Isempower founder Pat Chaisang is using her experience to help Canadian universities and colleges create better experiences for their international students. The solution couldn’t come at a better time for Canadian post-secondary institutions. In 2022, Canada welcomed more than 550,000 international students—and that number is expected to grow this year.
Chaisaing is originally from Thailand and moved to Canada to pursue a bachelor's degree at Simon Fraser University. She said the move was challenging because of language and cultural differences.
“When I first came to Canada, I didn't know English well. That made it challenging to set me up for success. I was struggling to find a basic part-time job. I applied for a table waiting job at a Thai restaurant and was rejected,” Chaisang said.
Her friends shared similar experiences, and many chose to leave Canada because of the challenges of finding employment. Chaisang said realizing her experience was the same as many of her friends inspired her to try and make a difference.
The drive to improve the international student experience led Chaisang to create Isempower. The platform connects employers and international students and provides tailored employment support resources. Canadian post-secondary institutions are scaling the requirement of international students, but Chaisang said those students often arrive without the tools they need to be successful.
Post-secondary institutions use the Isempower platform to provide students with support in three core ways—learn, connect, and get hired.
First, the learning resources help international students settle in their new communities. These resources include everything from opening a bank account to understanding Canadian culture and making new friends. Next, the connect resources build upon the platform’s alums who volunteer to mentor new international students. The third piece of the platform—get hired—matches students directly to job opportunities.
“This includes part-time job opportunities, internships, co-ops, as well as full-time opportunities. We work directly with employer partners to help them hire entry-level candidates from our talent pool,” Chaisang said.
Communities across Canada are dealing with a labour shortage. Chaisang said Isempower is helping address this by connecting skilled international students with employers hiring for retail, hospitality, and manufacturing roles.
“Today, almost every country competes with friendlier measures to attract international students—and employment is the number one thing they’re using to entice them to stay. The Canadian government just extended the time international students can stay by 18 months so they can help address that labour shortage. We’re seeing a similar approach in the UK and Australia as well,” she said.
Chaisang’s journey to the Accelerator Centre also has an international connection—the Collision Conference in Toronto. Each year, the conference brings 40,000 attendees from over 140 countries to Toronto for talks, showcases, and meetups. Chaisang had recently moved to Ontario and attended Collision to build her network. At Collision, she learned of the AC:Studio program from Chris Leclerc, Manager of the AC’s Venture Studio Program.
The AC:Studio program is funded with a $10-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
“I hadn’t heard of the Accelerator Centre before. I didn’t even know how far Waterloo was from Toronto—but once I heard about the program, I decided to apply and got in,” Chaisang said.
The AC:Studio program provides up to $100,000 in seed funding grants, one-to-one mentorship, sales training, and other critical support for scaling startups. Chaisang said the mentorship has been invaluable.
“There are so many great mentors, and they're very committed. They take an active role in the company versus other accelerators where when you talked to them, it almost felt like a coffee chat,” she said.
Chaisang said sales mentor Kevin Hood has been critical in helping Isempower build its sales playbook and make sales.
“Kevin has been amazing. We just closed a deal with TELUS to help them with their retail sales representatives across the country, and that's really because of his help in developing our sales process. Things like figuring out how do we turn a free trial into a commitment and how do we onboard a client,” Chaisang said.
Today, Isempower is working on expanding its platform, and Chaisang said the company is looking at offering a white-label solution for post-secondary institutions.
“By doing it that way, we will be unlocking another revenue stream by licensing this technology to higher education. We want to expand and be in every major university in Canada to help international students succeed.”
AC:Studio is funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and is delivered in partnership with WEtech Alliance, Innovate Niagara, Conestoga College, SnapPea, Uvaro, Bereskin & Parr, RSM Canada, and Gowling WLG.