From choosing a school and program to applying and accessing financing and banking services, figuring out how to study abroad can be difficult.
As Toronto-based startup Halp puts it, international students are required to jump through a “complex, time-consuming, expensive, and offline” procedure.
Halp aims to address this problem by providing international students with one-on-one coaching through all parts of this process via its digital study abroad platform.
“That happened in 2000, that happened in 2008, and we’re seeing it now.”
-Matthew McLellan, Halp
The company first launched its offering last year, testing market demand for a product of this kind. When Halp amassed a waitlist of over 18,000 families—far more than its platform or roster of coaches could support—the company set out to raise its next round of financing.
Now, armed with $5.5 million CAD ($4.1 million USD) in fresh seed funding, Halp co-founder and CEO Matthew McLellan said the startup is now ready to “keep up” with market demand from international students. It’s a market he anticipates will continue to grow amid the economic downturn as many people lose jobs or switch careers and return to school to upskill and retool.
“That happened in 2000, that happened in 2008, and we’re seeing it now,” McLellan told BetaKit in an interview.
Halp’s seed financing was led by New York-based Lerer Hippeau and Serena Williams’ venture fund, Serena Ventures, with support from Toronto’s N49P, Shed Capital, Gambit Partners, and a slew of angels, including Blyth Academy founder Sam Blyth and Google product manager Kaiz Alarakyia. The round, which Halp raised via a simple agreement for future equity (SAFE) and closed in early September, brings the startup’s total funding to about $6.2 million CAD ($4.6 million USD).
Founded in 2019 by McLellan, COO Marc Fielding, and Justin Mills, Halp describes itself as a tech-enabled international college admissions coach.
Halp currently serves students in countries like India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates looking to pursue any type of post-secondary degree or certificate in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
However, most of the startup’s business is currently concentrated on the “India to Canada pipeline.” McLellan noted that Halp remains focused on India for the time being, a large market where he says there is strong demand to study abroad. According to the CEO, Halp is already generating “strong traction” in India and hopes to prove it can work at a scale of 5,000 to 25,000 students in the country before expanding elsewhere.
According to McLellan, despite COVID-19, demand to study abroad remained strong over the past couple of years, and schools continued accepting international students. Faced with the choice of studying online during the pandemic or deferring to attend school in person, many students took the latter route.
Now, as economic conditions worsen, “the flood is all kind of coming back in,” said McLellan.
McLellan sees an opportunity for Halp to grow amid this environment, and so does Lerer Hippeau partner Andrea Hippeau.
“The international admissions market is set to quadruple in the next few years,” said Hippeau. “But the current system is clumsy and untrustworthy. “Students need a tech-forward solution to help manage all of the challenges related to studying abroad in Canada, the US, and beyond, and Halp is best positioned to bring the industry into the modern age.”
While fellow Canadian startup ApplyBoard has “paved the way” in the study abroad tech space, McLellan said Halp operates “up the chain” from the Kitchener-Waterloo-based unicorn.
“We’re kind of built on top of companies like [ApplyBoard], where they help agents apply to schools,” said McLellan. “Our real competitors are the agents that are servicing students that have a student-facing brand.”
According to McLellan, there are about 40,000 of these agents serving over a million students, adding that this market is “super fragmented.” The CEO noted that this group often charges both families and students, have ties to specific schools, and stop serving students after they are admitted.
McLellan argues that there are a few key components that set Halp apart from other players in this space, including the company’s tech-enabled, end-to-end support approach and the fact that it does not charge the families it serves—taking payment by way of a placement fee from schools. The CEO also noted that Halp isn’t bound to any specific schools, which he said enables its coaches to work in students’ best interests.
On the product development side, McLellan noted that Halp still has a lot of work to do in terms of automating the onboarding process and scaling its coaching capabilities.
“Halp is best positioned to bring the industry into the modern age.”
-Andrea Hippeau, Lerer Hippeau
To do that and keep pace with demand for its offering, Halp aims to grow its team of nine to at least 20 over the next year.
While McLellan does not view ApplyBoard as a competitor at this point, Halp has grand ambitions that involve capturing and catering to an wider swath of the international student experience.
The startup’s stated big picture vision involves becoming “the infrastructure, bank, and teacher” for students around the world.
Right now, Halp’s focus is on the infrastructure piece, but McLellan noted that the firm sees room to bundle a variety of services ranging from coaching to banking, learning, and job placement.
Feature image courtesy Halp.