With September welcoming students of all ages and backgrounds back into the classroom, the spotlight is on education. Educators and EdTech founders help improve the world by shaping future generations and creating more access to information. StartOut is proud to welcome these educational innovators into our community and support them through their entrepreneurial journeys as they take on what is undoubtedly a selfless mission.
This month, we’ve had the privilege of speaking with founders in our community who’ve dedicated their professional lives to guiding and teaching others. Samrat “Sam” Roy (he/him) is no exception.
Sam is a board-certified behavior analyst and speech pathologist living in Santa Clara, California. After a full-time career in special education in some of the top Bay Area school districts, he transitioned to entrepreneurship by launching Nova Health Therapies. And while his medium of helping people has shifted, Sam’s mission humbly remains the same.
Sam, what brought you into the world of education?
I’ve always appreciated education, even as a young student myself. I have an MBA, a Master’s in Linguistics, and several Graduate certificates in the field.
I’m a clinician at heart, and it’s where I find my greatest passion in life. I’ve been trained to provide services to children with autism, and when I graduated in ‘96, I worked with nonprofit organizations in India to be a clinical supervisor specializing in autism.
Before moving to the Bay Area, I worked as a cochlear implant specialist in the UK for a couple of years. In three years, I worked in various public school settings in the United States, working my way from a public speech pathologist and Director of Special Education. I learned so much about the bureaucracy and organizational components of running a public education program, but my love for working with students.
And is that when you decided to launch your own company?
It is! I was the youngest director in Santa Clara County when I decided to pursue my startup. Even though I had all the tools I needed to understand and lead in the public education space, I still missed working with children and my clients. I couldn’t see myself doing administrative work forever and knew that the only way forward was to forge my path.
Nova was started by my wife Emer and myself, to provide clinical services in autism and special education. Given my background in public education, my colleagues approached me to work with their district to provide evidence-based practices and develop programs in special education. That’s how Nova transitioned to serve the special education population.
We incorporated at the end of 2012 and officially started operations in 2013. We’re a boutique firm, entirely bootstrapped and taking things one step at a time.
What separates Nova from others in the special education space?
From an outside perspective, we could look like a staffing agency, and most companies in our area operate like one entirely. But what Nova does differently is we provide a uniquely tailored experience that other staffing firms cannot. If a school calls and says they need a speech pathologist, other companies just place the first person in line. We go the extra step to get to know our clients and ask critical questions. What age level are you targeting? What level of severity are you serving?
We also conduct independent evaluations and assessments to ensure our clients are getting the maximum benefit from our services.
Before COVID, we developed an online program in 2018 called InstaThera which provides services in special education and mental health directly online. We’re still creating content and Beta testing with public schools, but the platform is inspiring to work on. The goal is to become the Uber of mental health and special education service and connect professionals with the community. We are actively seeking investors to further augment our services.
What are some of the main issues facing the education field?
Just like every public sector – especially education – there are constraints on finances and providing the right resources. Too often, special education gets overlooked when receiving public funding.
Even as a firm, we try to make sure that we are conscious of the pressures that education directors face, and instead of wasting their time just providing people, we want to go above and beyond and really understand what they need with their school district.
We also see a mismatch between supply and demand. There are roughly 11-12 master’s programs in speech pathology in California, and almost 80% of special education students receive some sort of speech pathology service. We simply do not have enough pathologists to work with the growing population of students. Hopefully, by investing in education and making connecting easier, we’ll see more students getting the support they need.
What brought you to join the StartOut community?
Once I launched my business career, I was joined by a fantastic friend, John, who joined Nova and worked with me for years. John was a significant game-changer for the company and me, becoming one of my best friends. He also happened to be gay and, unfortunately, passed away four years ago.
I wanted to do something in memory of John when I discovered StartOut. Working with LGBTQIA+ students in public schools, I empathized with the community. I have family and friends in the LGBTQIA+ space, and I want to empower them and support the community to make the world safer and happier. I joined StartOut to help give back and defend. This network brings people together and makes something like entrepreneurship – which can oftentimes feel lonely – feel a little less alone.
I’m grateful to StartOut for giving me this opportunity and perspective, really honored to be given this. You all are amazing.