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Innovation & Startups

Mike Elchik's vision for WeSpeke, a social platform for language learning

Pittsburgh entrepreneur Mike Elchik believes his latest company, WeSpeke, will catapult foreign language learning and relationships across global boundaries.
The president and CEO of WeSpeke has spent the last 30 years working on disruptive technologies coming out of CMU. His early work focused on robotics. There was the high-tech digital microphone sold by Akustica, which Bosch acquired it in 2011.
WeSpeke is a language technologies platform he co-founded with Jaime Carbonell, director of the Language Technology Institute (LTI) at CMU. It's the eHarmony of language learning, he says.

Learners expand their knowledge by connecting with other learners in foreign countries. The key is matching people with similar interests, who are passionate about the same things. 
Like Skype, users communicate online through the WeSpeke social media site. Students practice writing, learn vocabulary and translate phrases with their digital acquaintances.
“It’s a social network for the social networks,” he says. “This is an opportunity to connect everyone in the world.”
While in stealth mode early on, working from a low-profile office space in GreenTree, WeSpeke launched its French platform in February 2013. Since then it has added Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German. 
The company has raised $1.73 million to date, with another round underway, and employs seven full-time with an additional 15-20 consultants who assist from all over the world.
Language educators around the world and the study abroad market are the initial focus. The program is being used by classrooms in the U.S.; Indiana University of Pennsylvania will use it this fall as part of its French curriculum.
The platform is a free resource for educators. A mobile app is underway.

“Wikipedia has proven if you challenge humanity they will stand up and deliver,” says Elchik. “Learning and teaching is as necessary as loving and eating and being loved. I’ll help you if you help me. Everyone wants to learn and teach.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Mike Elchik, WeSpeke
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