Voice AI English Tutor Startup ELSA Closes $15M Funding Round
Educational app developer ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant) has closed raised a $15 million Series B funding round led by Vietnam Investments Group and SIG. ELSA uses automatic speech recognition and AI to teach users how to speak correctly pronounced English with,
ELSA is a mobile app on iOS and Android that uses a proprietary voice assistant to guide users interested in improving the way they speak English. The AI listens to how the user pronounces sentences broken down by individual sounds, diagnosing where they are making mistakes and giving real-time suggestions on how to adjust their speech. The AI is trained on ELSA’s large database of voices in various non-native accents and can spot subtle mistakes in rhythm, intonation, and other subtle language distinctions.
The five-year-old startup is based in San Francisco and Vietnam and claims more than 13 million users around the world, nearly double the number from a year ago. ELSA is used by students in schools but has seen a surge of interest from corporate clients, largely in Asia and Latin America, over the last year as the COVID-19 pandemic has kept people home and interacting solely over audio and video conferences. The new capital is more than twice the $7 million ELSA raised in its last round back in 2019 and brings its total funding to $27 million. Along with VI and SIG, the new funding came from previous investors including Google’s Gradient Ventures and David Evans, better known as The Edge from U2. ELSA plans to apply some of the investment toward creating a B2B platform to cater to the new corporate clients.
“We’re pleased to leverage the support of our investors as we rapidly grow across Asia with an introduction into the Latin American market this year,” ELSA CEO Vu Van said in a statement. “We’re honored to have VIG and SIG on board as our lead investors with their experience in building B2B solutions and scaling companies across the world. This investment is a further validation of our team and mission to help people, such as employees and students, improve their English speaking skills and unleash their full potential in today’s global and remote work marketplace.”
ELSA serves as a specific kind of language tutor, useful for international settings. The app is also notable as an AI teaching humans to change their accents, as opposed to humans trying to teach an AI to understand human accents. It’s not an insignificant issue in the industry. Voice assistants struggle with almost a quarter of UK accents, especially in Scotland and Wales, according to a study last year. That can also be a problem when text-to-speech tools are applied to dialect words or place names. South African news provider Media24 even released its own synthetic voice engine to read stories on its websites with the proper accent and pronunciation.