A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Marina Jackman met her husband, Chris, while earning a master’s degree in international politics and journalism in Barcelona, Spain. As the couple prepared for a move to France, they visited there to take an extensive, five-week-long course in French. This immersive experience allowed them to constantly apply everything they were learning as they spoke French to everyone they encountered during the trip.
At home, Chris decided he also wanted to improve his Spanish language skills. Although he could understand Spanish, he only spoke it occasionally with his Colombian mother. For a couple months, Marina and Chris spoke in Spanish every day until he became fluent.
These experiences inspired Marina to develop Time2Talk, a software app that connects those learning Spanish with language coaches for one-on-one conversational Spanish lessons.
“We understood the struggles of learning a new language and the benefits of regularly practicing through conversation,” Marina said. “I’m connected to the Spanish community and Spanish is the second most used language in the U.S. Combined with my network, it made sense to start there.”
Creating magic through connections
A new job opportunity for Chris brought the couple to Cleveland, where Marina first connected with JumpStart while developing her technology startup. She launched Time2Talk in 2020 with a small test. From there, Marina built a solid business foundation and had the opportunity to pitch to JumpStart’s investment team to receive initial funding, as well as pitch to other potential investors.
“The ‘aha’ moment came in 2021 when we pivoted to B2B and started focusing on schools,” said Marina. “Instead of selling one-on-one sessions to individuals, we sold 300 hours to one school.”
After meeting Dan Hampu, president and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, who, at the time, was serving as Bounce Innovation Hub’s director of investing and startup venture capital advisor, Marina was referred to James Hilton, Bounce’s senior director of entrepreneurial services.
“Bounce has been an integral part of my journey,” she said. “I clicked with James, and he has helped guide and connect me with investors.”
At Bounce, she is in the software accelerator program and has greatly benefited from the edutech expertise of Elijah Stambaugh, one of Bounce’s entrepreneurs in residence.
“The magic happens when you put yourself out there,” Marina said, noting that networking and asking for help in Argentina is not as common a practice as it is in the U.S.
Growth while transforming language learning
Pre-seed funding has enabled Marina to build her core team and expand. Time2Talk is working with over 40 schools in 15 states and one school in Hong Kong. Existing customers of the app continue to renew. She now has a team of more than 100 coaches located primarily throughout South America and Spain. Language learners connect with these coaches on demand. Participating schools have the ability to assign live Spanish homework that supports class curricula.
Schools and universities continue to be the focus of Time2Talk as that is the first place to encounter language learning; however, Marina sees additional opportunities in other markets, such as healthcare and business. Coaches for other languages are in the pipeline, as well.
Time2Talk has received the endorsement of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and other nationally recognized organizations.
“The future of the world is multilingual and multicultural,” said Marina. “The main reason someone wants to learn a new language is to communicate with others. The ability to connect, work and share with people with different backgrounds and cultures – locally and internationally – is truly transformative in this process.”
The entrepreneurial rollercoaster
Reflecting on her entrepreneurial journey, particularly as a woman in the tech space, Marina has learned to not take things personally.
“Embarking on a startup journey is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. It demands you embrace discomfort and adjust to unforeseen situations. Apart from facing operational and financial hurdles, you may encounter prejudices based on your identity or background, which can exacerbate the challenges. When seeking funding, I’ve learned that it is crucial to maintain a level head, avoid taking things personally, and keep in mind that everyone involved in the process is also human,” she said.
Marina also advises other tech entrepreneurs not to take themselves too seriously or be afraid to ask questions.
“Trust that you’ve done the work and know your product, which will build your confidence,” she said. “Authenticity and preparedness is the combination that has worked best for me. If I get too much in my head, I become nervous. The best conversations and investment opportunities I’ve had happened when I was relaxed and remembered that I’m building something amazing with incredibly talented people. We are making a huge impact in our industry!”
About the author:
Jill Wodtley, APR, is a freelance writer and owner of Fine Point Public Relations and Advertising. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, she develops and implements marketing communications, public relations and advertising initiatives for a variety of clients, ranging from health care and social service agencies to industrial/manufacturing firms.