Canada’s Newest Unicorn: Edtech Startup ApplyBoard Raises $75M At $1.4B Valuation



ApplyBoard, a SaaS-enabled recruitment platform aimed at helping international students gain greater access to higher education, has raised $75 million in funding at a $1.4 billion valuation.


The round propels ApplyBoard into unicorn status, according to CEO and co-founder Martin Basiri. Columbus, Ohio-based Drive Capital led the round along with Fidelity Investments Canada ULC and Business Development Bank of Canada, and was joined by existing backers such as Anthos Capital, Artiman Ventures, Garage Capital and Plug and Play Tech Center.


The latest financing comes just less than one year after ApplyBoard raised a $40 million Series B, and brings its total raised to $122.5 million, according to Crunchbase data. The company is based in Kitchener, Ontario, where many of the country’s fastest-growing startups also have headquarters.


Brothers Martin, Meti and Massi Basiri launched ApplyBoard in 2015 after experiencing challenges coming to Canada as international students from Iran. Their mission is to give students all over the world access to educational opportunities abroad.


How it works


The easiest way to think of ApplyBoard is to liken it to a travel website, but rather than help people book flights or hotels, it helps them find and apply to educational opportunities.


Students located anywhere in the world can answer just a few questions about their skills, grades, language scores and interests. Using machine learning, the ApplyBoard platform will match them with programs and schools at which they are eligible to study. When they’re ready, they can complete one common application and use that to apply to multiple schools.


“Students save hours of time both on discovery and application” using the platform, Basiri said. The site also serves as a notification center and provides applications with documents required for visas.


Users have the option apply to secondary and postsecondary educational institutions (such as universities, colleges, institutions and high schools) in Canada and the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, in which ApplyBoard launched in March.


The company has seen crazy growth in recent years. In 2019, Deloitte recognized ApplyBoard as Canada’s fastest-growing tech company, citing 12,525 percent GAAP revenue growth between 2015 and 2018. Its revenue surged by 500 percent year over year in 2019 alone, according to Basiri.


ApplyBoard makes its money through revenue-sharing agreements with postsecondary institutions based on landed students. By partnering with the startup, the startup says, those institutions “expand their brand reach worldwide” and “enrich on-campus diversity by recruiting qualified students virtually.”


ApplyBoard currently works with over 1,200 postsecondary institutions and 4,000 recruitment partners, which are basically like school counselors that help students with their application and help educate them on what is needed to study abroad. Over time, Basiri said, the company has helped over 100,000 students apply to schools through its platform, paying zero fees. It is actively recruiting students from 110 countries; however, students from any country can use the platform.


Looking ahead


ApplyBoard plans to use the new capital to further invest in its technology and partner with educational institutions in new destination countries. The startup also wants to strengthen its position in the U.K., and source students in other markets where it is growing such as South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.


ApplyBoard currently has 400 employees working in 20 countries, up 2.5 times from its headcount this time last year. Naturally, it plans to do more hiring with its new money.

Drive Capital Partner Nick Solaro said the company is “democratizing global access to world-class higher education.”


International student recruitment is currently an offline process, he pointed out.

“ApplyBoard is the only place where international students can discover and apply to college online, and in turn, is the only digital customer acquisition channel for colleges and universities,” Solaro said. “By building this digital channel, ApplyBoard is in the flow of funds for the $100 billion a year spent on tuition by international students in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia.”


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