Fréderic has launched SIMPLON.CO in 2013 with the ambition to offer an alternative to traditional IT institutions which defend coding education in top universities with teachers with specific diploma. In only a few months, he has developed a network of open coding schools anchored in a deep spirit of technological and social innovation and dedicated to those who are the most excluded from the digital world. Welcoming groups of 30 students in average, they offer free intensive training from 6 to 9 months to become a web coder or fill other jobs in demand such as digital referent or data manager.
Participants are carefully selected to train first people underrepresented in the web sector, mostly women, low-qualified and long-term unemployed persons, youth from disadvantaged suburbs, the handicapped and seniors. Potential trainees are sourced by local partners (local public employment agencies, city programs, NGOs…) and beyond a necessity to know already how to write, read, count and very basic computer skills (switch on a computer or send an email), the decisive criteria is motivation. More and more popular, the number of candidates is increasing and about 10% are shortlisted.
The training program follows a frame of reference to cover knowledge of hardware and software, and various coding languages. But more important than becoming experts of web languages, the students are trained to solve coding problems. Frederic believes that it is only by understanding how code works and practicing their capacity to analyze a problem and look for solutions that the students will be able to adapt themselves to the rapid changes of the digital world over the long run. The pedagogy is very dynamic, relying on problem-solving workshops, peer-learning, collaborative work and real projects for clients. To boost leadership and self-esteem, Frederic empowers his students to teach others. The trainees are for example in charge of the online course for external participants : Each week, they work on a coding problem; they collectively look for solutions, and then test and conceptualize the best solution to post it online; a forum with distance learning participants is open to debate about the solution and learn more about it. To work on their creativity and empathy, the trainees are also engaged in the Kids Coding Club and facilitate weekly workshops with children and parents on simple coding activities.
To support his initiative, Frederic relies on a hybrid model that combines non-profit and for-profit activities. To make the program free and accessible to those who most need it, he raises philanthropic funds but also generates incomes through a for-profit social company (the company benefits from “the national social agreement” which protects the social mission, gives a frame for salaries, limits distribution of dividends etc.) which offer paying short-term coding trainings (1 to 3 days) for companies’ employees and individuals as well
as coding activities (developing websites or applications for clients) and events (eg: hackathons). Therefore, major functioning costs are covered by the company (rent, teachers and coordinators) which put its resources at the disposal of the free training program. For the first year of activity, the project has generated about one million euro of incomes and raised 500,000 euros of donations.
After two schools open in the suburbs of Paris (Montreuil and Villeneuve la Garenne) and about 100 people trained with a rate of reintegration on the labor market of 100% (either get a job, become a freelance or continue studies), Frederic has obtained the national training agreement and is organizing a massive replication of his idea all over France and abroad. Convinced that his program can be adapted to very different contexts and types of populations as an engine for social integration and economic development, he has structured an open replication model in which anyone - a local entrepreneur, an NGO, a company, or a public actor - can take the idea and apply it, with a necessity to respect the two core principles: the selection criteria for students and the training framework and pedagogical methods. He has designed different levels of support to be assisted in the launch of a new school – with only a license cost until a franchise model in which resources are dedicated to mobilize local ecosystems, raise funds, and recruit the students and the teachers. In average, the replication costs between 30,000 to 100,000 euros per year; and 10,000 euros are systemically brought by ORANGE as key partner of the replication of the initiative. Two schools have opened in 2015, one in a very rural area to maintain economic activities and another in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Marseille for youth who have dropped out school; and 150 projects are currently under progress. Besides, the expansion is also abroad with a school in Romania open by a former trainee, and two currently under progress with Orange in Bamako, and with SAP in Johannesburg.
In parallel, Frederic is exploring new activities to reinforce his impact, with an adaptation of the program for specific populations like refugees and prisoners; as well as the creation of an incubator of social enterprises as half of the trainees decide to become entrepreneurs.