Nova Scotia

Dartmouth company SimplyCast offers student debt relief for new hires

Talk about an offer too good to refuse — the president of a Nova Scotia information technology company is offering to make student loan payments for half a dozen new hires.

CEO Saeed El-Darahali views program 'not as a cost, but as an investment'

Saeed El-Darahali, the president and CEO of SimplyCast, says he's received more than 100 resumes from across the country. (CBC)

Talk about an offer too good to refuse — the president of a Nova Scotia information technology company is offering to make student loan payments for half a dozen new hires.

Since a couple of paragraphs appeared in a newspaper last week, the president and CEO of SimplyCast says he's received more than 100 resumes from across the country.

"When I did a search around the globe to see if anyone was actually paying student loans after graduation, I was surprised that no one has," said Saeed El-Darahali.

"I said, 'Maybe this might be a great opportunity that a private corporation can take some of their wealth and provide it back to their most important asset, their employees.'"

SimplyCast sells an all-in-one communications platform to companies so they can seamlessly reach customers by voice, email, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.

It's also moving into the political arena, with a pitch that is being fine-tuned by Eric Desjardins, an informatics co-op student at Dalhousie University.

"Think about it this way— if you can track how people interact with their emails, if you see what stories they are passionate about, you can adjust your campaigning around that," he said.

'I was a student loan recipient'

SimplyCast has annual revenues of more than $1 million.

El-Darahali also volunteers on the One Nova Scotia committee, advising the province on a long-term plan to revive the economy.

The technology entrepreneur says one in five Nova Scotians under the age of 30 are out of work, and he remembers how he struggled when he graduated from Saint Mary's University with his master's degree in business administration.

"I was a student loan recipient," he recalls.

"My parents, when they came to Canada in 1992 from Kuwait, we didn't have a lot of money. I had four sisters. Being part of a family that couldn't afford to send us to school, we had to depend on a student loan program. And when I graduated, it was very difficult for me to find a job."

El-Darahali started SimplyCast five years ago with $750,000 from angel investors — other Nova Scotia businesspeople — and $250,000 from Innovacorp, a venture capital organization.

Today, more than 30 people work for him — most under 30 years of age. Forty per cent of his employees started on co-op work terms from high schools, community colleges and universities.

'Keep students in the province'

Lori Anne Morgan is doing a co-op term at SimplyCast as part of her third year in computer science at Saint Mary's University. She's excited by the loan repayment idea.

"It's nice to know that when I finish school, I will have an opportunity to work full time, gain experience and also have someone take care of my student loan and make the payments," said Morgan.

"I think it's a great opportunity to keep students in the province."

Jen Jackson, who graduated from Dalhousie University with a master's degree in business administration, manages sales of SimplyCast's communications platform to restaurants who use it to engage customers and gauge their preferences through text and Twitter messages.

"Helping with student loans is an incentive so people will stay," Jackson says.

"It's good we hire people right out of school because it is hard to find jobs here. Quite a few of my friends have had to move out west. I have others in Toronto who would like to come back but can't find work."

SimplyCast's president sees the initiative "not as a cost, but as an investment."

$200-$300 per month, per employee

El-Darahali estimates the company will pay out between $200 and $300 a month per person, for students who graduate after four years with about $25,000 of debt.

His figures are close to the estimate provided by StudentsNS based on its most recent data. The student advocacy group applauds El-Darahali's efforts and hope others copy it.

"I think it's win-win for both — the student doesn't have to worry about paying their student loans," said El-Darahali. "For SimplyCast, we are continuing to increase our standard of hiring to continue our expansion."

At the moment, SimplyCast has four empty desks after hiring 11 people earlier this year. El-Darahali says he expects to hire four to six people from the flood of resumes received in response to the debt repayment offer. 

"My only worry is I can't hire every single one of them. So I am asking the private sector to please step up and do something similar," he said.


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