Social Challenge and Innovative Solution
Digital illiteracy and lack of access to training in the IT sector lead, in many ways, to digital divide – i.e. a gap in the access to, or usage of information and communication technology. This results in a lack of socio-economic and gender diversity in the sector despite the increasing demand of qualified employees. To solve this problem, Simplon seeks to give everyone the opportunity to learn new digital skills. It offers tuition-free vocational training in coding and web development for people distanced from the labour market or under-represented in the IT sector. These include:
- NEETs – i.e. young people who are “Not in Education, Employment, or Training”;
- Unemployed people with little or no qualification;
- Women who are often subject to negative stereotypes in this industry;
- Refugees, to help them integrate in society;
- People living in rural areas, with little to no access to IT courses.
Simplon has created tailor-made programmes for each of these categories of trainees to cover their specific needs (e.g. meetings with female developers for women, French classes and administrative support for refugees, etc.). Additionally, the social enterprise raises awareness on coding and digital culture to children and teenagers with workshops and various events. Simplon’s aim is therefore to encourage both diversity in the IT sector and social mobility through technical qualifications.
Key Social Impact Figures
* currently, 20% of IT workers and 6% of developers are women
Investing for Impact
How it started and support provided
Since its creation in 2013, Simplon was mostly relying on public subsidies to finance its activities and keep their training free of charge. It kept developing quickly, opening more “factories” (i.e. coding schools) across the country and even abroad. However, by 2015, despite its popularity, the social enterprise was struggling to generate enough revenue to pay its employees. It became obvious to its founders that they needed to review its business model and diversify its sources of revenue. To do so and to keep its courses tuition-free, Simplon set up a social web agency – Simplon.Prod – which employs former students and develop digital solutions. Furthermore, the French Job Agency (Pôle Emploi) and some training organisations sponsor part of the training cost of unemployed people, who represent 76% of Simplon’s students.
In 2015, France Active granted a first tranche of support with a subordinated loan of €75,000 to help Simplon in its first phase of development.
In 2016, Simplon was looking for funding for its acceleration phase, aiming to scale up from 20 “factories” (i.e. coding schools) to 100, and to reach 3,000 people trained per year by 2020. To do so, France Active led the first fundraising campaign for Simplon and contributed with €750,000 in equity. France Active managed to pool seven other investors, including the Caisse des Dépôts and Phitrust Partenaires Europe, for a total amount of €4.75 million in equity and quasi-equity. Additionally, Simplon benefited from an investment of €250,000 from Mirova through the 90/10 Fund “Insertion Emplois Dynamique”.
France Active acted as a mediator between the pool of investors and Simplon in order to managed everyone’s expectations and ensure that no one loses sight of the SPO’s social mission.
This second funding round marked an important new step and a considerable increase in Simplon’s scope, which also led to the decision of some investors to exit.
In 2016, Simplon made its first profit and increased the revenue ratio generated by its own activities to 40%, aiming to reach 70% by 2019. Simplon has now three main activities, financed through different sources:
- Main trainings > public institutions or private (social) investors, donations, and partnerships
- SimplonCorp (courses for companies’ staff, events) > invoiced to companies
- SimplonProd (web and apps development mostly by former Simplon students) > invoiced to companies or through partnerships
From Simplon’s Impact Report June 2018
|Increased employment for people with no or little qualification||% positive exits (students finding a job or accessing further training within 6 months after their training with Simplon)||77%|
|% of students who find a job 6 months after training||78% of positive exits|
|% of students becoming freelancers or setting up a business 6 months after training||16% of positive exits|
|% of students pursuing studies or getting an internship 6 months after training||21% of positive exits|
|# of people trained||2,345 (target: 5,040 by 2020)|
|Increased gender balance in the IT sector (currently, 20% of IT workers and 6% of developers are women)||% of female Simplon’s students||31%|
|Better awareness about coding and digital culture to young generation||# of children and teenagers who attended one of Simplon’s event or workshop||35,790 since 2013|
Every quarter, Simplon puts together an impact report with key achievements, which is presented to the supervisory board.
Simplon is continuously improving and working on it’s impact measurement system, up until now they have striven to collect quantitative data through surveys sent to their students, but also qualitative data collected through semi-structured interviaws with Simplon’s employees, former Simplonians who work for SimplonProd, as well as different testimonials and external evaluations.
What they think
Simplon is still expanding to reach its aim of 300 factories, including in other countries (Romania, Senegal, Belgium, Spain etc.) and is working on diversifying its sources of revenues.
France Active is planning to support them for a period of around seven years.