When Vu Van, founder of ELSA Corp, moved to the US, people struggled to understand her. So, she built an app to help others in the same difficulty. 5 million users later, she talked to us about her very personal mission. It was a very real experience that inspired tech entrepreneur and Ho Chi Minh City local Vu Van to found tech startup ELSA Corp., an acronym for the English Language Speaking Assistant. Growing up, she had been an A* student in English writing, reading and grammar. However, when it came to actually speaking, she struggled with the pronunciation of certain words, leaving her feeling misunderstood, and lacking in confidence. So, she decided to do something about it, combining voice recognition technology and artificial intelligence in an app launched in 2016, which is now used by over five million people around the world. Operating out of offices overseeing 1000 in-app lessons in the Bay Area, Vietnam and India, she talked through her very personal mission to help people struggling as she did. “When I first moved to the US from Vietnam, people had a really hard time understanding my English. Not because I didn’t know the language, but because I wasn’t pronouncing it correctly,” says Vu of the confidence-bashing experience she found moving country to the US in 2009 to pursue her MBA at Stanford. She remembers feeling regularly embarrassed and mortified when someone asked her to repeat her sentence, struggling to make herself understood. “I thought to myself, ‘How do we get technology to build a product solution that is both scalable and accessible worldwide? How do I build something similar to Siri and Alexa, but in a more meaningful way that can be used by all accents around the world,’” she explains of her hunt for a solution. Soon, she focused on combining artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology. And so, ELSA, the English speaking assistant was built.
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