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Tech company finds the right formula to attract the best millennials

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Once a month, you can find the CEO of Saskatchewan’s fastest growing tech company having a beer at a networking event called Pi O’clock.

The event begins at 3:14 on Friday afternoons—hence the name. It brings together Saskatoon’s small but ambitious tech community for drinks, snacks and shop talk in the sunny offices of software maker Solido Design Automation in Saskatoon.

Solido CEO Amit Gupta says the event is one way his company supports the tech community in Saskatoon, but it’s also part of his strategy for recruiting some of the city’s best minds. That’s why he invites graduate students from the nearby University of Saskatchewan to attend the mixers.

“The raw material of the company is really the IQ and talent of the people,” says Gupta, 40, a serial high-tech entrepreneur who founded Solido Design in 2005. “The engine of our growth is people.”

Solido, a client of BDC Capital, makes sophisticated software used by companies around the world to design the chips that go into just about every kind of device from smartphones to televisions to automobiles. Its revenue growth rate has been from 50 to 70% in each of the last six years, and it’s doubling its workforce this year to 105.

Employees drawn from millennial generation

Many of those new employees are members of the millennial generation. Like many other companies, Gupta works hard to make sure his company offers an environment that attracts the best millennial employees and makes them want to stay.

He says the “cool” nature of the jobs at Solido in such areas as developing machine learning software provides an important edge over other employers in recruiting millennials.

“To be part of a cutting-edge, fast-growth company is very attractive to our employees. And there are opportunities to travel around the world, given that our customer base is in the U.S., Europe and Asia.”

As baby boomers exit, millennials make up a growing share of the Canadian workforce. They tend to be better educated and tech savvy than their elders and expect such things as a good-work life balance, flexible working arrangements, professional development and a sense of meaning in their job, according to a new BDC study entitled Future-proof Your Business: Adapting to Technology and Demographic Trends.

At Solido Design, new employees spend four weeks at an in-house “incubator,” where they get up to speed on the company’s technology and projects. From there, they are paired with a mentor who keeps them on track in their new jobs.

Company has a supportive culture

“It’s not like a culture of you either pass or fail, and if you fail, you’re out,” Gupta says. “It’s a very supportive culture where we try to bring everybody up the ramp and make sure everybody has the opportunity to be successful.”

At the same time, Solido maintains a flat organizational structure and employees are encouraged to work independently. “They’re empowered to get things done themselves and be able to really make a difference in the company.”

Solido hires graduates from the engineering, computer science and mathematics departments at the University of Saskatchewan. But the recruitment efforts go much further.

The company also seeks experienced Saskatoon tech workers from other companies as well as graduates from universities across Canada. It also recruits foreign talent through industry websites. Here, Gupta says Solido is being helped by accommodating visa requirements in Canada that contrast with tightening in the U.S.

Being able to give people an amazing work environment where they are able to create and invent is important.

New offices are a key selling point

Gupta says the company’s new offices are key selling point for new recruits. Solido invested over $1 million in tenant improvements in late 2016 to create a state-of-the-art, 1,100 square-metre (12,000 square-foot) software facility with light-filled offices, funky common areas and a spacious kitchen.

“Being able to give people an amazing work environment where they are able to create and invent is important and the whole basis of the investment we made.”

Solido strives to maintain an open, fun atmosphere at the office. Children can often be seen wandering the halls when they have time off from school. And each Friday there’s the Pi O’clock event for employees where “everyone has chance to reflect on the week and just chat.” (It’s opened to the tech community once a month.)

The company’s efforts are paying off. It hasn’t had an employee leave in years and it’s well on its way to achieving its staff expansion goal, says Gupta, who has degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and was born and raised in Saskatoon.

Saskatoon offers distinct advantages

He says being based in Saskatoon offers some “distinct advantages” over higher-profile tech hubs like Silicon Valley, notably less competition for the best talent and lower salary costs.

“There’s really an opportunity to stand out in the marketplace and attract the top 20% of graduates and employees. It’s a great place to grow this business.”

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