Pilon School of Business
Degree: Project Management
Year of graduation: 2011
Ganesh Neelanjanmath remembers the loneliness of being in a new country. Seven years ago, he wheeled his suitcase into the arrivals hall at Pearson International Airport, armed only with an email from Sheridan’s International Centre that told him how to get to classes at Trafalgar Campus.
“I was lost,” he remembers. “When you come into arrivals, all you want to do is look for the exit. But you also want to stop and take (the moment) in.”
Seven years later, Neelanjanmath was back at the arrivals door. He spent two weeks at the end of the summer making sure students who use his app, iCent, have someone to say hello to. iCent helps international students get information on life at Canadian colleges, things like tuition costs, how to find housing, get health insurance and look for transportation to campus. They can also electronically submit their government-issued study permits, saving them, and college staff, hours of time managing papers. The app even sends a notification welcoming students to Canada and Sheridan once they’ve landed at the airport. Neelanjanmath says it’s rewarding to help the students because “they’re excited about starting their journey here.”
This fall, a quarter of Sheridan’s incoming 9,000 students are coming from out of country; and about 90% of them are using iCent. The app has grown so much it’s now Neelanjanmath’s full-time business. It was borne of his own experience. He was working in Spain in 2010 when he began researching schools in Canada, and found himself overwhelmed by the amount of information about where, and what, to study. He already had a computer science degree from a university in India, and in 2008 he set up a business, called Neel-Tech. He was looking for an international educational experience because he wanted to bring his business to North America. Sheridan ended up providing the perfect incubator for that. As a student, he fielded lots of questions from others about his experience. So he set up a website to answer some of their most common questions. Then, in 2013, he was wondering what was next for his tech company.
“I needed to look at something I was passionate about,” he recalls. “What would I enjoy doing for 10, 20, 30 years?”
The answer was working with international students, and bringing different cultures together through education. When he discovered many people accessed his website on their smartphones, an app seemed like a logical next step. In 2015, he built the first version of iCent, piloting it with Sheridan’s International Centre. The College promoted the app at orientation events it holds for students before they leave home. About 96% of 2,000 students downloaded it after those events, and Neelanjanmath knew he had a hit. In late 2016, he launched it at the Canadian Bureau of International Education Conference in Ottawa, and landed five other Ontario colleges as clients. Neelanjanmath says it saves colleges money on staff needed to answer students’ questions, and, most importantly, it allows students to connect with the school so they can learn about orientation events where they can meet new friends. Now, he’s looking to expand his business. He’s meeting with more schools and talking to banks and municipalities about how they can use iCent to welcome their own newcomers, all in an effort to help more people avoid the loneliness he remembers so well.