Latvian immigrants stuttering spurs success of startup

Growing up in Riga, Latvia, Friedman — a small, wiry and soft-spoken boy — was an achiever. At the age of 16 he was Latvia's classical wrestling champion, and later received a theoretical physics and computer science degree from Latvia State University.

In 1984, a relative took Friedman to a clandestine, two-month long seminar in Riga held by Jewish activists. There, he was exposed for the first time to religious observance: kashrut, prayer and mitzvot.

With the breakdown of the Communist regime in 1987, Jewish activities became legal and Friedman became one of the founders of Riga's Jewish Youth Union. In 1988, a B'nai Akiva emissary from Sweden came to Riga to meet with Friedman and his friends, and they agreed to help him organize Jewish camps in Sweden and Riga.

The interaction with the 50 children in the Riga camp, strengthened Friedman's religious convictions. In 1991, he made aliyah.

While studying for a doctorate in physics at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev and learning a completely new language, Friedman came face to face with his stuttering problem.

His supervisor wanted him to be a teaching assistant, but he couldn't lecture in front of a class. So the supervisor paid him the teaching wages in advance to enable him to participate in a three-week "precision fluency shaping" course run by Hadassah University Hospital's audiology and speech department.

The course changed his life.

"After completing the course, I returned to the university to teach. It was there that I got the idea to develop a software program for precision fluency shaping. Many people who stutter take courses, get over stuttering, but then have relapses because they are not keeping up with their training," he said.

"The courseware we developed is not a medical tool, but it does help people maintain their progress and speech fluency."

In 1992, Friedman launched Speech Therapy Systems, which now has 10 employees, mostly highly trained engineers from the former Soviet Union.

The first version of the fluency shaping courseware was in Hebrew. There are now also versions in English and German.

The computerized stuttering treatment program, called Dr. Fluency, sells for $499. The program includes a clinicians' package, a home-use package and a post-treatment fluency maintenance package.

Today, his company exports its products to the United States, Germany and Canada. A new Swedish version of Dr. Fluency has just been completed.