways to help people using behavioural approaches and technologies to support their function and wellbeing.”

Starting commercialisation

“I wanted to make our reading aid sustainable and widely available for patients. Creating a product that could provide the service, such as a commercial app, was a good route to achieving this. We decided to pursue this plan by applying to academic innovation programmes.

I led the development of the research that proved the effectiveness of ReadClear. However, when the initial project finished, so did the funding.

The app got stuck because we were no longer eligible for classic research funding schemes since the research was completed, and what we needed now was support to transform it into a product.

That’s when I heard about and applied for the UKRI Healthy Ageing Catalyst Award. I then secured funds and one year’s worth of support provided by Zinc.

Zinc’s support programme was instrumental in equipping me with the right mind and skill sets to start seriously building the path to commercialisation. At the end of my Catalyst award, I secured more funds and support from the UK Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs (UnLTD), which got me by another year.

Those funds still support me. Via the UKRI award, the Zinc team has been instrumental in getting me where I am now.”

Addressing the issues

“My app aims to improve reading impairment in people with brain-related visual impairment. ReadClear can be used by people who struggle to read due to the following symptoms:

  • getting lost on the page
  • words cluttering up when reading
  • missing their place in the line of text

Such an impairment is an issue because it affects millions of people worldwide and there is little support for those who cannot benefit from visual rehabilitation.

Moreover, losing the ability to read can increase the risk of social isolation, accelerated cognitive decline and poorer mental health, which eventually increases the pressure on healthcare services.

The ReadClear app is not a rehabilitation technology but an assistive one. This means our app enables reading as long as the user uses it, just like spectacles only work when you put them on.”

Market gap and payment model

“Our app has been co-produced with people living with brain-related visual impairment and is therefore built for that purpose. The patients we see in the clinic cannot benefit from other services like Kindle or Microsoft Immersive Reader because they are not designed for people with brain-related visual impairment.

These services don’t meet the specific needs of our patients with brain-related visual loss because they have been designed for people with other types of reading disorders, such as developmental dyslexia or eye disease.

To commercialise my ReadClear app within the next 12 months, ​I have applied for and been granted a UKRI accelerator award, part of a special call for previous UKRI Healthy Ageing Catalyst Award awardees. In September 2023 I will start working with the Technology Transfer Office at UCL and a commercial team to develop a commercial app prototype.

We will use a subscription model. A subscription model for an app is a pricing and payment structure where users pay a recurring fee, typically monthly or annual, to access and use the app’s features and services.”

The commercialisation journey

“When I first thought about the app, I did not see myself leading its commercialisation. It’s changed 180 degrees.

I knew very little from a business point of view, but I was well aware of the lack of options in the market thanks to my clinical role.

UKRI paid for one and a half days per week of my time for 12 months during the catalyst award. It also funded valuable market research services and helped pay for a software developer to revamp the app.

UKRI also commissioned a short video about my product, which has become the best business card I could have ever dreamed of and has given my story lots of visibility.”

Advice for researchers

“Commercialisation is a path worth exploring. Even if you decide not to walk it eventually, you gain valuable insights into an essential sphere of the world, the market, and learn to understand a different facet of your research.

I’ve learned not to panic when I feel the business world is a labyrinth where I might get lost and drown. Becoming familiar with the business ecosystem takes time, but I’m slowly getting there. I have also learned to trust my gut.

This process has also set the foundation for an alternative career path for me.

You also start seeing the potential for growth in places you didn’t even notice before. I now always keep in mind the commercialisation, implementation and long-term sustainability from the start of a project.”

Find out more

Video credit: UKRI
Video transcript and on-screen captions are available by watching on YouTube.

Last updated: 17 November 2023

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