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Online teaching software company increases its digital reach worldwide during the pandemic and leverages the New NAFTA

The COVID‑19 pandemic has vastly expanded the worldwide market for online educational resources, and as an educational software company that provides resources for teaching courses online, Off2Class was ready for the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Serdar Cevher, James Heywood, Kris Jagasia
From left: Serdar Cevher, technical co‑founder; James Heywood, co‑founder and Head of Content; Kris Jagasia, co‑founder and CEO, at Off2Class

When the crisis struck, the firm, which specializes in providing software for English‑as‑a‑second-language (ESL) instruction, was already increasing its digital reach in countries such as Mexico with the assistance of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

“COVID‑19 has significantly expanded the need for our services,” says Kris Jagasia, the Toronto company’s co‑founder and CEO. And with the benefits of the New NAFTA, he says the company is planning to “double down on the U.S. and Mexico markets.”

Jagasia started Off2Class in 2014 along with two other partners, including James Heywood, a former ESL teacher and linguist graduate who is now the company’s Head of Education. Jagasia and Heywood decided to start an online ESL school when they discovered a severe lack of good content designed for live-setting, video‑conference‑styled online ESL classrooms while living in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Back then, teaching languages online was a very novel concept,” recalls Jagasia. Because of the lack of online teaching resources, they began sending some of their own content to other online ESL teachers. They then began creating other key resources for their platform, including software that made teaching English more efficient.

Off2Class had grown exponentially since 2014 and had begun expanding its services into in‑person classrooms when the COVID‑19 pandemic hit. The company quickly pivoted its strategy and decided to focus solely on working online with teachers, classrooms and institutions around the world.

Kris Jagasia
Kris Jagasia, co‑founder and CEO, Off2Class

According to Jagasia, what sets Off2Class apart is its desire to increase the quality of ESL teaching by empowering the teachers themselves, unlike most second‑language instructional software companies which “try to usurp the teacher and focus on self‑study.” Instead, Off2Class provides an entire curriculum set, homework system, placement testing, assessments, data and reporting tools, to those using the platform. Their “ESL teaching toolkit” is available to both individual teachers as well as institutions, such as private language schools.

As an Internet‑based company, Off2Class immediately started targeting international markets. According to Jagasia, “anyone in the world can land on our website and enquire about purchasing.”

The TCS in Mexico helped the company put a strategy in place to better target their desired clients. Trade commissioners Karen Serdan in Monterrey and Laura Garza in Mexico City helped to connect the company with businesses through WhatsApp, a common professional approach in Mexico.

The company’s traction in Mexico “happened in trickles,” Jagasia says, beginning with individual teachers and smaller clients. The company secured its first big institutional client, Universidad Technológica El Retoño, in 2018. Support from the TCS’ CanExport SMEs program in 2019 gave Off2Class the freedom to travel around the country and explore new market opportunities. Serdan and Garza’s teams “really helped with the heavy lifting on market research, institution names and institutional contacts,” Jagasia says, adding that the two officers and their teams also helped provide introductions to potential clients. “People paid more attention to initial introduction emails if they came from the TCS, after which the Off2Class team could take over.”

The New NAFTA has also greatly benefitted Off2Class; for instance, the Canadian software company doesn’t have to charge value‑added tax (VAT) in Mexico, Jagasia says. The Free Trade Agreement ensures rules and regulations that offer predictability and promote competitiveness in the North American market, and the agreement has even implemented new chapters on SMEs and Digitalization that Off2Class will benefit from. Jagasia sees that the U.S. is already the company’s largest market, with major clients such as K12.com, a large cyber school with 77 online branches.

The TCS regional office in Toronto has also helped the company connect with trade commissioners in New Zealand, Australia and Chile, as well as helped the company secure a spot in the DMZ start‑up incubator based at RyersonUniversity in Toronto.

Jagasia says the COVID pandemic has put a strong focus on the company because “a lot of ESL teachers and programs were forced to switch their services online overnight, and they just weren’t prepared.” For example, many Mexican institutions that were using Off2Class in schools have pivoted their strategies to be able to use the platform to offer their programs online.

“Off2Class is completely interchangeable between those two modalities,” says Jagasia.

The company is helping Mexican universities and schools continue to offer their ESL programs, he says. Off2Class is also seeing a “huge surge” in its use by independent teachers who are looking for something to do while stuck at home.

Teachers discover a lot of value in accessing the Off2Class toolkit. Recently, the firm even started providing teachers with free Off2Class accounts so that during the pandemic they could learn to teach online quickly.

The company’s future plans include an ambitious goal: ensuring that within the next year, every single person teaching English‑as‑a‑second‑language all over the world will have at least heard of Off2Class.

Having a big vision and tapping into the resources and new opportunities that are available for businesses are some of the strategies Off2Class is pleased to share. To that end, Jagasia is encouraging Canadian companies to heed his advice: “Take advantage of the services of the TCS early. Down the line, the dividends will pay off.”

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