How this Vietnamese founder won Google’s backing for her A.I. app

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The coronavirus has sparked a revolution in education, pushing schools and institutions online and driving new demand for e-learning apps.One among them is ELSA, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered language platform designed to help non-native English learners improve their speech and pronunciation via short, app-based lessons.Under the pandemic, the Google-backed company — which uses machine learning to train spoken English specifically — has hit around 11 million users and tapped new markets as international lockdowns have prompted a new need for tech-based learning solutions.Vu Van, co-founder and CEO of AI-powered English language app ELSA.ELSABut when Vietnamese entrepreneur Vu Van founded the company in 2015, it was out of a whole different necessity.A billion-person problemVan still remembers struggling to find her voice.Having relocated to the U.S. from her native Vietnam some years before, first for study then for work, she frequently found herself lacking the confidence to speak out, despite being fluent in English.It was a problem shared by her non-native peers. Concerns over mispronunciation held them back in her Stanford MBA class and, later, management consulting work, often leading them to be overlooked or, worse still, said Van, mistrusted.To speak confidently and fluently so that …

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