ApplyBoard makes first acquisition, grabbing Panda Portal to train recruiters

(From left) Meti Basiri, CMO and Co-Founder of ApplyBoard, and Jimmy Battaglia, Founder and Head of TrainHub.
ApplyBoard has rebranded Panda Portal to TrainHub.

Kitchener-Waterloo unicorn startup ApplyBoard has made its first acquisition, purchasing education industry training company Panda Portal.

ApplyBoard closed the deal earlier this month and has rebranded Panda Portal to TrainHub. With the purchase, the international student recruitment startup is expanding its capability to train educators and recruiters that will in turn attract more students to schools. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ensuring recruitment officers have the knowledge they need is just one aspect of ApplyBoard’s broader mission to “educate the world.”

ApplyBoard co-founder and CEO Martin Basiri told BetaKit the addition of TrainHub helps to address one of the biggest issues in the international student recruitment industry: knowledge about far-away schools.

“The majority of [students], they have never even been in those countries. Getting information is crucial for them,” said Basiri, himself an international student when he moved to Canada with his brothers and co-founders Meti Basiri (CMO) and Massi Basiri (COO).

ApplyBoard has been focused on recruiter professional development of late, making a two-year commitment to investing at least $10 million USD in the training and enablement of the sector. The commitment includes the creation of its own counsellor course, through which it has invested $1 million USD over the last year towards the training and professional development of its recruitment partners. TrainHub expands on those capabilities.

Ensuring schools and recruitment officers have the knowledge they need to better educate international students about specific schools is just one aspect of ApplyBoard’s broader mission to “educate the world.”

“How we are doing this is to remove the barriers for students to connect to the best opportunities,” said Basiri who spoke about taking ApplyBoard’s suite of products beyond just the application process.

Over the last seven years, ApplyBoard has been a fast-growing startup focused on helping international students apply to high school and post-secondary education. Then, in 2020 and 2021, ApplyBoard began to offer language testing support, something that is often required for international students when they apply to schools in different countries. That saw ApplyBoard supporting students one step before the application process.

The startup even created ApplyProof, which enables admissions officers and immigration officials to trust the authenticity of documents, such as English test scores and letters of acceptance.

Now, Basiri said that ApplyBoard wants to help students on their entire study abroad journey.

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The first example of that commitment is a product ApplyBoard launched alongside RBC earlier this year meant to make it easier for students to obtain proof of financial support – something that is required as part of the Canadian study permit application.

“You come to another country and you need a lot of services to be able to literally settle down here, and then set yourself [up] for success,” said Basiri, noting that ApplyBoard has its “eye” on a number of products that would help students in their study abroad journey – though he declined to share further details at this time.

ApplyBoard’s Panda Portal acquisition and plans to move beyond applications are fueled by $545 million CAD in financing that the startup secured over the last few years. The startup has raised more than ​​$600 million since it was created, and claims a $4 billion valuation.

Investors like the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and Fidelity Management & Research have been attracted to the recruitment platform, which Basiri claims is well-positioned to win in a big market.

The education industry is one that was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With travel restrictions and schools focused on remote learning, international student recruitment took a hit. The dip in international students hit post-secondary institutions hard as they often rely on international students to bolster their earnings.

Now, as travel returns to normal, Basiri is seeing pent-up demand from international students.

“The demand is unbelievably big … so many people that couldn’t study abroad the last few years want to do it right now,” said the CEO, noting, however, that current issues such as visas not being processed at pre-pandemic speeds are causing delays.

“But those are all transitory problems,” said Basiri, brushing the concerns aside. “It is our time. Our industry is booming from that point of view and we are well centred to help the students [with] achieving their success right now as all the urge and demand are coming.”

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ApplyBoard is set to launch into its fifth market this year, making placements available in Ireland. Basiri told BetaKit that he expects ApplyBoard to become available there soon as the company has everything it needs in place to do so. The startup currently works with schools in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The 1,500-person, global team now has 10 more employees with the addition of Toronto-based TrainHub, founded in 2020 by Jimmy Battaglia. Battaglia will stay on as head of TrainHub, which will remain a standalone platform. The startup brings to ApplyBoard 150 global partner educational institutions.

Amid the growth and broader vision for ApplyBoard, Basiri has spoken about the potential to take his company public. At a February event in Kitchener-Waterloo, the CEO told BetaKit ApplyBoard is ready to go public when the time is right.

Basiri noted that as ApplyBoard looks to expand it is also keeping an eye for more potential acquisitions.

“We are looking at it more broadly, from the standpoint of whatever takes the barriers of information or application barriers out,” Basiri said.

Feature image courtesy ApplyBoard

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Senior Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.

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