CanopyLAB co-founder gives Valedictorian speech at Go Grow Accelerator Graduation
One year ago I gave this Valedictorian speech at the end of the Go Grow accelerator program. It’s a great opportunity to look back at what we have achieved.
Good evening everyone,
For those of you whom I have not yet had the pleasure of being introduced to, my name is Sahra-Josephine and I am one of the co-founders of CanopyLAB. CanopyLAB is an interactive platform that organisations use to engage with the global youth, through conversation-based, activism-driven eLearning experiences. But enough about CanopyLAB for now.
Tonight I am going to share a secret with you. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. As I was writing this speech I went back on forth on whether I should share that fact with you, because in this setting that is a controversial statement at best.
Becoming an entrepreneur was in many ways a default choice. As I finished my degree and entered the labor market I quickly felt frustrated with everyday occurrences such as,
- Disagreeing with my boss, because we didn’t see eye to eye about how he ran his department.
- Being bored. Because I was carrying out mundane work tasks.
- Being pushed aside or overlooked for exciting projects because I was young, and sometimes because I was young and woman,
- And feeling that my learning curve had come to a halt
I am certain many of you can recognize some of these experiences. For me the problem was twofold, I didn’t really enjoy working for other people and I guess I never really loved what I did. One day a colleague worked up the nerve to tell me that had not seen me smile for about two years and then I knew I had to do something.
So from one day to another I simply quit my job having nothing to fall back on. So this was in 2014 and back then I had never heard of the entrepreneurial gene. I didn’t realize that I, just like you, are a born entrepreneur. Regardless of whether we planned for it, we can’t help it — it’s in our DNA. And I was about to accept my entrepreneurial destiny.
CanopyLAB was born in January 2015 on the 14th floor of a glass highrise in Melbourne. Christian and I sat on our couch and overlooked the landscape, how the high rises fade in the horizon and were replaced by wide open spaces and majestic mountains. For days we discussed how we could create an inspirational learning environment that would cater to a young woman who grew up in the bush and a young man who grew up in the city, to the student who remembers everything by heart simply by reading it once, and the learner who is more fascinated with image and sound.
We believed strongly, and continue to believe that the key to that is through the power of conversation, especially with people who are fundamentally different from ourselves in terms of ideology, religion, ethnicity, experiences and passions.
Now, at this stage we didn’t know that CanopyLAB was a startup or that we were entrepreneurs. Having decided to create an eLearning platform, we changed venue, and the initial phase of building CanopyLAB was carried out under a beach umbrella in Bali. But as we returned the Denmark the colored drinks were replaced with a very serious approach. Because we had attracted a reasonable following, and began, for the first time, to understand the responsibility that comes with building a business. That we had users who looked to us for high quality content, and that people expected more than simply another eLearning platform. That we had promised them a community where they could meet and make friends from all over the world. In a way, our early success taught us that we needed help managing and developing the community were were building.
We applied to Go Grow mostly for the office space. But that is because we couldn’t possibly fathom how instructive an experience it would be. I have loved every minute of the 6-month program, a program which is put together by an insanely strong and dedicated team. On behalf of Go Grow Batch #3 I want to thank all of the mentors, supervisors and speakers who volunteer to help our businesses evolve. Your energy and enthusiasm fuels our businesses. Despite the fact that all of your are insanely busy, and hugely successful I might add, you have opened your minds, hearts, and networks to us. Thank you for believing in us.
To the entire CSE staff, thank you for Tuesday morning meetings, for always ordering too much food and most importantly for honest and inspiring conversations. A special thank you to Carolyn for being that friendly reminder in our inbox never allowing us to forget how important it is to reflect upon our monthly learnings. I admire your patience and ability to stay positive. Thank you to Alexander and Sandra for always setting up cool events where all the startups can pitch, meet investors and find interns, and for ensuring the tech side works so that we may shine when the spotlight is on us. Niels, you have been a role model throughout the program. You carry out practical and supportive tasks with humility, and genuine interest in our development. You have meets us eye to eye as an friend and ally. Camilla, thank you for being a smart, direct and tough business coach, and for always having the time to discuss any challenge we may face. Dorthea your support is unparalleled. Every workshop and event you have planned is designed to push us to our limits, yet you manage to protect usus at the same time. You are like a strong mother bear watching over her cubs. Regardless of what problem I have sought help for, you always have a clear path to finding a solution. And I am sorry to disappoint you, just because we are graduating, I’m not going to stop calling you on Saturdays for advice.
The CSE team has taken us on quite the ride. Some of my personal favorite moments were when Mik from Lemonsqueeze and Simon from Pre-hype hosted a pitch workshop and taught us how to identify and articulate what the core of our business is. And our Trip to new York, where we got to be tech- and product- rock-starts in the making for the week.
The moments where we have pivoted, dramatically changed our approach or business model have occurred because you, through the program have made us confident, you have made us believe in ourselves. And more importantly, we have all managed to create a non-competitive, supportive environment in which we can learn from one another and share our ideas and hopes for the future. Martin has made me re-think how to do social media, Hanne constantly impresses me with her ability to just walk into a store and sell, the AthGene team is always the last out of the office- they work damn hard. And Oliver is dominating with Try Medics and just opened a second location in Uganda. That is just to name a few. I could go on and on.
Go Grow has challenged us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be, and the best prepared founders who will continue to build disruptive, scalable businesses.
Now, people often ask us, what do you do at CanopyLAB? I see now that Go Grow and CanopyLAB we are on a similar mission. The short answer to what we do at the LAB is that we host revolutionary online courses. The slightly longer answer is the name CanopyLAB derives from a canopy, the tree tops and the growing community of living organisms that reside there. We have created a safe space online where youth can come together and engage in important conversations, learn, grow, get ideas and eventually launch businesses, campaigns and projects that change their local communities and the world. CanopyLAB is a community of learners, explorers, truth-seekers, go-getters, nerds and activists who constantly experiment with new ways of teaching and learning.
Thank you for having been our Canopy the past 6 months,