Google-backed app by Vietnamese founder gets US$15mil funding

HANOI: ELSA, a mobile app that helps non-native English speakers improve pronunciation and speaking skills, secured US$15mil in a funding round co-led by Vietnam Investments Group and SIG.

Existing backers including Google’s artificial intelligence-focused venture fund Gradient Ventures, SOSV and Monk’s Hill Ventures joined the company’s Series B financing round.

ELSA – which stands for English Language Speech Assistant – was co-founded in 2015 by Vietnamese entrepreneur Vu Van and engineer Xavier Anguera. The app was borne out of Van’s experiences while she was studying in the US as a non-native English speaker.

Van teamed up with Anguera, who specialised in digital speech processing, and rolled out the service in Vietnam before expanding to India and Japan. The app has 13 million users and the company’s revenue increased almost 300% in 2020.

“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, ” said Van, the 37-year-old chief executive officer of ELSA.

With the new capital, the startup plans to enter Latin America and accelerate expansion across Asia this year, she said.

After growing up in Vietnam, Van moved to San Francisco to earn a masters degree in education and an MBA from Stanford University.

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked greater demand for online learning. While ELSA’s users typically comprise people aged 15 to 35, it is attracting more children between the ages of six and 15 as parents look to the Internet to help educate them.

ELSA’s users pay a subscription fee, ranging from about US$3 to US$4 a month in Vietnam to about US$7 to US$8 in Japan, according to the company, which said it plans to invest on its business-to-business platform by working with corporate partners around the world. ─ Bloomberg

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