How Devi Sahny’s Curiosity and Stubbornness Helped Her Build a Thriving Edtech Venture

By Chong Seow Wei

The founder and CEO of Singapore-based edtech startup Ascend Now discusses her love for learning and teaching others

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Photo: SideXSide Pictures
Cover  Devi Sahny is the founder and CEO of Ascend Now, which provides skills-based coaching to students across traditional academic subjects and beyond, including networking and entrepreneurship (Photo: SideXSide Pictures)

Devi Sahny is naturally curious. Ask her what she wants to know more about and she will have more than one answer.

The founder of edtech startup Ascend Now is especially fascinated with education and can “spend hours reading up about pedagogies, instructional design and teaching soft skills at different ages”.  

But she does not keep the knowledge to herself; during her time at Georgetown University, she served as a teaching assistant for economics and philosophy, and in her senior year, ran a tutoring service teaching 23 of her peers.

“It wasn’t a huge operation, but I loved the feeling when students or classmates improved in their classes,” she says.  

Read more: These 4 Individuals Are Creating Change Through Education

This sowed the seed for Ascend Now, which she started in 2018 after first trying her hand at investment banking with Goldman Sachs in New York.

When she realised that finance was not for her, she quit and moved to Singapore on a whim to start her education business.

Ascend Now turned profitable within a year, delivering high‑quality, one‑on‑one coaching for those aged six to 18, in academic subjects as well as other skills such as entrepreneurship, creative writing and networking.  

In her own words below, she shares more about how she views challenges and why she did not take external funding until this year. 

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Photo: SideXSide Pictures
Above  Sahny gave up a career in investment banking to move to Singapore and start Ascend Now with just US$8,000 (Photo: SideXSide Pictures)

When I was a teaching assistant, I really enjoyed the experience because it felt like I was relearning, and sometimes unlearning, the ways to acquire knowledge and concepts. When a classmate understood a concept and improved with some of my support, it felt magical.

I’m a very stubborn individual. I like to do things my way and I’m a firm believer that you can convert a no into a yes with the right mindset.

Read more: Why Educating Girls Is Not Just About Gender Equality

I view challenges as opportunities. The biggest challenge I faced in the early days of Ascend Now was likely the initial hustle required to start the business. I had very little financial support and I was in a country where I knew no one. It’s a great position to be in—when you have nothing to lose and [everything] to gain. It’s character‑building and I’m grateful for [the experience].

It was definitely an active choice of mine to not accept venture capital funding until this year. I know I may be in the minority, but I don’t think that capital is always the immediate solution to growth. A good product is. 

There are many things in our pipeline, but some I’m really excited about include our partnership with global education company Education in Motion, our skills platform for students to learn skills such as networking and stress management, and our plans to expand our operations into the UAE and Latin America.

See other honourees from the Education category of the Gen.T List 2022. For more content on the art of relearning and unlearning, read this recent edition of Gen.T's Deep Dive newsletter.

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