Durham English-language education company looks to grow

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 07:08 PM

Durham-based Urban Planet Mobile, a start-up company that delivers English-language lessons using cell phones to speakers of Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and other languages, is looking to speed its growth.

Founded in May 2008, the company is now delivering about 4 million English-language lessons a month to speakers of 19 different languages through its Urban English cell phone message program, said company president and CEO Brian OliverSmith.

That program is the company’s No. 1 revenue generator, OliverSmith said. Lessons are sent through text and audio messages to basic cell phones. The company is looking to launch by the fourth quarter an additional version of the program called Urban English Express for smart phones and tablets.

In addition, the company generates revenue from another product called Writing Planet that it developed through a partnership with another Durham company, Measurement Inc., an educational testing company. The writing program offers lessons as well as automated essay scoring.

 “The world wants to learn English,” said Hank Scherich, president and CEO of Measurement Inc. Scherich said he’s an investor in Urban Planet Mobile and believes in the company’s potential for growth.

The company is looking to raise about $750,000 from investors to boost marketing and sales efforts, OliverSmith said. So far, he said, the company has raised about $2.5 million.

“(We were) in pretty aggressive development mode,” he said. “Now we need to increase our marketing and sales...”

The company has eight full-time workers in Durham as well as interns, he said. Globally, he said it has about 27 people working full or part-time.

The company recently moved into new space by Measurement Inc. to accommodate growth.