The rise of entrepreneurship in the speech-language pathology community has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. While there’s much to be attributed to how easy it is to set up an e-commerce or social marketing platform, it certainly goes beyond that. SLPs are disrupting industry giants in the creativity, first-hand experience and heart they bring to the marketplace.
Why the sudden uptick in starting and building businesses that support therapists and the individuals we collectively serve? Here are some thoughts.
1. We are a helping profession.
All of us SLPs got into the field because of a desire to make lives better. The same goes for entrepreneurs agnostic of industry. They see a way to do things better and run with that idea. A startup at any level is just a group of people trying to figure out a better way to do things. It’s a concept we fulfill everyday in our sessions to meet the unique needs of our students and clients.
As SLPs we don’t have all the answers and neither do entrepreneurs. We don’t know which path is the best value proposition to consumers or know what to expect at every step of the journey. What makes us effective is our ability to stay flexible. To see what works, what doesn’t, and create our own path. Ultimately curating the journey that allows our consumers to live their best life is the reward. The hard work falls on us as SLPs, and entrepreneurs, to stay in the game and innovate. That daily grind is fueled by our innate desire for the greater good.
2. We’re resourceful.With school materials budgets that are comical and ‘offices’ that double as closets, we know how to get scrappy. Doing a lot with a little is one of the foundations of starting and running an effective company. Unfortunately, and this needs to change in our industry, we do a lot for free- from session planning, to documentation, to working all weekend on that visual schedule. Well, the same goes in starting a company. A paycheck? Also laughable. That comes later, much later.
About three years ago when my first company in the education startup space was beginning to take off, we were coming up on the ‘early days’ challenge of making payroll. The solution? Uber. It would have made sense for me to pick up a PRN gig for early intervention or at a long term care facility, but I had just relocated to a new state, did not have active licensure, and needed to pay rent. Not only did it make sense, but it was kind of fun! It definitely gave me insight into how a direct-to-consumer product functions at scale. For a small town driver in a new, larger city, it wasn’t my best work product but is something I’ll be proud to recount to my daughter. We can make almost anything work for a period of time as long as it gets us one step closer to the goal.
I’m sure there are countless SLP entrepreneurs who have sacrificed so much more than a few weekends and evenings driving rideshare. I was super young and had no family responsibilities but it made the startup journey that much more thrilling. Hats off to everyone who sacrifices, and at much more meaningful levels, to get their companies and brands off the ground.
3. We’re resilient.
Every startup gets knocked down time and time again until one day, it works. Good ideas aren’t brought to market by people that give up after a few tries. C’mon, speechies, we don’t give up on remediating the stubborn /r/ or seeing that AAC device actually being utilized across settings, so how could we give up on an idea that will serve us and our communities so beautifully?
My first graduate school exam in Advanced Phonology, I scored so low that I actually thought there had to have been something wrong with me when I took the test. Walking into the professor’s office to discuss, we came to the conclusion that I had way too much invested in the program and, quite frankly, no other options (before the days of the SLP-A license), that I just had to get gritty and find a way to make it work. Long story short, I’ve never been so proud of a B in my life.
There have been many moments in my startup journey where I’ve realized I’m up against a wall with too much invested, too passionate to quit. It’s at that moment you breakthrough and are one step closer to your vision.
4. We’re team players.
The biggest strength of any business is in the team or community it can build. As an entrepreneur, it can be overwhelming to think about changing the world or [insert YOUR vision] on your own, but the beauty and the challenge of building a business is that it is never a solo venture. Just like when we unite with the multidisciplinary education or care team and families to create or implement a treatment plan, we are playing a team sport.
SLPs are the best collaborators. We actually thrive in knowing that we need to get the team on board and make that as much a part of our efforts as direct intervention. If you’ve ever been to an ASHA conference or local gathering of SLPs, you know where you can find us. Huddled in small groups working through each others’ challenges. This is what we’re here for! Our SLP community has supported and encouraged one another to build companies, brands, blogs, you name it. We each have a unique passion and area of expertise and have done a fantastic job encouraging one another to explore entrepreneurship in our field.
5. We’re great communicators.
As the founder or creator of a business, our number one job, aside from keeping the lights on, is to communicate the vision of what we are doing. Building a brand that is centered on why we are doing something and how we can accomplish it together takes exceptional and frequent communication.
We’ve all been in those sessions that we like to call ‘ice breakers’ at the beginning of the school year. Nothing is going to get those students to talk, yet we press on. We keep the conversation (albeit one-way) going, we stay positive, and ultimately that student eventually turns into the bubbliest young person we see throughout the week. SLPs know the importance of words, the value of frequency, and when applied to the cause of building a business, blow others out of the water.
So to every SLP running a business or a side-hustle, to every creator on TeachersPayTeachers, to every employee with entrepreneurial mindset, we see you. We recognize how you are digging in, putting in all the work to make our community stronger.
While I carry extreme bias, I think SLPs make great entrepreneurs. In fact, graduate programs should offer, or make readily available, business classes that help us start and grow businesses with fewer barriers. I’m sure each profession has claims for why they are able to produce the best entrepreneurs, but we are certainly doing our part. I couldn’t be prouder to confuse the rest of the startup world with CCC-SLP after my name.
Need a quick example of SLP entrepreneurs doing amazing things in our community? Check out these founders!
SLP Toolkit, Sarah Bevier M.S. CCC-SLP + Lisa Kathman M.S. CCC-SLP
The Informed SLP, Dr. Meredith Harrold PhD, CCC-SLP
Speech is Beautiful, Sarah Wu M.A. CCC-SLP
Therapist Support Network, Elise Mitchell M.S. CCC-SLP
SPELL-Links/Learning By Design, Dr. Jan Wasowicz PhD, CCC-SLP