I Started a Business with a Baby: Julie Davenport of E-Voice Speech Recognition

E-Voice Speech Recognition Limited is a leading provider of Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Speech Recognition software), TextHelp Read & Write, and mind mapping software solutions in the workplace, for individuals with literacy difficulties, or for those that require hands-free approach to computing due to RSI (Repetitive Strain  Injury) or other medical conditions. In addition, we provide one-to-one, customised training as part of our solutions, all of which can be purchased with funding by Access to Work along with a wide range or ergonomic mice and keyboards, microphones, and digital recorders. Dragon NaturallySpeaking can also be used for individuals wishing to improve productivity, by speeding up repetitive tasks, replicating keystrokes with voice commands, and enabling the user to dictate three times faster than most people can type.

Prior to E-voice, I worked for a company called The GeoInformation Group as an Aerial Photography Data Specialist. I worked with the company for over 13 years starting in an administrative role and then went on to work within the production team to produce high-resolution digital aerial photography including some of the imagery you see on Google.

I approached my line manager after my second child was born about reducing my working hours in the office. Childcare was an expensive necessity, and with travel costs I was working to keep my job rather than to earn a salary. It was arranged with my employer that I could spend most of my working week working from home, with one day the office which was ideal for both saving money, and being able to collect my children from school. The flexible working hours suited my family lifestyle, as I was able to work evenings and weekends giving more time during the day to my children.

My son was born in 2007, and I returned back to work in March 2008 and was given a new project that required me to work more hours at home. As a result of working for long periods of time in the evenings and weekends, I developed tendinitis, an extremely painful condition in first my right hand and then my left. I had no option but to take a long absence of sick leave, during which time I had physiotherapy, deep-muscle massage therapy and prolonged rest. The impact of my condition on my life was staggering. I was unable to hold my baby son, help my daughter to dress her dolls, push the buggy, lift a kettle or even write my name. I came close to breaking point at times, but with lots of support at home and a husband who is very motivational, focused on the positives and helped me to learn to manage my condition.

I decided it was time to leave my job, but I didn’t appear to have many options

I looked into using Dragon NaturallySpeaking as an alternative to using my hands on the keyboard and mouse as it was something that my husband used for work occasionally. During a period of sick leave, I taught myself how to use the software in a hands-free way. I sat on my hands to prevent myself from using the keyboard, and learned voice commands and shortcuts to navigate my applications, browse the Internet, and dictate e-mails and documents.  It meant I could return to work and use it for entering data and managing my e-mail and databases.

I then had to decide whether I was happy to continue to work where I was, with no future career path as far as I could see, or it was to look to something new that would not be so detrimental to my health. I decided it was time to leave my job, but I didn’t appear to have many options, as nearly every job required “hands-on”, but it was my husband who first said to me that I would make a really good Dragon trainer. We discussed whether training other individuals with similar disabilities would be a viable career and decided to give it a go. I knew nothing about running my own business, what was involved, and how to get started. It took lots of online research, talking to people in the industry and started by setting up an online shop and becoming an accredited trainer in many different assistive technology software packages. During the first six months, I received orders for 11 training sessions and went on to complete nearly 100 during the following year. I arrange training sessions around term time, a maximum of three days per week so that I can maintain a healthy home/work lifestyle.

if mum is happy then we’re all happy, if mum is sad we fall apart

The individuals I train all have the most amazing stories that they share with me, from a lady who was paralysed from a skiing accident, to a 60-year-old fire officer struggling with his Dyslexia who just wants to make it to his retirement. It helps me to keep things in perspective, to appreciate what I have, and understand how privileged I am to be able to be in a position to help.

If I could give one piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler thinking about starting a business, it would be to really have a think about what’s important, about balance, time, the needs of all family members, but also about what you need to be happy. My husband once said “if mum is happy then we’re all happy, if mum is sad we fall apart.”

Julie will be offering free training sessions on Dragon NaturallySpeaking at the Huntingdonshire Business Fair on 7th April. For more info call her on 01353 662307 or email julie@e-voice.co.uk.


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