At ApplyBoard's headquarters in Kitchener, Ontario, the eye is drawn to a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chatting with the company's founders during a visit to the city last year.
And last February the educational technology start-up announced that the UK's former universities minister Jo Johnson (brother of Prime Minister Boris Johnson) was joining its Advisory Board.
There's plenty of sizzle with ApplyBoard. The company was named the No. 3 startup in Canada this year by LinkedIn and has more than 500 employees. It's valued at $2 billion - although like many fledgling tech firms its revenues are a fraction of that amount. As a privately owned company, ApplyBoard does not disclose its financials.
Meti Basiri, one of three brothers and former international students who founded the company five years ago, told the International Education Times that ApplyBoard is turning student recruitment on its head.
"Our business model is premised on the idea that the student should choose the educational institution that's best for them - not where their agent wants to send them," he says. ApplyBoard uses analytics tools to predict which schools are most likely to accept a student based on their history and credentials.
ApplyBoard has helped 120,000 students to find their matching school over the past five years. Of course, that's a drop in the bucket compared to the two million international students who set out to study abroad every year. To date, ApplyBoard has mainly focused on Canada - but it is expanding into the UK, Australia and the US.
Of course, the pandemic has disrupted international student recruitment and ApplyBoard has not been immune to its impact. "Obviously, we lost millions of dollars," he says.
However, there has been a silver lining. "It's allowed us to focus on internal processes and scalability. We've continued to grow the number of employees - we've added more than 100 employees since the pandemic started."
Basiri is impressed by recent steps in the UK and says Canadian institutions should watch and learn. "The UK is going to come out very strong post-Covid," he says, noting that some top British schools are issuing acceptances within 24 hours of application.
As for the US, he points out that America has more post-secondary institutions than Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand combined. The firm is waiting to see what happens next month in the US presidential election to determine whether the international education market there will recover.
ApplyBoard has been busy raising funds, with the latest being a $75 million injection from Educational Testing Service, which delivers the TOEFL test. While the investment gives ApplyBoard solid support to operate and grow, it's a bit curious that the firm has hitched its wagon to a test that has seen its volumes fall dramatically while IELTS has soared. TOEFL volumes are now so low that ETS has stopped reporting them - the last annual volume report of one million tests dates back more than a decade.
Basiri says the ETS deal allows the two firms to promote each other but does not require students to take the TOEFL as part of their ApplyBoard application. He notes that many schools accept three or four different English tests. "Students are super smart - let them choose what's best for them."
Since the start of the pandemic, Canadian educational institutions have not been able to send recruiters around the world in search of students. ApplyBoard offers an alternative - and one that may be more cost-effective since recruiting students online is cheaper than travel. "There will be a lot more focus on creativity of recruitment in the future compared to what used to be done," Basiri says.
Nevertheless, some Canadian international educators have their doubts. They see ApplyBoard as having a lot of sizzle and not enough steak, regarding it as just another recruiting company with a good database.
Basiri says it's much more. "We see ourselves as having a consultative role with the institutions - the data tell us you should do this. We help students to determine what are the right programs for them."