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Clarendon ed-tech startup acquires third international company in five years

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

(Updated 4:25 p.m.) Symplicity, a Clarendon-based company that helps college students find jobs and internships, is expanding its international presence.

This month, the company announced its third international acquisition in five years: Canadian company Orbis, a technology platform that connects university students with job and internship opportunities. Symplicity bought Australia-based CareerHub, an online career services platform, in 2017 and Brazil-based Contratanet, the country’s largest network of job portals for students, in 2018.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” CEO Matt Small tells ARLnow. “Together, we have most of the universities in Canada.”

Small oversaw all these acquisitions, which add to Symplicity’s growing career services platform — one of its eight solutions for institutions that range from student conduct to academic advising. In the last five years, he says, the company has simplified and improved the quality of these solutions and boosted sales to and renewal rates with universities. Today, the company has more than 2,000 college and university clients in more than 35 countries.

“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds and have ben wonderfully successful,” he said.

That growth is happening amid a reportedly unsteady job market for college graduates due to the pandemic. Small says more colleges and universities are making employability a top priority, as hiring rates still flag for Gen Z graduates and as student loan debt deepens. He adds that institutions leaned on Symplicity in new ways when universities, and all the services they provide, had to go virtual.

But the chief problem for graduates and universities alike — a skills gap between higher education and industry — predates and has been exacerbated by the pandemic, Small says. When polled, he says, universities would say their students were ready for work, while heads of student recruiting would say students weren’t ready.

“They weren’t talking to each other: employers preferred three years work experience, so they didn’t have to train workers in the actual job,” he said. “Having right major and good grades wasn’t enough to do the job.”

Symplicity CEO Matt Small speaks at a conference (courtesy photo)

He tells students to get to the career center “early and often” to map out what work studies, internships or volunteer programs they can complete and which technology platforms they can master concurrent to their four years of classes. Symplicity placed 450,000 students in internships in the last 12 months.

“It just makes you much more marketable when you graduate,” he said.

Small was tapped in 2016 to work for Symplicity after Miami-based H.I.G. Capital purchased the company. At the time, he was the president of Blackboard International. Symplicity attracted a number of other Blackboard employees and executives, he says.

“I would say we came in and fully professionalized the company and made big product enhancements,” he said.

Two years before Small came on, Symplicity’s founder and then-CEO Ariel Manuel Friedler pleaded guilty to federal computer hacking charges after gaining access to his competitors’ computers in order to steal customer and product design information. Former President Donald Trump pardoned him in February 2020. Symplicity was not charged in the case.

Under the new leadership, Symplicity has also swelled to 300 employees, about a third of whom work from the Clarendon headquarters (3003 Washington Blvd, Suite 900), says Small. The company is actively hiring talent in the software industry.

“I joke that we’re the Ted Lasso of the software industry — everyone here is that level of caring and committed,” he said, referencing the TV show about a college football coach whose charm and optimism win over the English soccer team he is unexpectedly hired to coach.

“We work really hard, but it’s a fun, vibrant culture and a personable place,” he added.

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