Lexi teaches a living language that people use in everyday work situations
New platform aims to short-circuit the pain of learning job-appropriate English
Machaela O’Leary (left) and Catherine Coffey, co-founders of Lexi
Machaela O’Leary and Catherine Coffey are childhood friends who met in their local Brownies group at the age of eight. They went through secondary school together in Killorglin, Co Kerry, and from there progressed to Trinity College, where they both studied French as part of their degrees.
Despite being highly proficient in the language, however, they struggled to find employment in France suited to their qualifications, and believed this was because there was a gap between the French they had learned academically and that needed for the world of work – particularly when it came to job interviews.
Recognising that this was a universal problem and undoubtedly experienced by those trying to master English, they set up Lexi in March last year to teach sector-relevant language skills to those trying to improve their chances of finding employment in an English-speaking environment.
“Unlike other platforms we are teaching a living language that people will use in everyday work situations,” O’Leary says. “We’re not focused on teaching a whole language, only the parts people need. Our courses are broken down by industry, and focus on vocabulary not available with other language products.”
The founders took part in Trinity’s Launchbox programme for startups last summer and plan to launch their MVP (minimum viable product) shortly and begin extensive customer testing.
“Building out a machine-learning algorithm as the brains behind the platform is a significant task, and we’ve built a light MVP in parallel,” says O’Leary, who graduated in computer science and linguistics as well as French.
“The purpose of the MVP outside of testing is to collect initial data to train our algorithm off. We are using machine-learning to gather and collate the most used vocabulary in different industries to generate our courses. This ensures that the English being taught is always truly relevant to the field in which the user is working.
“Languages evolve, and with the rise of technology they are evolving faster than ever. Words like ‘disrupt, blockchain and swift’ didn’t have the same meaning five years ago.”
This boostrapped startup has come this far on €25,000 which is a combination of funding from Launchbox and a stipend from Enterprise Ireland as the founders are currently participating in the New Frontiers entrepreneurs programme at the LINC in Blanchardstown IT.
The company has also been supported by Bank of Ireland Start Lab, and is an Enterprise Ireland high potential start-up client. It is also planning a funding round to raise €250,000 in the last quarter of 2018.
Lexi’s focus is the international market starting with southeast Asia and the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia specifically.
“We are looking for countries that are a little behind the likes of China and India in adapting English, and who have high levels of outward migration to English-speaking countries for employment purposes. Other export markets we’re interested in include South America and north Africa,” O’Leary says.
Initially the company plans to charge individuals a modest monthly fee of €8 to use the basic platform which includes CV and interview preparation, and €12 a month for premium features such as unlimited courses. In time, however, O’Leary says their market will shift to B2B as their ultimate aim is to link up with universities and have them pick up the tab.
“Our main competition is from legacy institutions such as private language colleges, and they too have started to realise the importance of teaching specific subsections of language,” O’Leary says.
“However, people have less free time than ever to learn so digitising the process takes things a step further and provides more value to users in terms of fitting in with their lifestyles. The use of emerging technologies to achieve more effective learning outcomes is becoming more and more prevalent in the startup space, and we are using it to our advantage.”