Your Kids Need a Dose of Bilingual Culture? He Can Help - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because it’s addressing issues of education and race in the pandemic.

By Nick Fouriezos

  • Entrepreneur Steven Wolfe Pereira has built an innovative bilingual educational-technology company that includes an app and online shows.
  • The combination of at-home learning tech and cultural education addresses both the pandemic-challenged learning environment and racial justice protests.

It’s not drastic to say that everything in American culture is being rethought — from policing and business practices to book clubs and history. Education is no different, although it faces another massive change agent: a global pandemic that has forced much of humanity into home schooling, learning pods or other forms of distance education.

Given that cataclysmic backdrop, where social isolation meets calls for multicultural understanding, parents are seeking answers. Charging in with a solution is Steven Wolfe Pereira, CEO and co-founder of Encantos, the award-winning educational-technology company that offers both physical and online bilingual (English and Spanish) education products for elementary-age children.

Steven Wolfe Pereira

Since its launch in 2015, Encantos has developed into a multifaceted brand focused on cultural diversity and teaching 21st-century skills. It began with Canticos, a nursery rhyme brand that quickly turned into an Emmy-nominated Nick Jr. digital series that won a 2020 Kidscreen Award. The company is expanding with Issa’s Edible Adventures, a children’s cooking show focused on health, nutrition and culture, and Tiny Travelers, a product that Wolfe Pereira compares to the Lonely Planet travel guides, except for kids. In early July, the company launched a Canticos Bilingual Preschool app, replete with videos and interactive books that teach not just the obvious subjects, like phonics and math, but also delve into music and social awareness. There are plans to add Portuguese and French into the mix soon. “There is nothing else like this for bilingual learning,” Wolfe Pereira says.

Today, most ed-tech companies are just point products — they aren’t beloved, trusted household consumer brands with loyal fans.

Steven Wolfe Pereira

The multimedia brand mimics the experience of Wolfe Pereira and his co-founders, all of whom grew up in multicultural households. The 47-year-old fondly recalls growing up with a Dominican mother who spoke Spanish at home and a Bronx-born father, an avid stickball player and World War II veteran. After graduating from Tufts in 1995 with a degree in international relations and economics, Wolfe Pereira thought he was going to “work in development for the World Bank or something,” he says.

Instead he fell into work as a private equity analyst at Blackstone and then Citibank, before getting involved in digital advertising and marketing at Akamai Technologies, Experian and Univision through the late ’90s and early 2000s. It wasn’t until Wolfe Pereira’s first child was born, in 2015, that his desire to build for the future led him to co-found Encantos with his wife, Nuria Santamaria Wolfe, and another couple, Susie Jaramillo and Carlos Hoyos.  

“He speaks with conviction and builds these amazing relationships with different people. It’s easy to know you want to collaborate with him, because you have faith in how authentic and high integrity his desire to move the needle is,” says Sabah Ashraf, CEO of brand agency Superunion North America.

It’s hard to image a better time for Encantos to benefit from its purpose-driven digital learning and multicultural mission. A Barclays report released last year illuminated a global education crisis where 6 of 10 children are not achieving minimum reading and math proficiency scores. And that was before the pandemic exacerbated concerns of inequality in remote schooling.

The report suggested that ed-tech companies could grow to a $342 billion industry by 2025, more than doubling the 2018 market, with 20-plus major players, including big dogs like Coursera and Duolingo. What’s more, the United States is diversifying at a rate far outpacing predictions, with early census data showing that nearly 4 in 10 Americans identify as something other than white, led by growth in Latino and Asian American communities. Wolfe Pereira is “seeing demand from people, asking him for more content. It’s not a one-way conversation anymore, the way it always is at the beginning of a company,” Ashraf says.

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Encantos has just released the Canticos Bilingual Preschool app, which teaches 21st-century skills to young learners.

This year Canticos watch time and subscribers have grown more than 1,000 percent, Wolfe Pereira says, with average view duration up 82 percent. Meanwhile, direct-to-consumer sales are up 1,400 percent from the same time last year, a surge Wolfe Pereira attributes to “the acceleration of e-commerce.”

Online streaming battles among digital giants like Netflix and Hulu have increasingly focused on acquiring educational content for children, and the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to the need to bring more diverse voices into the conversation. “There has never been more demand for family brands that are culturally authentic and focused on engaging diverse audiences,” Encantos investor Marlon Nichols, managing partner of Cross Culture Ventures, said last year when Wolfe Pereira was named CEO.

Though Encantos raised a fresh $2 million in January to expand, that cash influx pales in comparison to the budgets at top ed-tech companies Newsela and Coursera, which have each received more than $50 million in funding. While demand for products is high, many ed-tech companies are struggling to adjust their supply fast enough to benefit. “That’s where the moment is right now … [Wolfe Pereira has] built the awareness with parents,” says Ashraf. “That growth is going to be something where he has to produce a ton of content.” For his part, Wolfe Pereira notes that the company has doubled down on new content for its digital learning hubs during the pandemic, while pointing out that its direct-to-consumer model is “considerably less capital-intensive than the traditional entertainment/education companies.”

The company’s model is especially powerful now, as parents search for ways to entertain and educate their suddenly homebound kids. And Wolfe Pereira believes he can compete with the best of them. “Today, most ed-tech companies are just point products — they aren’t beloved, trusted household consumer brands with loyal fans,” he says. His goal? To create education programs that are beloved, in no small part because they make the world a better place.

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