About 300,000 students across the Americas have taken classes from Open English, an online English-language school based in Miami. In the last eight years, the venture-backed company has conquered Latin America, and now it is officially entering a market very close to home: The U.S. Hispanic market.
This week, Open English announced its official expansion to the United States, bringing its affordable teacher-led instructional model to the nation’s fastest-growing population. The launch, which will start in Miami immediately and then roll out to other cities, will be fueled by a national advertising and marketing campaign.
“We have had this organic growth already happening here so it was very easy for us to say this is the next big market for Open English. We also realized that the core need to learn English and be successful as a result – and English is a tool for success – is very similar if you live in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina or if you live in a city like Miami or LA,” said Andres Moreno, founder and executive chairman of Open English, at a launch event Thursday night at the company’s Coconut Grove headquarters. “This is a moment we have been waiting for for a long time.”
He said the numbers were also convincing: According to Brookings Institution, in the U.S. nearly one in 10 working-age adults – 19.2 million persons aged 16 to 64 – is considered to have limited English proficiency, and most of this group speaks Spanish. And according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 68 percent of Hispanic immigrant adults say they do not speak English at all or don’t speak English very well.
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Open English’s approach to learning English includes unlimited live classes with native English speakers and over 2,000 hours of multimedia content. It is now offered in 20 countries, and the company has raised $120 million in venture capital financing to fuel its growth.
Open English commercials in Latin America have been known for their wit and go viral over social media. The commercials will be taking a new approach in the U.S. and will be more focused on explaining the product and how it can help propel the student’s career, Moreno said. Expect to see billboard and bus bench advertising too, as well as online and radio advertising. U.S. students will get the first month of lessons free as part of the promotion.
“We are starting in Miami, where the brand is already well received. As we learn more about the U.S. Hispanic as a whole, then we will launch into a national expansion,” said Moreno.
Moreno said launching in the U.S. market is also personally satisfying because the country has been so welcoming.
Originally from Venezuela, Moreno started Open English there in 2006 with his co-founders but it soon became clear that he needed to raise money in the U.S. He moved to Silicon Valley with $700 in his pocket, slept on a friend’s couch for months and went door to door seeking meetings with venture capitalists and angels.
After raising initial funding there, he moved the company to Miami and has been able to raise about $100 million of the $120 million while the company has been based in Miami, a fund-raising success story in a region that has historically been venture-challenged. The global company now employs about 1,500 people, including contractors, and about 60 work out of its Coconut Grove headquarters and Fort Lauderdale satellite offices.
Moreno, active in the local entrepreneurship community, is also on the founding board of Endeavor Miami, the first U.S. office of the global nonprofit that mentors and supports high-impact entrepreneurs.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg