Ottawa-based startup LearnExperts, which aims to transform the information into learning, is at the forefront of the global generative AI movement.Ontario has its fair share of disruptive companies — founders who want to change their industries using brilliant innovations. Many of them are coming up with super-cool technologies that take the market by storm and change the way we live and work. One of these disruptive companies is LearnExperts, an Ottawa-based startup that isn’t about changing the way we buy products, binge television shows or make EVs the most popular cars on the road. Instead, it’s focused on changing the way we build learning material by disrupting age-old knowledge-sharing practices and ringing in a new era of possibility in the education sector. The venture, which aims to transform the world’s information into learning, is at the forefront of the global generative artificial intelligence (AI) movement, with founder and CEO Sarah Sedgman at the head of the class. Unlike many ventures operating in the generative AI space — a technology field capable of developing text, images and other media in response to prompts and training data — LearnExperts is tailored to the education space. Using a combination of existing open-source libraries and specialized prompts developed by the team’s subject-matter programmers (in addition to user-supplied content), it’s empowering organizations, educators and everyone in between with fast, superior training material that bolsters the efficiency of learning and the way courses and programs are developed. Sedgman and her team built a product called LearnExperts Artificial Intelligence, dubbed LEAi, that essentially makes it faster and easier to create content for courses in the same way an instructional designer would present it, meaning anyone can build high-quality training material. Users simply upload content they already have, such as presentations, reports, web pages and videos, and LEAi turns it into training material that follows best practices and exports tailored learning content in various forms. According to Sedgman, with LEAi, you don’t have to be a long-time educator to share your knowledge with the world or put together an engaging course. What’s more, the technology allows you to do it 67 per cent faster, helping companies bypass the slow and expensive traditional knowledge-sharing process. Sedgman says the manual process typically takes 250 hours of development to build one hour of learning. Using LEAi, one client reported completing four days of course work in two hours. “There are a lot of barriers associated with knowledge. If you don’t have knowledge, you don’t have opportunity,” says Sedgman. “Knowledge transforms disadvantage to advantage. It creates equal opportunity.” Founded before the term “generative AI” became common, LearnExperts is a leader in knowledge sharing. With a multi-year headstart on the competition, the team tested the product with enterprise companies and has since expanded the initial vision, all while others in the industry are just starting to unbox their drawing boards. Undergoing strenuous product testing and using comprehensive feedback from early adopters, LearnExperts has discovered unexpected and highly impactful alternative use cases for their product. “If you can speed up training, you can speed up every desired organizational outcome that comes after it. This is true for everything, from faster product launches and faster scaling of existing product lines, to the streamlined management and coordination of franchise-model organizations,” Sedgman says. “It’s even beyond tech. There are health-care and government applications, too. It could change the way we handle complex policies and procedures.” Despite its accomplishments and ambitions, LearnExperts’s journey has been strenuous. In the early days, the team thought it could bootstrap the venture to profitability, only to realize they couldn’t move as fast as the market demanded. Thinking quickly, Sedgman reached out to advisers in her network for a crash course on investing and ended up raising $1.25 million to build the product. While the team had the idea to generate content from raw data, it soon faced another roadblock: with access to a limited supply of underdeveloped AI libraries, it could only secure a certain level of quality content, which resulted in mixed reactions and uncertainty from prospective customers. “Fast-forward to December 2022, when Microsoft invested $1 billion into an open AI model and made it available to the public. We rapidly linked that new model into our already-built product and it was like turning the lights on in the stadium,” says Sedgman. “Overnight prospects were invigorated and understood the true potential of generative AI. They told us to name our price; they couldn’t afford to not have our solution.” Today, LearnExperts is poised for success. It is looking to fundraise again to remain competitive in the fast-growing AI market. And while keeping its foot on the gas is vital to LearnExperts’s mission to change the way the world learns, the company is looking for more than cheques and distant relationships along the funding journey. “I didn’t know how to fundraise until I reached out to some friendly folks at Capital Angel Network (CAN). They quickly began making connections for us, advocating for us and offering countless one-on-one pitch advising sessions,” Sedgman says, adding the holistic support she and her team received from CAN gave LearnExperts a seat at key funding tables. “CAN, of all angel networks, was by far our biggest investor collectively and continues to give us a ton of support today.” Generative AI isn’t just a massive emerging market (it’s anticipated to reach nearly $152 billion in annual revenue by 2032), it’s also an opportunity to revolutionize the way humans have learned, shared and disseminated information for millions of years. As LearnExperts continues to push the limits of possibility in the learning space, Sedgman and her team aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. If they were being graded on innovation, there’s no question they’ve aced it. “Ultimately, for us, we will keep going no matter what,” she says. “We truly believe we are fundamentally changing how humans build and share knowledge now and in the future.” Suzanne Grant is an entrepreneur who has built bootstrapped and equity-financed businesses in Canada, Australia and Qatar. Today, she supports business growth and positioning while sharing insights to demystify early-stage fundraising. Grant leads the Capital Angel Network as part-time executive director.
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