Tampa-based startup MARVL, which uses animated augmented reality to teach children languages, will be competing in a global pitch competition to win $1 million and make critical venture connections.
The startup’s app, MARVL, which stands for multimedia augmented reality vocabulary learning, combines animated augmented reality with research-based best practices for language learning. It allows children in grades K-12 to complete their English vocabulary learning on their own.
MARVL was founded in April 2020 by Sara Smith, an assistant professor of foreign languages at the University of South Florida, and startup veteran Murewa Olubela. The duo launched MARVL to help dual-language students.
“We wanted to create a learning tool for teachers who are often assigning homework activities for language-learning students who can’t speak English, and it’s especially needed when their parents can’t speak English either,” Smith said.
MARVL has been selected as one of the Elite 200 startups for the 2022 GSV Cup. MARVL was selected from a global applicant pool of over 750 companies, the largest application pool for the GSV (Global Silicon Valley) Cup yet.
This year’s cup, powered by HolonIQ, HubSpot and GSV Ventures, will take place at the ASU (Arizona State University) and GSV Summit April 4-6 in San Diego. In addition to the monetary prize, MARVL will have the opportunity to interact with leading VC investors, thought leaders and potential clients, as well as receive an exclusive invitation to the ASU and GSV Startup Academy.
Today, MARVL is in the beta testing phase and has partnerships with Manatee County Public Schools, including the Dreamers Academy in Sarasota.
Olubela said the company is largely based on a business-to-business (B2B) model and is looking ahead to creating a business-to-consumer model (B2C).
Smith and Olubela shared that MARVL has been on a growth track since its founding, and the Covid-19 pandemic created a silver lining.
“The pandemic accelerated what was on the horizon in how we think about optimally leveraging technology to best support learning and learners who need the most support,” Smith said. “The rapid switch to remote learning also accelerated teachers’ comfort with technology for better educational outcomes.”
“During the pandemic, we saw the large digital divide for students who didn’t have access to computers and it creates barriers for learning, but in all houses in America, families have mobile phones, and our app is designed to be mobile-based,” Olubela added.
The focus is on Spanish-speaking students learning English and English-speaking students learning Spanish, but Smith and Olubela said they are looking to add more languages.
“What’s on the docket is adding Haitian Creole. It’s not a common language outside of Florida but in Florida, we have a lot of children from Creole-speaking homes,” Smith said, noting how there’s also interest to add tools for teaching Korean.
The startup is currently raising its pre-seed round and has received funding from the USF Foundation and National Science Foundation.
The startup will be attending the Synapse Summit in Tampa Feb. 17.