Duolingo's little green owl found itself among prestigious company this week when Time Magazine named the Carnegie Mellon University spinoff and Pittsburgh startup to its list of the 100 most influential companies for 2021.
The language learning app appeared on the list alongside tech heavyweights Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter; electronic vehicle competitors Tesla, GM and VW; entertainment powerhouses Disney, Sony, Nintendo and Netflix; COVID-19 vaccine heroes Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson; and other apps like Strava, Headspace, Clubhouse and Bumble.
Duolingo co-founder and CEO Luis von Ahn, a CMU alumnus and faculty member, said the company was honored by the mention.
"This is a testament to our incredible team and the impact we've had in bringing high-quality, accessible education to over 500 million people worldwide. We believe that education has the power to reduce economic inequality and will continue to do our part to help build a more equitable world," von Ahn said.
Von Ahn started Duolingo with one of his doctoral students, Severin Hacker, who earned his Ph.D. from CMU in 2014. Hacker is the company's chief technology officer. The pair kept the company in Pittsburgh after it spun out of CMU in 2011.
The company offers language learning courses and launched its 40th language, Yiddish, this month. It also developed a low-cost test to certify the English language skills of college and job applicants. Time noted that there was a 2,000% increase in the use of the test during the pandemic, allowing more international students to apply to U.S. colleges without an in-person exam.
Duolingo has grown into one of the most successful CMU spinoffs and Pittsburgh tech companies. The company was the first Pittsburgh startup to reach a $1 billion valuation in late 2019, when a round of funding brought it to $1.5 billion. Less than a year later, the company was valued at $2.4 billion — the most valued startup in Pennsylvania.
In selecting its list, Time focused on companies that are shaping the future. It solicited nominations from health care, entertainment, transportation, technology and other sectors, and evaluated nominees on factors like relevance, impact, innovation, leadership, ambition and success to compile their list.