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Ottawa-based ‘digital apprentice’ platform one of the fastest-growing startups in Canada

Midweek Mugging: ‘GenM’ has been growing rapidly over 18 months, growing its clientele of both students and businesses
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An Ottawa-based company is trying to bridge the gap between small businesses looking for skilled marketing help and students and others looking to pad out their resumé with meaningful experience.

GenM, based in Westboro, is like a Tinder for businesses and potential ‘digital apprentices,’ providing the best match for both based on skills and available work, while also providing educational courses for students.

Moe Abbas, CEO and Co-Founder of GenM, said while he’s been an entrepreneur in a number of sectors over the last decade, the idea and successes that have followed were not exactly planned.

While working on a separate project, his co-founder Richard Shaw noted the large amount of student talent or recent graduates applying for an internship who were struggling to find valuable experience.

“I never thought about it from the student side before, it’s always been about the value I gained as a business,” Abbas said.

“But we started having a conversation about what students have to go through in post-secondary and that led to a deep-dive into the education system, where 56 per cent of graduates are under-employed and 73 per cent are employed outside their field of study.”

According to Abbas, this led to the inevitable question: “What if we could create a marketplace where businesses could train students?”

After many conservations about why it wouldn’t work, Abbas and his three other co-founders set up a landing page and directed students to it, which ultimately led to an even clearer understanding of the demand and opportunities.

Abbas called it a “skills transfer from professional to novice, something we coined as a ‘digital apprenticeship’ and that became the cornerstone of GenM."

This “two-sided marketplace,” allows students to take courses and gain valuable experience for free, while businesses create a profile and pay a membership fee to allow access to a potential roster of talent. The membership also includes some administrative work, like one-click labour contracts. 

Those looking to become a ‘digital marketer,’ range from students, to recent graduates, to those switching careers or looking to acquire marketing skills for their own personal reasons or brands.

As an example, a recent psychology student is ‘underemployed’ after graduation but has many transferrable skills, so GenM looks to connect with a business and allows both sides to reap the rewards; The students gets free course education and work experience, while the business gets skilled help.

This model and its inner-workings have been tweaked and shifted since its inception in 2017 but is now one of the fastest-growing startups in the country, with over 2,000 students signed up for use along with dozens of businesses as clients after 18 months. 

GenM started with “four guys in a basement,” Abbas said, referring to co-founders Shaw, Marco Domenico Tundo and Davide Panzeri, but now employs 22 in a trendy office near Richmond Road and Kirkwood Avenue, with plans to double that head count next year.

Abbas thinks the model could play a role in the future of the education sector, with post-secondary becoming more expensive for students and others, while also providing flexibility for others who are changing jobs or looking to upgrade skills.

Though it has been quiet, the success of the platform hasn’t gone completely unnoticed, with an appearance on CBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ this month in an episode to air May 17.

“We’re at a point where we’re very confident in our product, in the marketplace, in the user experiences,” Abbas said.

“After over 1,000 apprenticeships we’re at the point where we’re like ‘you know what, we should tell the world what we’re doing.’ And that’s what we’re starting.”

Both students and businesses interested in GenM and its services can find more information at genm.co




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