Harvard Medical School


Can we use data science and machine learning to analyze how students learn so we can help similar learners learn better?

A medical doctor and a PhD student at Harvard University – both formerly top teaching fellows at Khan Academy – set out to find out. Their venture, Sophya, is an AI-powered platform for next-generation internet learning. Housed within a beautiful, flexible platform, Sophya is billed as the ‘Spotify of Learning’, where students will no longer have to go out and find the right content, because the right content will be delivered to them – piece by piece, and in the order they need. No matter who or where they are, students will be able to use Sophya and benefit from all the learners who came before them. The founders say that the i-lab has been indispensable in their journey.

“Along every part of our journey, the curriculum and mentorship at the i-lab have been matched to our level and pace of growth. It’s hard to imagine where we would be without it.”

– Vishal Punwani, CEO & Co-Founder, Sophya




FOUNDERS: Vishal Punwani, Emma Giles

PROGRAMS & LABS: Venture Incubation Program, Launch Lab X

HARVARD SCHOOLS: Harvard Medical School, GSAS



Nowhere is Vishal Punwani and Emma Giles’ shared passion for education more visible than in their current quest to reimagine the future of how educators, students and institutions around the world can learn, teach, and engage with each other.

At the Harvard Innovation Labs, Giles and Punwani’s idea has blossomed into a sophisticated, adaptable platform that can serve all key stakeholders in the educational ecosystem. “The i-lab has given us something for every part of our journey,” says Punwani. “When we were startup newbies, the foundational curriculum here allowed us to learn the basics of leadership, creating a business plan, and pitching. We then moved on to next level of startup life via the Venture Incubation Program, figuring out how to build more advanced teams, fundraise with higher-level investors, succeed in business development, and build strategic partnerships.”

Launch Lab X has taken Sophya into the next evolution of startup life. “We work amongst a group of teams at the same level as us, allowing us to share resources, build incredible community relationships, and tackle big problems together,” says Giles.



Today, Sophya consists of a group of tight-knit software engineers, data scientists, and research students from many of Harvard’s 12 schools. Sophya is piloting its platform at Harvard as well as several top schools around the world, creating multiple pathways to shape their AI-assisted learning platform into a universal solution. The team won a $25,000 runner-up award in the 2019 Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge, and earned a spot in the 2019 MassChallenge Boston accelerator.