Edtech unicorn ApplyBoard has made its first acquisition – the purchase of Panda Portal, a platform that helps independent recruiters learn more about the schools, colleges and universities they promote to international students.
“This is part of a series of initiatives we have taken to help provide the best level of quality and training of our recruitment partners and ultimately help students receive stellar advice and service through their application journey,” said Meti Basiri, Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Kitchener-based ApplyBoard.
Terms of the acquisition were not released but ApplyBoard said it plans to rebrand Panda Portal as TrainHub and operate it as a stand-alone platform. The acquisition adds 10 employees to ApplyBoard’s 1,500 staff worldwide.
Jimmy Battaglia, founder of Toronto-based Panda Portal, will be staying on as Head of TrainHub.
“It is exciting to now be part of one of the most dynamic technology companies in the world,” Battaglia said. “Remaining a stand-alone platform, with the backing and support of ApplyBoard, will allow TrainHub to continue to expand and bring our product and services to more schools, and more recruitment partners, who play a vital role in helping students navigate their study abroad journey.”
ApplyBoard was founded in 2015 by brothers Martin, Meti and Massi Basiri, all of whom moved to Waterloo Region from Iran for their post-secondary education. Their experience led them to see an opportunity to simplify the study abroad search, application and acceptance process by connecting students, recruiters and academic institutions on one platform.
Their company has raised more than CDN$600 million over the past seven years and is valued at CDN$4 billion. Its rapid growth has so far been achieved through internal product creation and business development. The acquisition of Panda Portal is the first time that ApplyBoard has purchased an existing company to augment its growth strategy.
In an interview, CEO Martin Basiri said the decision boiled down to the quality of the team at Panda and the platform’s alignment with ApplyBoard’s mission, which is to remove barriers for students as they travel along their “study abroad journey.”
“The biggest barrier is (lack of) information,” he said. “One of the most common paths for international students is to get help from counsellors or agencies for their study abroad application. The problem is, these agencies and counsellors also don’t have as much (knowledge of the) application (process). So, they constantly have to do research and talk to people.”
The Panda/TrainHub portal provides a platform that enables educational institutions to post program and application information in a variety of languages, which can then be used by independent recruiters in different countries to assist international students in choosing the right school and program.
The acquisition of the training platform dovetails with ApplyBoard’s recent efforts to improve the knowledge of independent recruiting agents.
ApplyBoard has invested more than US$1 million over the past year in training and professional development of recruitment partners through its ApplyBoard Counsellor Course (ABCC). The program provides recruiters with enhanced knowledge of educational opportunities and requirements in specific countries. The certification program is part of a two-year commitment by ApplyBoard to invest a minimum of US$10 million in training and enablement of the sector, the company said.
ApplyBoard, which says it has helped more than 300,000 students in 125 countries to date, is pursuing its student-focused mission in a variety of ways. Earlier this month, it teamed with RBC to adapt its ApplyProof document verification process to help international students demonstrate that they have the necessary finances to support themselves while studying in Canada.
Meanwhile, Martin Basiri said ApplyBoard continues to look for acquisitions that strengthen the company and further its mission.
“The most important thing is team and alignment,” he said. “As you know, the majority of acquisitions fail, so we are in no rush to make acquisitions that are not going to be successful. We want to make good decisions, we want to bring in the best teams and we want to empower them internally to make them successful.”