A Houghton-le-Spring-based educational app developer, whose products are used by children with special education needs in countries as far afield as Botswana, Fiji and Iceland, has set its sights on further international growth after seeing a 17% increase in international downloads in 2018.

Special iApps, a not-for-profit social enterprise, was founded by software engineers Beverley and Colin Dean in 2011 after Beverley had difficulty finding an educational app that was suitable for her son, William, who has autism and Down’s syndrome.

The business’s customisable apps are designed to improve reading, vocabulary, numeracy and concentration in children with special education needs, including those with hearing impairments and cerebral palsy.

Last year the organisation saw its paid-for apps downloaded in 26 new countries around the world, including Kenya, Honduras and Hong Kong, taking its reach to more than 70 countries. The increase means that overseas downloads now account for 79% of its overall customer base.

Special iApps has been working with North East-based International Trade Advisers (ITAs) from the Department for International Trade (DIT) since 2014 and is now looking to build on its export success by increasing its downloads and revenue from users in the UK and overseas.

As well as offering one-to-one support through its ITAs, DIT has helped the business to increase awareness of its products through UK-based international trade shows as well as working with the British Embassy in Kiev to help Special iApps showcase its apps to potential Russian and Ukrainian-speaking users.

Beverley Dean, CEO and co-founder of Special iApps, said: “Our personal motivation to support as many families as possible has meant our business has had a global outlook from the beginning. Our first app came with eight languages, and the very first download of our Special Words app in 2011 was from a teacher at a special educational needs school in New Zealand.  

“DIT has helped us to develop, grow and shape our organisation and the projects we’re working on. As well as offering its help through workshops and advising on translation for our website, our local ITAs have been ready to offer bespoke advice to ensure we’re able to make the most of the demand overseas. If we can find overseas success, many others can too.”

David Coppock, Head of Region (North East) at the Department for International Trade, said: “Special iApps has developed a product that is making a real difference to people around the world.

“Exporting is undoubtedly a strong avenue for growth, but we know that firms face challenges throughout the process, such as identifying new overseas partners and translation.

“We have a network of ITAs based across the North East ready to help organisations and businesses of all sizes start, or increase, their export activity. These advisers can help navigate the export process from start to finish. I’m encouraging anyone who is interested to get in touch with our team today and see how we can help.”