WebTeam Corp.'s autism apps accomplish something even the most dedicated parents, teachers and therapist struggles with: focusing the attention span of kids.
Thomas McCool, CEO of Eden Autism Services, can attest. McCool said the Princeton school integrates WebTeam apps into its curriculum because, among other reasons, students enjoy the interactive drills that at the same time ease the job of the teacher.
“The idea here is to keep the kids engaged,” McCool said. “Attention span is a big deal. The other part is to relieve teachers of some of the intensive work.”
WebTeam CEO Nish Parikh said that simple concept has broad ramifications and informs the Raritan technology company's strategy. WebTeam pins its growth plans on penetrating deeper into school systems that are struggling with tight resources to manage autistic students.
“One of the biggest problems is short attention span,” Parikh said. “If we can build attention span, we can teach them.”
Providing tools that improve lives of autistic children and their families is the focus of WebTeam's niche. It develops apps ranging from simple screening tools to help parents of newborn children to more comprehensive programs aimed at education providers.
The company's diagnostic screening app, ANDDS (for “autism and development disorder screening”) is intended for parents of infants as young as 8 months to learn whether their child has autism.
“There is no blood test for autism,” co-founder Manish Patel said.
Standard questions for a 15-month-old child ask whether a child laughs when a parent covers his or her face, or whether the child is capable of holding eye contact longer than three seconds. The parent replies with answers indicating green, yellow or red signals. Too many red lights and parents are advised to see a pediatrician.
More sophisticated is iLearnNEarn 2, a comprehensive series of apps used by special-needs educators. Unveiled in September, the series contains an adult version, which applies to K-12 students and adults and includes instruction for 200 skills. It also comes in an infant and toddler version, which develops 75 skills for preschool students.
Parikh says mobile technology is ideally suited for special-needs education because lessons require constant reinforcement, ranging from the home to classroom, involving parents and teachers.
“We are not just an app development company,” Parikh said. “We're developing synchronization. My whole platform is what is learned in the classroom will be replicated in the home.”
“Our philosophy is very simple: anytime, anywhere for everyone,” Parikh said.
WebTeam sees immense opportunity as 1 in 49 children are diagnosed with autism in New Jersey yearly compared with 1 in 88 nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WebTeam expects that frequency to increase as early-stage diagnosis improves.
Until now, Parikh said there have been limited tools for parents to diagnose autism — a developmental disorder hindering social and communication skills and characterized by repetitive behavior — and few resources for school districts.
WebTeam's target audience runs the gamut of parents, therapists and teachers. The company has developed 150 apps that have generated more than 1 million downloads globally, including 45 percent outside the United States.
WebTeam offers apps costing 99 cents or less, but its core platform going forward is its subscription apps: ANDDS and iAssessNTeach, aimed at infants and toddlers, sell for about $20 annually, while the more comprehensive iLearnNEarn2, aimed at school districts and special-needs providers, sells for $150 annually.
WebTeam clients now include ECLC of New Jersey, a Chatham-based provider of educational services for students with disabilities, and Easter Seals New York.
Parikh envisions gaining more access to public schools, noting that the high cost of managing an autistic student, estimated at $50,000 a year, forces districts with limited resources to outsource the responsibility to special-needs providers. Parikh says providing technological tools will enable school districts to educate autistic students in house.
“We are not replacing teachers; we are enhancing their capability,” he added.
WebTeam's next priority now is to step up distribution. WebTeam plans to raise $5 million over the next two years to increase marketing and upgrade content.
The company has about $250,000 in revenue now and is aiming for $500,000 by the end of 2014. And Parikh remains confident that WebTeam, which was formed in 2007 as a web application subsidiary of staffing services provider Rangam Consultants Inc., will grow so robustly it will turn into a standalone company.
“It's going to happen,” he said. “Nobody else is doing this. We have the solution. We have the answer and the technology. We just need to distribute it.”
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