ApplyBoard GC Alexa Abiscott on Helping Scale a Tech Startup

May 10, 2021

Alexa Abiscott is the General Counsel and Secretary of ApplyBoard, a technology company headquartered in Kitchener that connects international students and recruitment partners to educational opportunities at institutions around the world. ApplyBoard is the world’s largest online platform for international student recruitment, assisting more than 150,000 students with their educational journeys. In 2019, ApplyBoard was named the fastest-growing technology company in Canada by Deloitte, ranking #1 on the Technology Fast 50™ list. In 2020, ApplyBoard was ranked 3 on Linkedin’s Top Startups List in Canada. ApplyBoard has raised a total of C$242M in funding, and is valued at C$2B.

Abiscott is also the President and a founding member of Women General Counsel Canada (WGCC), a member-led organization established to help women in general counsel and legal executive roles succeed.

Counselwell: Tell us about your background and how you became the General Counsel of ApplyBoard.

Abiscott: I started my legal career as a corporate commercial litigator, which is actually the background of many GCs, although for some reason litigation associates do not always realize this is a possible career pathway. After almost a decade on Bay Street, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to become the inaugural GC of Sheridan College where I spent over seven years before becoming the inaugural GC of ApplyBoard.

Counselwell: ApplyBoard is rapidly scaling, having recently raised $170M, and growing its headcount from a few hundred employees to nearly 1,000 in the last year. To what do you attribute this rapid growth?

Abiscott: ApplyBoard's mission is simple; to educate the world. We offer both a unique and elegant solution to our students, recruitment partners and institutional partner schools as we make the international student journey and student recruitment process easy and successful for all our key stakeholders. Our founders were able to identify a huge global need which was accelerated by Covid-19. There is huge demand for our service and we are scaling globally to meet that demand and the best interests of our students.  

Counselwell: What are some of the regulatory issues you deal with when serving students globally?

Abiscott: Our team is responsible for all legal, privacy, data governance, enterprise risk and compliance issues. We are proud that the security and privacy of student personal information is a priority for our company and the integrity of our processes and systems is consistently at the forefront of our Information Governance Committee, which drives how we partner with third parties and our stakeholders. We are also leaders in the sector as a member of the DIACC and the digital authentication of documents through our ApplyProof system which we are using to leverage key partnerships to support students in their journey to study abroad.  

Counselwell: Tell us about the work you do at WGCC, and why it’s important for women general counsel to get involved.

Abiscott: WGCC is at a pivotal moment of transitioning to align our new strategic plan with innovative and compelling offerings for our membership. We are launching our "General Counsel University" or "GCU" initiative which will allow members to earn a WGCC credential for achieving learning outcomes in 12 competencies of the most sought after general counsel. These are the competencies that were identified through research commissioned by WGCC and conducted by management consulting firm, Korn Ferry. The top 12 competencies are: persuades, decision quality, courage, global perspective, ensures accountability, manages conflict, instills trust, nimble learning, balances stakeholders, aligns execution, manages ambiguity and directs work. There is no better time to get involved at WGCC to further one's professional development as not only a GC, but as a leader.

Counselwell: What advice do you have for legal counsel at scale-ups?

Abiscott: Do not be afraid to step outside of the "legal" box and look for opportunities to get to know the business and/or product and influence the strategic direction of the enterprise.  Connect the dots and bring different areas together where you see there may be the opportunity to integrate process and alignment with the business objectives. Encourage your colleagues to bring you in early and do everything you can to be seen as an enabler, change maker and creative problem solver, rather than only a legal and compliance advisor. Assess continually if additional support (either with external counsel or internal resources) will accelerate the goals of your department and the business. Understand how what you and your team deliver creates tangible ROI for the business and ensure others understand the scope of your role in order to build supportive relationships.