Star-shaped tag the Starling counts the number of words a baby hears in a day. The wearable is aimed at children up to age four and encourages parents to talk more in the presence of their offspring.

Southampton-born Nicki Boyd is a co-founder of Silicon Valley-based business VersaMe along with brothers Jon and Chris Boggiano, who she met while studying at Stanford University after ten years working in investments in London.

They enlisted the help of a Stanford professor in language acquisition to research the impact of regular interaction on children.

“Eighty per cent of brain development happens in the first four years of life and the most important thing for that is language,” Boyd, speaking to BusinessCloud from California, says.

Nicki Boyd

“The number of words that a child hears in that first four years is the single most important determiner of their success across a range of measures.”

The Starling, which launched in September 2016, uses mechanisms to filter out background noise, enabling it to record only the words spoken directly to the child – which is why the product took two years to come to market.

Starling 

An accompanying app produces graphs of the number of words heard or spoken by the child.

The company’s data scientists are looking at analysing the quality of speech in future. On average users are recording 10-12,000 words a day, yet Boyd says they are mindful not to set general targets as “raising a child is a sensitive thing and we don’t want people to feel judged”.

Starling's founders

Starling's founders

As part of VersaMe’s mission to serve low-income families, it is working with a number of speech therapists and paediatricians in the US who have prescribed the Starling to patients.

“We want to help children fulfil their potential and make life easier for parents,” says Boyd.

For any queries about this article, email Katherine Lofthouse.

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