Head of the class: LearnExperts has high hopes for AI-driven course-creation software

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A startup has secured more than a million dollars in funding for a new artificial intelligence platform designed to cut the time it takes to create corporate training courses from months to days.

LearnExperts said Monday it has closed an oversubscribed seed round worth $1.25-million. Participants include Montreal-based venture capital firm Sand Hill North, Toronto’s MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, the Capital Angel Network, Maple Leaf Angels of Toronto and southern Ontario’s Georgian Angel Network.

The two-year-old company is now testing its software with a handful of tech firms, including OpenText, MindBridge Ai and Kivuto Solutions. The venture was originally self-funded, but founder and CEO Sarah Sedgman says “exploding” demand for solutions that simplify the process of online learning eventually prompted her to seek outside investors.

“I thought we better accelerate (fundraising efforts) and get in the mix quick,” she told OBJ.

LearnExperts started out as more of a consulting firm, advising clients how to build better training programs and helping to write course content. The venture joined Invest Ottawa's pre-accelerator in 2019 and quickly found its feet with help from IO mentors such as Chipworks co-founder Julia Elvidge and prominent local entrepreneur Rob Lane.

"(Customers) were like, ‘We need this product.’"

The company eventually partnered with local tech venture Novacene Ai to develop a machine-learning software system that detects keywords and patterns in existing materials to create templates that can be rapidly converted into online or in-person courses.

The platform distills the old-school, labour-intensive process of manually poring through pages and pages of documents to build courses down to just a matter of days, Sedgman said. 

She said when potential customers were given a sneak peek of the product early this year, their reaction spoke volumes.

“They were like, ‘We need this product.’ At that point, I thought maybe I should rethink bootstrapping.”

While LearnExperts has been around for just a couple of years, the idea for the software has been percolating in Sedgman’s mind for well over a decade.

Before launching her own venture, she spent more than 20 years as a tech executive at companies such as Cognos, IBM, PTC and Kinaxis. While Sedgman was serving as Cognos’s head of course development, CEO Rob Ashe once asked her why training sessions for new software were lagging more than six months behind market launches.

Pain point

“Each time the product changed, it was so painful to update the (training) content,” she said, noting it often took months to “re-engineer” training courses manually.

“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ I went looking for software and couldn’t find any.” 

Years later, Sedgman believes she’s finally come up with the answer. 

Meanwhile, Ashe, who helped steer the fledgling CEO to her path as an entrepreneur, is now one of her most trusted advisers. He helped kickstart LearnExperts’ fundraising drive by introducing Sedgman to Capital Angel Network investor Brian O’Higgins, who also serves as an executive fellow at local VC firm Mistral Venture Partners.

“Business only happens through who you know,” she said. “So far, I’ve been overwhelmed with how much people are willing to give their time to help us.” 

Sedgman says the firm plans to target customers it’s most familiar with – North American tech companies – before branching out into other verticals and tackling overseas markets. Meanwhile, LearnExperts expects to keep adding more software engineers as well as sales and marketing staff to its current six-person team as it prepares for a wider product launch slated for later this year.

An accomplished pianist and songwriter who credits organizing gigs and sending out demo tapes as a member of Ottawa rock band Charley Beck in her 20s for honing her skills as a business leader, Sedgman said there’s no time to waste as her startup looks to jump on its first-mover advantage.  

“We have to hop on the train and get into the market and make the right connections so that we can accelerate along with it,” she said.