Talk to any school-based speech-language pathologist (SLP) and you’ll likely find they are a talented therapist committed to helping kids with communication disorders. That SLP is probably also juggling a huge caseload and buried in paperwork.
Lisa Kathman and Sarah Bevier, two College of Health Solutions alumni from the speech and hearing science program, tamed the paperwork lion with SLP Toolkit, a product and company they launched in 2016. This year, SLP Toolkit earned the prestigious Sun Devil 100 award, which celebrates entrepreneurship by recognizing the 100 fastest-growing companies owned by ASU alumni.
Both Kathman, a graduate of the communication disorders master's degree program, and Bevier, who earned both her bachelor's degree in speech and hearing and her master's degree in communication disorders from ASU, credit the wide-ranging technical expertise they gained from their years at the College of Health Solutions with helping them map out a product that would help school speech therapists and the kids they serve. The team also cites the problem-solving and work-management skills they gained through their master’s program with aiding them in launching and running their successful business.
Sun Devil 100 winners are ASU alumni who have been in business for at least three years and have earned revenues of $250,000 of more for three years. Kathman and Bevier were in the top 10 of the 132 alumni who earned this honor in 2021.
Meeting a market need
In 2015, these two SLP entrepreneurs were working for Mesa Public Schools when Kathman, who was the lead SLP for the district, first noticed that all the SLPs under her were struggling with the same issues.
“Back in the 90s, an SLP might have a caseload of 40 students. Now, caseloads in Arizona can be anywhere from 65 to 95 students. SLPs have a lot of kids to see, and they must document a treatment plan for each one of those kids,” Kathman said.
A further challenge: An SLP may be seeing a large variety of issues presented by those kids.
“If I’m the SLP for a school, I’ll be serving whatever kids need help there. I felt like I had to know something about everything,” Bevier explained.
On top of the job demands, there is forced independence.
“If you’re at an elementary school, there are about 25 to 30 teachers, but there’s just one SLP,” Kathman said. “You don’t have another person in your position to talk with.”
As lead SLP, Kathman had a bird’s-eye view of the school district, which allowed her to see and hear from all the SLPs about the issues they were having. One of those issues was the escalating volume of paperwork.
“You have to document every treatment session and do daily billing to Medicaid,” Kathman said.
School-based SLPs also must perform assessments for each child, create a treatment plan and then track and report progress toward goals.
The shared struggles so many SLPs had in common are what prompted Kathman to send out a message to all therapists in her school district to create progress-monitoring tools.
“Sarah was the only one out of about 125 SLPs to respond to this call,” Kathman recalled.
From classroom to boardroom
“When I saw Lisa’s email, I knew I wanted to be involved in this project because I wanted something to help improve the paperwork part of my job,” Bevier said. “I’d already been trying to figure out a better solution to what I was doing.”
What Bevier and other SLPs had been doing was carrying information on each student in manila folders, scribbling session notes on paper and inputting data into reports or Medicaid billing software later. They also conducted assessments and treatment plans all by themselves.
Kathman and Bevier started looking for a better way to do these tasks through automation. The team spent a year researching best practices, mapping out electronic processes and pulling together comprehensive information that would help school speech therapists make appropriate treatment recommendations. After cramming all that work in after full days on the job with the school district for their first year, the team hired application developers to help them build the tool they envisioned.
Getting SLP Toolkit built wasn’t easy or cheap. The women maxed out their credit cards and tapped into their 401(k) savings, life insurance and loans to fund the effort.
“We knew we were going to be able to find the money and the resources we needed because we felt so passionate about how desperately this solution was needed,” Bevier said.
Both women continued working part time for the school district once the app was launched.
“We were very nervous about leaving a secure income,” Kathman said. “You don’t know if you’re going to face-plant or get an Olympic gold medal when you take that dive.”
By 2017, SLP Toolkit was a full-time job for both entrepreneurial speech-language pathologists.
Today, SLP Toolkit operates on a software-as-a-service model with a modest price tag and some 10,000 users. Kathman and Bevier are now looking to launch version 2.0 of the app and then, in the future, extend the functionality to help other special education professionals manage their workloads.
SLP Toolkit gives school speech therapists an automated way to assess students, write individual education plans, record progress and, most important of all, save time for the therapists so that they have more time for the kids.
After all, everything an SLP does is designed to help children succeed in the classroom.
“We often hear from customers saying they have more information than they ever had before, they feel more organized and they feel more confident in the decisions they’re making for their students,” Bevier said. “Even though this product is designed to make therapists' lives better, it has an indirect impact on so many little humans, so many students.”
“SLP Toolkit is changing people’s lives,” she said.
Top photo: ASU College of Health Solutions alumni and creators of SLP Toolkit Sarah Bevier and Lisa Kathman.
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