Irish edtech start-up targets the huge Chinese pre-school market
Little Red Edu founder says app’s ability to assess pronunciation sets it apart from rivals
Little Red Edu founder Anna Carmody: ‘There are a number of big players in the English language learning apps market, but they do not have our focus on pronunciation and don’t use speech recognition.’
Little Red Edu is an interactive English language tuition platform founded in June 2020 by teacher and musician Anna Carmody. The platform is aimed at children aged three to six who are learning English as a foreign language, and the company’s target market is Asia and China in particular.
“From working in Asia, I knew there was a huge demand for native English teachers and parents are more than willing to invest in English language learning for their children,” Carmody says.
“Chinese culture values education very highly and there are also other market drivers such as the increase in the one-child policy to a two-child policy and the growing ability of parents to afford pre-school tuition. Asian parents and teachers are early adopters when it comes to using technology to give children an advantage and Covid-19 has also driven a sharp rise in the use of edtech products there.”
Carmody’s first foray into creating interactive educational material for children came when she was teaching English in Vietnam. “Instead of asking the children to learn conventionally from a book, I created a giant snakes and ladders game to teach them the words for animals,” she says. “The children had so much fun jumping from one square to the next and I couldn’t believe the positive results at the end of the lesson. It was clear that young children learn best through play.”
Speech recognition software
Carmody teamed up with another English language teacher and curriculum specialist, Areti Vasmatzoglou, to develop Little Red Edu which teaches children English through playing and saying. “We partnered with Soapbox Labs to avail of their top-class speech recognition software, which is designed specifically for early learners and, neurologically speaking, children are at their most open to learning a language between the ages of three and six. We combined this with a tried and tested curriculum and augmented reality to create the best learning experience possible for the child,” Carmody says.
“Pronunciation is the most difficult skill to teach the children and it is equally challenging for them and there was no existing way to accurately measure the progress of a child’s pronunciation. We have addressed this shortcoming with our solution.”
Little Red Edu’s revenue model is SaaS based and parents and schools can sign up for monthly or yearly subscription packages.
Investment in the business to date has been about €75,000 between founder equity and support from the New Frontiers programme at the Synergy Centre at TU Tallaght and Tullamore LEO. The company, which employs five people, is looking to raise an initial seed round of €300,000.
Little Red Edu is Carmody’s third augmented reality project for children. In 2018 she launched Hazard Farm, a farm safety book designed to prevent accidents and fatalities on farms in Ireland. She followed this with FireSmartAR which teaches secondary school children about fire safety at home.
“My own experience in school was not very positive,” Carmody says. “I found the school system to be a one-way street and since finishing school my aim has been to help children reach their full potential through their natural ability to play.”
Covid got in the way of the rollout of the company’s beta platform which had been planned for last month. However, Carmody says it is now expected to go ahead in September with a chain of 200 pre-schools in China catering for 20,000 children. A second pilot with another chain is also on the cards.
“There are a number of big players in the English language learning apps market, but they do not have our focus on pronunciation and don’t use speech recognition, augmented reality or AI to create a fun teaching/learning environment and to build up accurate data on the child’s progress,” Carmody says.