ApplyBoard, which runs a recruitment platform helping international students apply to education abroad, has secured $70 million CAD in a Series C extension and a new strategic partnership that extends the company’s capabilities.
Remote learning and travel restrictions are some of the reasons ApplyBoard has seen “huge acceleration.”
The $70 million all-equity extension came from non-profit education testing company Education Testing Services (ETS), Index Ventures, Blue Cloud Ventures, Harmonic Growth Partners, and other undisclosed investors. The majority of the financing was primary, with a minor secondary portion for ApplyBoard employees.
In addition to the investment, ETS and ApplyBoard have penned a deal that will allow the two companies to create a more seamless application experience for international students that require language testing.
ApplyBoard raised the significant extension five months after initially closing its $100 million CAD Series C, a round that brought the Kitchener-Waterloo startup’s valuation to $2 billion CAD. The latest capital brings ApplyBoard’s Series C to $170 million and total funding to date to $242 million.
The extension came about largely due to increased investor interest in ApplyBoard following the initial Series C close, amid a global pandemic that has escalated the need for digital tools in the education sector.
ApplyBoard, which was founded in 2015, offers an artificial intelligence-enabled recruitment platform helping international students apply to high school and post-secondary education in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
The education industry is one that has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many institutions are currently operating on hybrid in-person and remote learning models.
Travel restrictions between countries has also led to increased difficulties for international students specifically. Post-secondary institutions often rely on international students to bolster their earnings. In Canada, international students make up around 20 percent of the overall student body. At the onset of COVID-19, that reliance raised concerns about September enrolments.
ApplyBoard’s co-founder and CEO, Martin Basiri, told BetaKit that rather than seeing remote learning and travel restrictions hindering his startup’s trajectory, they are some of the reasons ApplyBoard has seen “huge acceleration.”
“There are not that many technology solutions for the [international student recruitment] industry,” Basiri said, noting that ApplyBoard’s school customers “skyrocketed” during the pandemic as the institutions required a way to connect with and attract foreign students amid the travel restrictions.
The CEO claimed that ApplyBoard has also seen increased interest from students, notably for studying in Canada and the United Kingdom, the latter a new region for ApplyBoard. Basiri attributed this increased interest to both countries’ governments taking measures to protect citizens from COVID-19 and welcoming pandemic policies for international students.
The growing interest from students does not necessarily correlate to customer conversions for ApplyBoard, however. Ongoing travel restrictions have led some foreign students to defer their plans for this academic year. But, Basiri argued, the increased interest points to future strong customer growth for ApplyBoard, as remote learning options have allowed many international students to continue with their studies.
“Basically, people need education no matter what,” said Basiri. “So, it doesn’t matter if it is in-person or online. In fact, … even if it becomes even more online, it [would] actually just make our industry even bigger.”
Raising $170 million during a time when the education industry is facing a major digital transformation has also served to allow five-year-old ApplyBoard to continue to grow its team and technology.
Since raising $100 million, ApplyBoard has hired an additional 130 employees, bringing its headcount to more than 500.
The startup is also planning to launch new technologies within the next couple of months, including a data platform for its school and recruitment partners, as well as a suite of products for recruitment partners, meant to enable them to increase their business in a digital era.
ApplyBoard has also pursued geographic expansion to the United Kingdom and Australia, which it plans to support through the recently raised extension. Index Ventures, an international VC firm with dual headquarters in San Francisco and London, England, is set to help ApplyBoard in increasing its European presence.
Reaching new levels
ETS is also a strategic investor for ApplyBoard, as the two companies are currently working to integrate their offerings to create a seamless, end-to-end application experience for international students.
US-based ETS is one of the world’s largest non-profit educational testing and assessment organizations. It administers the TOEFL English-language proficiency test and GRE graduate admissions test, often required for international students looking to study in English speaking post-secondary institutions.
“Basically, [the deal with ETS] just expands our work to another level.”
ETS’s equity investment in ApplyBoard was made by ETS Strategic Capital, a new division of ETS created to “grow its business and advance its mission through strategic equity investments, growth partnerships, and acquisitions.”
Ralph Taylor-Smith, managing director of ETS Strategic Capital, called the investment in ApplyBoard a reflection of ETS’ strategy to embrace new technologies and strategic partnerships that help broaden global reach in education.
ApplyBoard and ETS are currently working to integrate their platforms so that both ApplyBoard and ETS student customers will be able to access the other organizations’ offerings. For example, students applying to schools through ApplyBoard would be able to access ETS’ language testing through one single platform.
Basiri called the partnership “a big deal” for the international student recruitment industry. “There is no other platform [like this]. And this partnership allows us to have a great experience [for] millions of students every year,” he said. “Basically, it just expands our work to another level.”
“This also makes it very easier for the students who may not know what are the tests they should take, and how they take them,” Basiri added. “Or vice versa for the people who know how to take their test, but they don’t know the application process. ETS and ApplyBoard together, we can help almost any type of student.”