ApplyBoard Inc., one of the fastest-growing startups to emerge from the Waterloo, Ont., region in years, confirmed Tuesday it has raised US$300-million in a venture funding led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan that values the company at US$3.2-billion.
The funding, first reported last week by The Globe and Mail, was also backed by investors Fidelity Management & Research Co. LLC, Business Development Bank of Canada, Harmonic, Index Ventures, Garage Capital and Blue Cloud Ventures. ApplyBoard previously raised $242-million.
The deal is the highest-profile Canadian bet by the two-year-old Teachers’ Innovation Platform, which has a mandate to increase the pension giant’s exposure to private technology investments.
Kitchener, Ont.-based ApplyBoard was founded in 2015 by Iranian-born CEO Martin Basiri, now 33, and his younger brothers Meti and Massi, to improve the process for international students to apply for schools abroad. They were inspired by their own experiences navigating the daunting process of searching for information about and applying overseas. The brothers came to the Waterloo region to study in the early 2010s and launched their company at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity incubator with a goal of shrinking the months-long process of applying to study in Canada to less than a day.
ApplyBoard offers an online platform that helps match students with institutions and assists them with the application. Students can apply to multiple schools at once through its standardized application. ApplyBoard says it has helped 200,000-plus students apply to institutions worldwide.
It also helps academic institutions, which draw significant revenues from the high tuition paid by international students. ApplyBoard, which has more than 1,000 staff, works with 1,500-plus primary, secondary and postsecondary schools across Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia.
Though the pandemic curtailed international travel, ApplyBoard still signed up new schools and lobbied the federal government to let international students to do their course work remotely. With borders set to reopen “there’s a huge pent-up demand and our industry really needs a fast rebuild” after a steep drop in demand, Mr. Basiri said in an interview.
ApplyBoard’s next play is to build on its relationships with students by offering an online verification service called ApplyProof. The service is intended to help immigration officials, admissions officers and other stakeholders access and verify documents from student applications.
ApplyBoard in May announced partnerships with British education-publishing giant Pearson PLC and U.S. non-profit Educational Testing Service (ETS) that allow students to store and access results of their English-language proficiency tests and GRE graduate admissions test provided by the two organizations.
Investors have talked up ApplyProof as a natural extension of what ApplyBoard does and that could help foreign students apply for services requiring credential checks, such as bank accounts, insurance and mobile phone services.
But Mr. Basiri said his company, which has already signed up 30 universities for ApplyProof, has no plans to generate revenues from the service. “We don’t want to charge anyone right now. It’s not even on our radar” to do so, he said.
Mr. Basiri spoke about ApplyBoard’s intentions in idealistic terms reminiscent of past startups that promised free offerings – but later found ways to profit handsomely from their innovations as they became giants.
“The reason we made it free and secure is so everyone can use it and we can do something good for the world,” Mr. Basiri said. “Our company is not very revenue-driven. If we wanted … we could make so much money from our students so far. But we are very focused on our long-term effect and how we can in the long-term fix the underlying infrastructure of this industry.”
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