Correspondence courses have long been a popular way to acquire new skills, and now they are moving onto the web. Online language school Eloquence (www.elok.com), offering virtual tuition in 60 languages, has built a 19,000-strong subscription base since 1997.
Founded by net pro Neil Smith and linguist Chrystelle Ruinat, Eloquence was the product of 'the skills we both have', says Smith. Snubbed by the banks despite a DTI loan guarantee, they were not to be put off. 'I could see exciting opportunities for distance learning on the net,' says Smith.
A Prince's Youth Business Trust grant and pounds 70,000 from friends and colleagues got the ball rolling.
Eloquence has signed an agreement with Greenbush, south-east Kansas education center, to offer language teaching in rural districts. It has also teamed up with US start-up CrowdBurst to provide interactive services in real time - a virtual classroom enabling simultaneous teaching of people in different locations.
The site offers paid-for online courses as well as free services designed to increase the user base, including a pen-pal forum and a vocabulary-building tool. The site encourages feedback to help it develop new services, such as the Russian and Japanese courses.
Eloquence is now looking for the next round of financing. 'There's a fair amount of market building to do and we'll now focus on opportunities where revenue is more immediate,' says Smith.