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English Learning App ELSA Gets $15 million in Funding

ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant) is an app that helps teach non-native English speakers as well as improving their pronunciation and speaking skills, the company recently secured $15 million in its series-B funding round co-led by Vietnam Investments Group and SIG. The company already had a number of high profile backers that got involved in the test funding round, including SOSV, Monk's Hill Ventures as well as Google's AI centred venture fund - Gradient, along with Endeavor Catalyst and Globant Ventures.

ELSA was co-founded I 2015 by Vietnamese entrepreneur Vu Van and engineer Xavier Anguera, ELSA is an app that helps by using speech recognition technology to correct pronunciation, inspired by Ms Van's experience with studying in the USA as a non-native English speaker. When Van teamed up with Anguera, who specialises in digital speech processing, they were able to roll out the service in Vietnam before expanding to India and Japan. The company, based in both San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City, plans to use the new capital to expand its operations to across Latin America as well as building upon its scalable Business to Business platform, which will further allow ELSA to connect with other business and education organisations to offer the apps services to both employees and students.

The app now has over 13 million users, following their successful Series A funding round in 2019 that raised $7 million, the companies revenues also increased by about 300% in 2020 alone. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly influenced greater demand for online learning, which influenced a change in user base for ELSA, where their previous typical user base consisted mainly of ages 15-35, the platform has seen an increase in users between the ages 6-15, where parents are looking to digital solutions to educate their children in home school environments. ELSA users pay a subscription fee, the fee ranges from around $3 to $4 a month in Vietnam up to $7 to $8 in Japan.

As well as plans for expansion in Latin America, ELSA will also begin to expand operations across Vietnam, India and Japan, all of which saw an increased demand in 2020. ELSA co-founder and chief executive officer Vu Van said in an interview that many users want to improve their English speaking proficiency to better their job opportunities and increase their earning potential. In many countries such as Vietnam, India and Brazil, those with higher English speaking proficiency can earn around 2-3X more than their colleagues.

“This motivation drives a lot of demand for our English learner community in Vietnam, India and Brazil, especially during COVID-19 when we’ve seen enormous interest from the LatAm region as well,” - Vu Van, Co-Founder and CEO, ELSA

ELSA also recently formed a partnership with IDP and British Council, which owns the IELTS English language test but now recommends ELSA for test preparation. Further, ELSA is also working with language schools in Vietnam like IMAP and Speak Up, online learning platform YOLA and corporate clients including Kimberly Clark, Intel and ATAD to further their b2B operations.

"We wanted to go to Vietnam first because it's where my heart is and I know how it can help people in my home country, but we have been setting out for a global mission since the very early days," - Vu Van

In Vietnam those trying to learn English will spend a large portion of their disposable income on online or offline English lessons and training, but Van states that many English learners will still struggle to improve their speaking skill because others aren't able to understand them or they’re simple not comfortable speaking it, ELSA was designed and is built to provide a widely accessible resource to help tackle these issues and improve their pronunciation and confidence when speaking English, and as such improve economic opportunities.

ELSA sets itself apart from competitors because of its proprietary voice recognition AI tech, that is designed to understand and help to improve pronunciation of non-native English speakers because ELSA's AI model has been trained over years with accented English voice data to give a higher accuracy in understanding and recognising speech from English learners from all over the world.

“The other existing voice recognition technologies available, by comparison, might understand native speakers well but have a hard time understanding non-native accented English learner communities.” - Vu Van

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