Andrea Sesum began her journey in the education industry 18 years ago and has since built several higher education schools in Canada and worldwide. Today, she works closely with companies, institutions, and governments to bridge the global skills gap by helping them deliver industry-relevant programs. Over the course of her career, Andrea has combined her passion for higher education, innovation, and diversity & inclusion. Now recognized as a global leader in these areas, she has achieved many milestones, including being named ‘Most Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders’ by Canadian SME Magazine, ‘Top 25 Inspiring EdTech Female Founders’ by SuperCharger Ventures, ‘CSPN’s Leader in Diversity & Inclusion (2019)’, recipient of ‘City of Toronto’s Access, Equity & Human Rights Award’ (2015) and most recently being nominated for 2021 Canadian National Business Awards as the ‘Business Woman of the Year & Technopreneur of the Year.’
Andrea Šešum’s entrepreneurial journey has been deeply influenced by her childhood in former Yugoslavia, where she lived with her entrepreneurial parents. She adds, “I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. From watching my grandfather meticulously handcraft men’s ties to watching my mom after she took over and scaled the family business, I’ve had an opportunity to experience and catch an entrepreneurship bug early on.”
Her parents helped her hone these skills and instilled in her the values of integrity and loyalty that she still uses to date. She says, “These basic values have been essential in all the relationships I’ve built in personal life, especially in business.”
Unfortunately, her country soon went to war and Andrea’s life was changed forever. She says, “Experiencing civil unrest as a very young person has taught me the fragility of society and how education can be life-changing in the face of adversity.”
When she moved to Canada as a refugee, education was the key to her empowerment as a woman, immigrant and newcomer. She says, “It was also instrumental in helping me build a successful career in a profession that I love. Even today, I continue to engage in educational activities, whether through various professional development courses or taking on projects that will enhance my knowledge in areas and topics that I find interesting.”
Andrea continued, “Learning from traditionally structured school programs is great, but we also need to allow ourselves to engage in projects or undertake challenges in life that will enable us to learn in an unstructured way and grow both personally and professionally. I personally believe that the more we learn, the further we go in life.”
With an aim to make this learning opportunity accessible to everyone, Andrea founded Smart Owl, an education-tech scale up. She works closely with companies, institutions, and governments to bridge the global skills gap by helping them deliver industry-relevant programs. The organization helps increase student tuition revenues with innovative partnership models. She says, “Some of the things our team is incredible at is curriculum design & development, accreditation process, online learning, branding, scaling, accessing foreign markets and more.”
However, Andrea has had her fair share of challenges while establishing her companies. Talking about it, she says, “I think that by choosing a life and career of entrepreneurship, there is a general non-written understanding that you’re up for a challenge. No one who knows anything about entrepreneurship freely decides to sign up for the amount of work, stress and sacrifices an entrepreneur makes in creating a successful business. And there will be many. I also think that how you navigate those challenges as they come determines if you succeed or decide to give up eventually.”
When Andrea first started her journey into entrepreneurship, there were only a handful of women in the education industry, and there were no women founders in the ed-tech sector. She recalled her ordeal, “As a woman entrepreneur, my ideas were shut down, and I was told multiple times that I would not make it. As though things were not already strenuous enough, there were no fundraising opportunities, decks, pitching events and government grants. I had to bootstrap every company I ever founded. But giving up was not an option for me.”
To change this narrative and empower more women in the tech field, Andrea then co-founded HER Digital Academy in 2021. HER Digital Academy is a platform that seeks to unleash growth opportunities for women in STEM.
Her primary goal was to create more employment and funding opportunities for women, which she did not previously have when she started her entrepreneurship journey. HER Digital Academy creates these opportunities by teaching women digital and entrepreneurship skills.
She also works towards empowering women entrepreneurs through curated startup education which includes confidence-building and pitch readiness making it investable and having an opportunity to pitch their companies in front of global investors with an excellent chance to get funding. She says, “We train women through our global digital accelerator in entrepreneurship skills and connect them with the best investors for their sector.”
In conclusion, she says, “The best advice I could give to budding leaders is to not set limits to how far you can go and what you can do. Learn to train your brain to think big and even bigger, and most importantly, nurture relationships. Another great piece of advice I can give is always to be aware and observe how your business connections or partners treat their friends, family and employees. Because guess what? They will treat you precisely the same.”