4 mins | 932 words
Sarah Sedgman is a creator at heart.
Driven by her vision and dream of creating her own company, in 2018 Sarah took a leap and left her successful corporate job to become an entrepreneur.
“I kept thinking about my ability to create products,” she says. “I had ideas for solving big problems in the industry that weren’t being solved by mainstream companies.”
This led her to found LearnExperts, with the vision of minimizing the time and effort it takes to develop training and course content that accompanies software products and is used for employee onboarding, sales and partner training and more.
“This has been a major pain point for the tech sector in particular,” she says of the typical delay between the release of a product and the corresponding training and courses. “If a customer isn’t being trained at time of product, they’re not getting the value right away. This might lead them to turn to a different solution and for the company to lose business.”
Using her experience manually developing training for companies, Sarah reengineered the process in a way that ensures a course can be ready at the same time as the product release. To do so, she developed LearnExperts Artificial Intelligence or “LEAi,” a proprietary digital course creation platform driven by artificial intelligence that automatically transforms existing content that is not purpose-built for training into a course – whether it’s presentations, briefing notes, memos or more. LEAi cuts the time to create and launch a new course from months to days.
Forging her own path
The daughter of two teachers from Orangeville, Ontario, Sarah went to the University of Waterloo for English Literature, believing she would eventually follow in her parents’ footsteps and go to teacher’s college. Her skills in writing led her to Ottawa and a co-op position at Cognos, a company making business intelligence and performance management software. Seeing an opportunity to work in education and management, Sarah quickly moved up the ranks at Cognos/IBM to the executive level, ran a large global training organization for Boston-based company PTC, and in 2015 was recruited by Kinaxis, a supply chain management software company, where she became Chief Customer Officer. She also became a known thought leader across the learning industry, being invited to prominent industry boards like TSIA and CEdMA, and peer to many of the education executives across North America. Sarah was traveling the world, managing hundreds of employees, and winning numerous awards and accolades. But she felt the pull to start her own business, as well as find a change of pace to be home more with her young family.
Although it was a big leap of faith, entrepreneurship wasn’t new to Sarah. A musician since the age of four, Sarah wrote her first song at 12, and in her twenties found herself writing an album, playing gigs, entertaining a record deal, and hearing her songs on the radio. While she found success in music, she ultimately decided to focus on her technology career.
Collaboration is key
Sarah draws many parallels between business and music: “I believe you can create something great if you work hard at it, bring the right people together, and get feedback from the best,” she said.
Surrounding herself with a strong team has been central to Sarah’s life.
“I only hire superstars,” she says. “With a superstar, you can accomplish so many great things, and that’s the way I have managed my music and career. Collaborate with high performers, give them the ability to provide their input, bring out their creative side, empower them, and you’ll come out with a product that is differentiated because you have diverse mindsets working together.”
Originally planning to bootstrap LearnExperts for as long as possible, Sarah switched course and decided to raise the capital needed to hire people and make the business grow faster.
“When we showed our early version of the product to large companies, people were getting really excited about what we had created,” Sarah says. “It was completely different from what the industry creates today, and investors saw immediate value.”
Part of Sarah’s early adoption success was the result of her participation and graduation in Invest Ottawa’s Ignition Program, designed to help tech startups iterate, validate, and solidify their tech idea.
In February 2021, Sarah was ready to pitch to investors. She had initially hoped to raise $750,000 but closed the oversubscribed round at $1.25 million.
“You don’t always know if your ideas are going to work. I believed our approach and business model was right, and going through the investment process gave us validation.”
Sarah recognizes the importance of being a female founder in a space that has been traditionally dominated by men.
“I always believed that I could do the same work as anyone else,” she says. With increased support for women founders, she believes bias is shifting. “Exciting things are happening in Ottawa for women entrepreneurs,” she says, citing Invest Ottawa’s SheBoot program as an example.
Sarah draws encouragement from her husband and two sons, aged 16 and 9.
“My boys have grown up seeing a woman succeeding in her career and it teaches them to think differently about gender bias. They’ve watched me build the business and have asked a lot of questions. Most importantly, they’ve always believed in my vision.”
With validation from the investor community, one of Sarah’s priorities is to hire the right people, and she knows a diverse team has an immeasurable impact on a company’s success. She continues to focus on collaboration by gaining customers and getting input to make her product the best it can be. Her vision is “to go boldly forward, fast,” earning LearnExperts market leadership in learning technology.
You can also find Sarah giving back to the business community as a scaleup advisor within the ScaleUp Program of Invest Ottawa’s Venture Path Programs. As an advisor for helping to scale high-growth companies, Sarah helps Invest Ottawa’s scaleup firms with customer acquisition strategies alongside digitized learning programs and operations models.
Invest Ottawa has a holistic tech portfolio, meaning our services and programs (including SheBoot!) help businesses by shortening their growth path. To learn more about how we do this, visit Venture Path Programs | Invest Ottawa.