Gradient Ventures, Google's AI fund, is investing $ 7 million in the Elsa-TechCrunch English-language app

Google's Gradient Ventures, the search giant's dedicated AI fund, is turning its attention to Asia after running a $ 7 million Series A round for Elsa, a startup that's an app for English learners operates.

The deal is the first of Gradient in Asia and includes the participation of existing investors Monk's Hill Ventures and SOSV. Elsa has now raised $ 12 million.

Elsa was founded in 2015 to help non-English speakers improve their accent and general speech skills. Vu Van, CEO and one half of the founding team, is a Vietnamese citizen who, despite fluent English, had difficulty understanding after moving to the US to study and then work. Together with the speech recognition researcher Dr. Xavier Anguera ̵[ads1]1; the startup CTO who runs his Portugal-based tech team – founded Van Elsa to help people in need.

"I was very good at grammar, reading and writing, but I realized people had a hard time understanding me because I had a very strong accent and my pronunciation was not right," Van said in San Francisco lives, but is traveling a lot, opposite TechCrunch in an interview. "This affects confidence when you apply for a job or just meet friends."

"There are so many English language learning solutions, but they focus mainly on vocabulary or grammar extension, few are concerned with pronunciation," she added. 19659002] Elsa uses Speech Recognition and AI to evaluate a user's language skills against standard American English (19459006), and I thought Britons were the global standard … . In the end, they gave them a score. This helps to track their progress, with a focus on pronunciation and a detailed overview of the way a user speaks.

The service uses a freemium model that gives users full access to 1,000 courses for $ 3- $ 6 per month, depending on their length, of the package they choose. That ranges from one month access to up to 12 months. Van added that new content will be added every week.

With this money in her pocket, Elsa is on a growth trajectory in some of the most promising markets.

The service has more than 100 users countries, but Vietnam is the top market with two million paying users. Elsa defended herself against Vietnam partly because of Vans' home market with a local sales team and local payments, such as bank transfers and local wallets.

This is the blueprint for expansion in the next three target countries. Japan, Indonesia and India. Esla has already opened an office in Tokyo and plans to introduce more localized content for Japanese users. Similar efforts are taking place in Indonesia and India, where Van said the app sees strong engagement and downloads without paid marketing efforts.

Elsa is also working on expanding the content of English to other languages. Spanish is currently on the horizon and the company is already preparing backend technology to make this possible.

"We need to build speech recognition technology to accurately recognize these languages. We have the infrastructure, but now all we have to do is collect voice data to train the model, "Van said.

Vu Van founded Elsa in 2015 with Dr. Xavier Anguera to help non-English speakers accent and their general speaking skills 19659014] In addition to geographic expansion, Elsa is also pursuing schools and classrooms, and in Vietnam, it is already working with a handful of schools that have added the app to their teaching work, enabling schools to provide their specific content or upload curriculum in Elsa to include in a student's homework or ratings, teachers can see if a student has done oral homework, and the app evaluates their efforts.

"We want to help these teachers help their students "Van said," Even with the best of intentions, they just can not teach. "

The Model f r the educational thrust provides that schools per student pay a license fee, which is subsidized, according to Van, while the upload of your content is free.

Snagging Gradient's investment is a remarkable achievement for Elsa, but the startup can also leverage the company's talents. That's because Gradient runs a rotation program that allows Google employees to work for three to six months at portfolio start-ups. For Elsa, this process has not started yet, but Van hopes to win an engineer who would otherwise be too expensive for her business.

Gradient Ventures was founded in 2017, and this deal is, according to Crunchbase, the 18th fund. His previous investments included Canvass Analytics and

The Elsa Team

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