Meet Sahra-Josephine Hjorth, the CEO of CanopyLAB, a Danish EdTech company headquartered in Copenhagen. Born to a Danish mother and an Iranian father, Sahra-Josephine grew up in an impoverished community in Denmark. Throughout her life, Sahra-Josephine’s grandparents and mother prioritized private education and access to quality education over anything else.
She pursued her I.B. at the United World College USA in New Mexico, after which she started studying International Relations at American University. However, a few months before graduating, Sahra-Josephine was called back to her home country to help out., as her grandparents went bankrupt due to the financial crisis of 2008/2009. The experience of returning home massively shaped Sahra-Josephine’s passion for education and providing universal access to education. After many months of paperwork, Sahra-Josepine’s studies at American University were assessed as a Danish B.A. as a B.A. degree takes three years to complete in Denmark and four years in the U.S. Immediately, she started studying at Aalborg University and graduated at the top of her class with M.A. focusing on International Studies.
After spending a few years working as a management consultant, Sahra-Josephine enrolled as a Ph.D. student back at Aalborg University, where she studied the use of Social Media and digital networks among migrant laborers. During this time, her passion for software and software bias helped her understand how technology can change our life trajectories. So, Sahra-Josephine applied to have her research focus shifted to migrants, ICT, and learning. After completing her pre-defense, Sahra-Josephine is taking a break from her Ph.D. studies as she builds out CanopyLAB.
CanopyLAB was born out of Sahra-Josephine’s ongoing Doctoral Studies in Information, and Communications Technology at Aalborg University, which focused on how immigrants use ICT to navigate the Danish workforce, how virtual learning could empower migrants and young people, and the role of NGOs in the digital learning space.
Since its inception, the EdTech platform has collaborated with multiple PhDs and Postdocs to conceptualize and release 19 ECL exercises students can take part in while learning online, such as a brainstorming session.
Early on, CanpyLAB placed a big bet on National Language Processing (NLP) and creating an Artificial Intelligence (AI) engine that can help course creators build better courses. CanopyLAB currently serves over 200 companies, educational institutions, and NGOs across 20 countries with its remote and blended learning solutions.
Most significant accomplishments and challenges on the journey
E-learning Industry has picked CanopyLAB several times as one of the best Learning Experience Platforms. Sahra-Josephine says, “Their award is based on user reviews, so that’s something that makes us very proud. At the end of the day, making a difference for the people who use the product is what it is all about”. Being ranked highly by real users is the best indicator of access. In addition, being selected for the Obama Leaders Program Europe 2022 has been a huge accomplishment for Sahra-Josephine personally, and Sahra-Josephine had the opportunity to give the opening remarks before President Barack Obama’s speech at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in June 2022.
Regarding challenges, Sahra-Josephine believes she hasn’t always been good at asking for help from her network. “I have always been good at admitting when I make a mistake; when you build a tech company, it’s like a rocket launch without a manual, and you are bound to see a few explosions before you get it right.”- she stated. For her, entrepreneurship is, in many ways, an extreme sport, and she enjoys it very much.
What is success?
Sahra-Josephine, wants to build the biggest extracurricular learning platform in the world. A community where millions of young people learn from a curated group of impactful NGOs. She also has a strong focus on provocative topics. Consider SexEd as an example. Even in countries like the U.S., with Roe vs. Wade overturned, it is still a matter of discussion who gets to make the decision about a woman’s body. The EdTech platform is proud to work with NGOs that are helping by providing access to trusted information about sexual and reproductive rights. “If just one single woman gains insight into her rights and body after using our platform, we are a success.”- Sahra-Josephine stated.
A bold vision for female entrepreneurs
Sahra-Josephine argues that data proves that female entrepreneurs face a lack of funding for their ventures, compared to their male counterparts. She says, “Being one of the few women, you must be very robust as you are always judged harsher and have fewer opportunities to get essential funding for your business.” However, she hopes to break the glass ceiling by openly sharing her journey and showing others what it is like to be a woman entrepreneur. Sahra-Josephine is a proponent of earmarked financing for women and works actively to advance the opportunities of women.
CanopyLAB provides educational resources to those who can’t afford them. The EdTech firm primarily operates in Latin America and Africa and uses a ‘Robinhood model’ where it charges B2B clients. In addition, they created the free learning platform StudentLAB, which CanopyLAB runs in collaboration with 140+ NGOs.