Assistive tech firm acquired after CMA merger investigation

Posted on October 6, 2020 by Jonathan Symcox

Smartbox

Child using Smartbox products

Listed group CareTech has snapped up Smartbox after Swedish firm Tobii was forced to sell the UK-headquartered assistive technology company. 

Smartbox was acquired by Tobii in 2018 but the following year a Competition and Markets Authority investigation ordered it to sell over competition concerns. 

Tobii and Smartbox both design and supply technology to enable people with complex speech and language needs to communicate. These solutions include specialised hardware and software, such as speech-generating devices. 

CareTech Holdings, a provider of specialist social care services for adults and children in the UK, has stepped in to complete the acquisition of a majority holding in Smartbox which could be worth up to £10.6 million. 

It is estimated that more than 50 million people globally could benefit from augmentative and alternative communication. Smartbox, headquartered in Malvern with offices in Bristol and Pennsylvania, is amongst the top four global companies to provide such solutions. 

Its flagship Grid software supports more than 10,000 children and adults every year and is translated into over 30 different languages and supplied into as many countries. 

CareTech said both it and Smartbox support service users with learning disabilities, autism and acquired disability for example, through stroke or brain damage following an injury.  

CareTech looks after more than 4,500 service users and sees Smartbox as an opportunity to introduce AAC solutions to improve outcomes for those in its care. 

“We have been discerning in selecting as an anchor digital investment a business that is not only a global assistive technology player but one that firmly shares CareTech’s values and social purpose to improve the lives of disabled people,” said Farouq Sheikh, CareTech’s Executive Chairman. 

“The Smartbox team has done a great job at creating sector-leading communication solutions for people without speech. Smartbox becoming part of CareTech will enable more children and adults with complex needs to have access to the company’s flagship assistive technology solutions. 

“This partnership opens up unprecedented opportunities to blend care and technology. This will benefit the service users supported by CareTech alongside disabled people more generally and enable the Group to offer innovative solutions to both NHS and LA commissioners.  

“Smartbox becoming part of CareTech will accelerate the development of next generation technology-enabled service models for the specialist social care sector. 

“We thank Tobii for entrusting the stewardship of Smartbox to CareTech, and we look forward to a shared journey to provide a voice for disabled people around the world.  

“This anchor digital investment by CareTech is a first as we look to accelerate our buy, build and partner strategy that will see further announcements in the future.” 

Smartbox generated revenue in excess of £10m in 2019 and has a track record of profitability. 

Smartbox MD Dougal Hawes said: “There were multiple bidders in the sale process but CareTech was clearly the best partner for Smartbox, with a shared commitment to delivering the best products and services for the people we serve.  

“Both CareTech and Smartbox have been helping people with complex physical and cognitive challenges for over 20 years. The combination of clinical and care experience from CareTech with technical and creative expertise from Smartbox, will bring care and technology together in new meaningful ways so everyone can participate and flourish. 

“In joining CareTech, we are thrilled that this new future will enable us to achieve more while continuing to do what we do best, putting disabled people at the centre of all we do.  

“Smartbox will be able to reach more people around the world who need assistive technology, while supporting the CareTech purpose to improve service pathways for disabled people and those with complex needs.” 

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