Martin Basiri, CEO of ApplyBoard, started the company as an international student from Iran in 2015.
ApplyBoard, an Ontario-based edutech company, snagged $55 million in series B funding. As more money is pouring into artificial intelligence-powered college counseling startups, ApplyBoard stands out from rivals by providing free services to international students.
“Right now, universities are basically giving us the money,” Martin Basiri, CEO of ApplyBoard, told Karma in an interview, noting that universities are investing in his company with the hope of promoting their brands among international students. Basiri told Karma that ApplyBoard plans to remain free for students, but might roll out a paid premium version in the future.
ApplyBoard’s raised reached $72 million to date after the series B funding, led by Anthos Capital, a California-based investment firm, and existing investor Artiman Ventures. Expanding from a 13-people team three years ago to 180 employees now, the company has experienced rapid growth over the years, planning to hire 100 more people with the new funding.
With more than $1 trillion spent on post high school education annually in the U.S., investors sensed opportunities in disrupting traditional college advisory companies. A decade ago, only 50% high school students have used a college-planning website, the number jumped to two-thirds now, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Algorithm for college-planning use data points including grades, tuition cost and students’ preference to match students with universities. ApplyBoard claims helped 45,000 students with a 95% acceptance rate. It provides services to China, Vietnam and India.
There are different business models among algorithm-powered college counseling startups. While ApplyBoard provide international students free services, CollegeVine, a Cambridge-based startup, charges between $880 to $3,800 for its algorithm-powered services, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Not all college education startups succeed. Kickwheel Co., a Palo Alto-based startup, shut down in December. Then there are questions about how well AI can serve the needs of women and minorities.
Other typical concerns for AI-powered advisory include that if AI and algorithms in general are well-suited to help people make life-altering decisions.
“The AI is not replacing human beings, it’s complementary,” said Basiri, adding that the goal of using algorithm to do sorting and matching is to “increase the efficiency of both students and universities.”
“The biggest risk for our industry is political change,”said Basiri, referring to the immigration policy headwinds in the U.S. recently.
The increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) I-9 audits last year has sparked a lot of anxiety in America’s immigrant community, according to Andy J. Semotiuk, a U.S. and Canadian immigration attorney. He told Karma that the college-planning services for international students is beneficial to countries like U.S. and Canada, as it expands the pool of skilled workers.
In fact, an estimated 55% of the billion-dollar startups have an immigrant founder.
“All my passion is to make education more accessible for students like me who may not have access to good education,” Basiri said.