Kim Antoniou is a persuasive woman.

There can’t be many tech startup founders who could persuade former Just Eat Chief Operating Officer Graham Corfield to become her chairman but Antoniou managed it.

The co-founder of London-based Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) Engine Auris Tech told TechBlast’s latest Going 4 Growth roundtable that the key to attracting heavyweights to your board was ‘reaching for the stars’.

“My chairman Graham Corfield is the former COO of Just Eat and helped grow the UK business from c£30m to c£450m revenue over an eight-year period, and the whole global group into a £1billion+ revenue business,” she said.

“I could only aspire to work with people like that a few years ago. I’ve been in family businesses my entire life so I have got no corporate experience or no international growth experience so what do you do?

“In my experience you find the best person within your reach to come and be part of the journey.”

Raison d’etre

Recalling how she persuaded Mr Corfield to join she said: “You have to have a powerful enough raison d’etre. Ours is that we will improve literacy and support English language learning around the world.

Kim Antoniou, Auris Tech

“If you can find someone who is really aligned with that, you’ll be very surprised at the amount of people who say, ‘oh my God yes, I want to come on that journey and I want to invest some money in it and by the way, I’ll do it for nothing initially because I want to help change children’s lives’. That’s really powerful.”

Antoniou came up with the idea for Auris Tech after observing the way her young grandson quickly understood how to use an iPhone and spotted a gap in the market.

She recalled: “My two-year-old grandson got a bit fractious in the car so I gave him my iPhone and before you knew it he was swiping to the next video.

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“At two he couldn’t string a sentence together but he mastered how to use the technology.

“This got me thinking about creating a tablet-based reading platform combining gaming with education to help children with their reading.

“I was chatting to my co-inventor Bill Bungay over lunch a few days after that incident. We were talking about how incredible it would be to build an app that was going to be what we dubbed ‘entertainment’.

“We came up with this idea of building a reading app that would be powered by voice technology.

“In a nutshell that technology didn’t actually exist to power such a reading app so we partnered with the University of Edinburgh and worked with their fabulous speech experts there to actually create the technology.

“We actually built the only voice technology that’s ever been created specifically for reading.”

Auris Tech uses a piece of software called Fonetti.

Near tragedy

The serial entrepreneur founded her previous business Kafoodle in 2014 after her husband Ron nearly died after suffering a serious sesame allergy after a holiday restaurant hadn’t labelled some food correctly.

“I thought there was a real need for direct information to come from the kitchen to the diner, and that’s why we sort of found Kafoodle in 2014,” said Antoniou. “The rest is history.

“That’s massively scaling up and working through thousands and thousands of kitchens all over the UK and a bit beyond. My co-founder runs that business now as the CEO and I’m no longer operational so I can focus on Auris Tech.”