The Story of ApplyBoard

Thursday, March 18, 2021

How two brothers' experience at Renison led to the creation of the world's largest online international student recruitment portal

By Willow Carmount, ELI Programs Assistant

Brothers Meti, Martin, and Massi BasiriFrom arriving in a new country barely able to speak the language to co-founding Canada’s fastest-growing tech company, the story of brothers Meti and Massi Basiri is no small success.

The name ApplyBoard has become synonymous in tech circles with buzzwords like “unicorn start-up,” “entrepreneurial spirit,” and “rapid growth.” These words describe an idea sparked by three brothers that has quickly grown into the world’s largest online international student recruitment portal. Today, more than 150,000 students across 110 different countries have been able to access education globally thanks to ApplyBoard.

It has been very rewarding to see education become more widely accessible for Meti and Massi, who began their own educational journeys in Canada by building their English language skills in Renison’s English For Academic Success (EFAS) program in 2011. When Meti first arrived in Canada, he explained how he knew English language education would need to be his first step before he could begin his studies in college or university.

“My English was almost non-existent,” Meti explains. “I couldn’t hold a conversation. In fact, I could probably catch only 5% of what someone was saying.”

Thankfully, Meti and Massi’s older brother, Martin, had already been studying in Canada before they arrived, earning his masters degree in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Meti shared that it was unusual at the time for many Iranians to pursue their undergraduate degree abroad, but it was Martin’s persistence that convinced their parents that his brothers should join him in Waterloo.

Meti’s time studying at Renison felt like being in a movie. Everyone seemed to be constantly smiling, and it was a completely different environment from his hometown in Iran. Thanks to Renison’s small class size and its variety of global connections, being an EFAS student didn’t only allow opportunities for Meti to learn English, but to forge friendships with students from a variety of cultures.

“I loved being surrounded by people from different nationalities. Even though our backgrounds were unique, we were in a similar situation – being new to Canada and learning English – and that brought us together.

- Meti Bassiri, Co-Founder and CMO of ApplyBoard

“I loved being surrounded by people from different nationalities,” Meti shared. “Even though our backgrounds were unique, we were in a similar situation – being new to Canada and learning English – and that brought us together.” 

Meti was also grateful for the kind instructors who helped him adjust to studies at a North American university.

“My teachers were great as well,” he said. “I’d never met teachers as patient and caring as the teachers at Renison.”

Upon completing their language studies at Renison, the brothers pursued studies at other schools in the region. Upon finishing school, the brothers came together to found ApplyBoard in April 2015 and, not long after, moved into the University of Waterloo’s start-up incubator, Velocity Garage.

ApplyBoard has quickly grown to become the world’s largest online international student recruitment portal. The company has raised $170 million CAD. In December 2019, Meti and Massi were named to three 30 Under 30 lists by Forbes: Immigrants, Education, and Big Money categories. 

ApplyBoard Platform ScreenshotIn brief, ApplyBoard helps international students apply to post-secondary schools by creating a centralized database of schools across the globe. The company allows students to access this site for free, and profits from the schools advertised on the site. If a student attends a school they applied to through ApplyBoard, the company receives a portion of that student's tuition. Not only does the company help future post secondary students, but parents with children an interest in international primary or secondary education as well. 

Meti and Massi, who co-founded the company with their brother Martin, are overwhelmed and thankful for the recognition that the company is receiving. Despite this, Meti and his brothers are not driven by awards recognition, but by the stories of real students, whose lives they’ve helped change.

“It was such an honour to be recognized by an organization like Forbes, which is an institution in the business world. You look at the people who’ve been named to those lists over the years, and it's amazing company,” Meti said. “But the truth is that hearing a story about how ApplyBoard changed someone’s life drives me and my brothers ten times more than any awards. For me, the most important thing is helping people, and feeling that I can impact students’ lives. Recognition is great, but it’s a bonus.” 

ApplyBoard Team PhotoThanks to the brothers’ dedication, accessing education has become more attainable for students all across the planet. Today, it seems hard to imagine ApplyBoard not existing, in a world where globalization and the integration of technology into everyday life are rapidly increasing. Yet, 10 years ago, this idea may have seemed outlandish, or even improbable. So, how did Meti and Massi find the inspiration to develop this life changing platform? 

“My brothers and I experienced firsthand what an incredible impact studying abroad can have on a student’s life, and we wanted to bring that experience to as many people as we could,” Meti said.

When asked what advice he had for students coming to Canada to learn English, Meti talked about how it’s not just a new language that a student is learning.

“I think it’s important for people who come to Canada to study to remember that you’re learning more than just the language. You’re also adjusting to a new education system, which can often be very different from the system you grew up with.”

It’s not just about learning English, it's also about Canadian culture, which is inclusive of a unique education system.

Looking into the future, the brothers plan to continue expanding ApplyBoard in the hopes that one day every student who so chooses will have access to the international education and foreign experience that Meti, Massi, and Martin did. By giving these students the chance to study at schools across the world that may suit their needs better, the brothers are fostering the growth of our next generation professionals, and entrepreneurs just like them.

About the Renison English Language Institute

The Renison English Language Institute (Renison ELI) has offered high quality English as a second language (ESL) programs and courses since 1970. We welcome more than 1,000 students each year to Renison University College.

We are also proud to be the official ESL provider of the University of Waterloo, ranked Canada’s most innovative university for 28 years. Our newest language program, called English, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (eSTEM), is a collaborative partnership between the Renison English Language Institute and ApplyBoard. 

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