Voice-Based Edtech Startup Closes $1M Funding Round

Virtual English tutor developer has closed a $1 million seed funding round led by LETA Capital. The San Francisco-based edtech startup combines artificial intelligence and voice tech to teach English to children using the cartoon robot Buddy.

Robot Voice Tutor

Buddy uses games and other lessons to teach children how to speak English. According to the company, more than half a billion kids worldwide are trying to learn English, but most will not become fluent because they don’t have a teacher to practice with. Buddy uses speech recognition technology to understand what the kids are saying and how to correct them so that they continually improve. MyBuddy launched its app two years ago and now counts more than 20,000 families as paying customers for their kids, ten times the number from a year ago. The company, a 2019 Voice Summit Award finalist, also saw a boost in January, when it merged with fellow edtech startup, Edwin.

“Just as chatbots, robotics process automation, and robo-advisors are changing other industries, AI technologies are transforming the educational industry, allowing teachers to focus on more creative and exciting tasks,” CEO Ivan Crewkov said in a statement.

Kid Voices

Children and adults don’t speak the same way. That becomes even more apparent when accents and varying levels of fluency come into play. That’s why voice AI developed specifically for children, whether for education or other purposes, is crucial. Standard voice assistants get mixed up even if a child is speaking their native language. It’s a space in the market that MyBuddy has found a way to help fill, but it’s not alone.

Irish startup SoapBox Labs comes at the question of voice assistants understanding children from a broader perspective. SoapBox’s software and unique data sets of children’s speech combine to improve how well voice assistants understand the way kids speak and can be applied to new AI platforms or existing virtual assistants. The educational uses for voice AI are not ignored, either. Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research (FCCR) is working with SoapBox to create ways of testing and measuring literacy in children, including helping educators find out the element of reading with which students struggle.  The company also developed a way to automate fluency testing for kids that educational groups can use to augment their toolkits. said it plans to use its new capital to bring its solution to more places and to continue upgrading it. The next module to be released will deal with health and teach kids both how to stay healthy and how to speak about the subject in English. That’s especially timely now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing children to stay home from school and leading educators and families to look for technological aids to teaching.

“The demand for online education is rising sharply due to the pandemic. This has exacerbated the chronic shortage of qualified English language teachers needed for half a billion kids struggling to learn English as a second language,” Crewkov said “Our AI-powered tutor Buddy can handle the mundane part of their work. He provides unlimited practice of spoken English, can scale to millions of students, and is always available.


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