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New lingo

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  • | 11:00 a.m. September 25, 2015
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When Serdar Acar moved to New York City in 2000 from his native Turkey, his dream was to be on the silver screen.

Acar enrolled in acting school and learned English. “I wanted to be a star in Hollywood; it was following a silly dream,” laughs Acar, who still speaks with a slight Turkish accent.

Today, Acar, 40, is founder and president of Dino Lingo, a Fort Myers-based developer of language programs for small children. The company produces print, video and online materials in 45 languages, from Albanian to Welsh. More languages are in development, including Creole, Gujarati, Slovenian and Western Armenian.

Acar started the company in 2010 after he had trouble finding Turkish-language materials for his young son. His Irish-born wife, Annique, landed a job as a technical designer at women's retailer Chico's FAS headquarters and the couple moved to Fort Myers that year.

Acar's idea was to incorporate fun songs and games into the materials to keep young children's attention. “The normal way to learn languages is boring,” he says. While he's consulted with experts on learning languages, Acar says testing new products with children works best.

About half of Dino Lingo's customers are international and about 60% of all customers have children between 3 and 4 years old. “This is designed for small kids,” Acar says, who notes the most popular language is English.

About 70% of the company's $600,000 in annual revenues come from printed materials. That's because many parents of small children are uncomfortable letting them use the Internet, even if it's Dino Lingo's safe portal. Online subscriptions are more popular with parents of older children aged 5 to 8.

A premium set of all of Dino Lingo materials costs $250, which includes DVDs, CDs, flash cards, books and other items in a large colorful box. The online subscription costs $99 a year.

Materials are designed for parents on the move. They can plug a video DVD in the car or moms can stash the flash cards in their purses. “Everything is printed in Fort Myers,” Acar says. “We are very proud of that.”

Acar is also quick to respond to customer needs. For example, he received emails from customers asking for Polish materials and that was the company's second language. And he recently opened an office in Japan where the materials have become popular.

Acar built Dino Lingo with no debt and says he reinvests 90 cents of every dollar in sales back into the company. “We don't have any investors,” he adds.

But Acar's two years of acting school in New York City recently came in handy, when he made a pitch to angel investors at a VenturePitch event in Fort Myers. Acar seeks to raise $500,000 for 10% equity in the company to help develop new mobile applications, products and marketing.

Acar also applied for a spot on the popular television show Shark Tank, which features startup entrepreneurs seeking investor money. The producers turned him down because of the company's successful track record. “We're not a startup anymore,” he smiles.

This story was updated to reflect the correct title of Annique Acar.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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