Hamilton ed-tech company Orbis scores big with sale to global leader Symplicity

Without benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to recognize a particular moment, in the march of time and technology, as a promising threshold over which to cross successfully into the future.

Cam Ballantyne and Devin Grady had a hunch, an instinct — call it what you will — but in hindsight it sure looks like foresight.

But building a database and software program that connected employers, post-secondary institutions and their recent graduates to match needs with talent has given the business partners years of success.

And that foresight has paid off with the Hamilton education and technology company they formed, Orbis, culminating in its recent sale to an industry giant for an undisclosed amount.

The two of them, originally from the Niagara area, were ambitious and in their early 20s at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2000; they held office in student government there. So they had some insight into how universities work, the challenges for both students and administration.

In their last year, they developed a way for Laurier to compress their “massive student acceptance packages (and other documentation), all that paper,” onto a CD-ROM.

It’s amazing “how fast it has changed,” says Ballantyne, reflecting on the last two decades. “No one had broadband back then and there was no YouTube.”

Those two decades are the 20 years during which he and business partner Grady took a timely student initiative and turned it into a thriving business.

The good news for Ballantyne and Grady when Orbis was purchased by the international education and technology company, Symplicity, is that they will continue at the business as is — in Hamilton.

It didn’t happen overnight for the two of them, but they sensed early they had something on their hands, with the advent of new ways of packaging information and reaching people, especially in the area of post-secondary education and student life.

They expanded what they did with their CD-ROM and, in partnership with the dean of students, provided virtual tours of student residences.

After they graduated, they experimented with online sales — everything from music to pet insurance.

“We spent a couple of years finding ourselves,” says Ballantyne. What they came back to, though, was their unique networking connections in the post-secondary community.

They helped Laurier get bookstore sales online, and worked on building software to equalize student access to skill development and job opportunities.

One interesting aspect of their success was that Ballantyne and Grady were not really even computer types. Their backgrounds at university were commerce and political science, but early on they took on a third partner, Sandor Mezei, who had strong tech roots.

As the company grew — they now employ 35 people — they became known more and more for their experiential learning systems — matching institutions, students and employers.

Hamilton business, Orbis, has made a real success at education technology aimed at universities and community colleges all over the continent. Its creators built and built and earlier this year the company was bought by a U.S. ed-tech giant Symplify.

Now Orbis, which moved from Kitchener to Burlington and then to Hamilton in the late 2010s, has a network of more than 100 institutions, 350,000 employers and one million students.

Its data-driven software, Outcome, empowers universities and colleges to deliver, scale, track and advance experiential learning initiatives, such as co-ops, mentorships, field placements and internships. Post-secondary institutions using Outcome connect learners with opportunities to apply what’s learned, gain experience and become employed in their hopeful fields, says Ballantyne.

When Orbis came to Hamilton, it situated downtown on John Street South and effected a beautiful restoration of a nondescript former apartment building.

When Symplicity Corporation purchased Orbis at the beginning of this year, it was a triumph of the confidence this Hamilton company inspires within the industry, says Ballantyne.

Symplicity is one of the world leaders in the ed-tech sector, with more than 2,000 colleges and universities using its platform across 35-plus countries with a global network of six million early-talent candidates (namely university students and recent graduates with less than three years work experience) and 500,000 employers. It has facilitated 450,000 internship placements and processed 10 million job applications in the last year.

Orbis doesn’t find students jobs directly, but post-secondary institutions use Orbis’ software as tools to build program and support on-campus that help students find careers, and also help employers in the recruitment process.

“If there is anything the post-pandemic world of work has shown, it is that it’s not just about jobs — there are endless job boards out there for students. It’s about preparing students for careers through meaningful experiences with work projects and skill development pathways based on the real needs of employers,” said Matthew Small, Symplicity president and CEO. “This acquisition (of Orbis) will further enhance the combined companies’ rapid growth.”

Says Ballantyne, “By joining Symplicity, we are aligning with an organization that shares our values and our goals.”


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