Ello Raises $15 Million to Teach Children to Read Using AI

Ello Raises $15 Million to Teach Children to Read Using AI
Ello co-founder and CEO Tom Sayer (left), co-founder and CXO Dr. Elizabeth Adams and co-founder Catalin Voss (right)

Ello, a San Francisco-based startup specializing in AI-enabled reading coaching, has successfully raised $15 million in a Series A funding round. The investment aims to accelerate the company's quest to combat child illiteracy, democratizing education by providing highly personalized, tech-assisted reading experiences.

The round was led by Goodwater Capital, with participation from Homebrew, Reed Hastings, Common Sense Growth, and Ravensburger. These investors join an already robust roster including Project A, Y Combinator, WndrCo, Reach Capital, Visible Ventures, and Khosla Ventures. This brings Ello's total funding to date to over $20 million.

Ello has developed what it calls the "world's most advanced AI reading coach." The system uses natural language processing and speech recognition technology to listen to children read out loud. It then provides personalized coaching and feedback to build critical reading skills. This process aligns with the Science of Reading approach, a research-backed methodology emphasizing essential decoding skills.

The startup aims to make quality one-on-one literacy instruction accessible to any child, regardless of economic or environmental challenges. Ello believes its approach, grounded in the science of reading, can help address alarming illiteracy rates in the U.S.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 67% of fourth graders are not proficient readers. The Covid-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated learning loss in basic skills like reading.

Ello operates through a subscription model costing $24.99 per month. Subscribers receive a monthly activity box containing five books that are carefully matched to the child's reading level and interests. The company's companion app, compatible with iPad and most Android tablets, listens to the child reading these books aloud, offering real-time coaching similar to what a skilled teacher would provide. To incentivize learning, Ello also offers a reward system where children can choose a prize based on points earned through reading. At the end of the month, families have the option to return the books with free, prepaid shipping or to keep them for an additional $5 per book.

Ello combines AI technology with real physical books tailored to a child's interests and reading level. It uses engaging characters and rewards to motivate children to read more. According to the company, their proprietary speech recognition technology surpasses existing market leaders like OpenAI's Whisper and Google Cloud's speech API. The system listens, understands, and engages with children on a phoneme level, demonstrating unprecedented accuracy in assessing and improving reading abilities.

The company was founded in 2019 by experts in education, childhood development, and AI. CEO Tom Sayer previously led impact and adoption programs at Google for Education, CXO Dr. Elizabeth Adams is a clinical psychologist with a specialization in child development, and CTO Catalin Voss has a history of leveraging AI for societal good, including projects related to autism and economic empowerment in Africa.

The new financing will support Ello's product development and expanded availability. The startup aims to reach more families seeking tools, iterate on its core technology, and advance its mission. The startup joins an array of AI and edtech companies focused on improving childhood education outcomes.

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