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Velocity alum ApplyBoard reinvents international university recruitment and secures $2 billion (CAD) valuation

On May 4, Velocity alumnus ApplyBoard announced that it has secured $100 million in CAD (or $75 million in USD) in Series C funding. The company is now valued at $2 billion (CAD), marking the third time [1] a Velocity-incubated startup has achieved the highly-coveted  “unicorn” status—when a private company is valued at a billion dollars or more. 

“ApplyBoard shows, once again, why incubating a startup at Velocity makes significant difference in the long-run. We are pleased that many of our alumni continue to do an incredible job navigating such a tough economic environment,” says John Cappuccitti, Director of Velocity Incubator. 

ApplyBoard is looking to hire at least 100 more employees, adding to their current total of around 400 employees. [2]

The ApplyBoard founders journey from hobby to startup

The ApplyBoard story began when founders, Martin, Meti and Massi Basiri, recognized the difficulty of securing information from school application to visa as international students at the University of Waterloo in 2010. The brothers, originally from Iran, wanted to solve this problem as it hit close to home. Beginning in 2012, they started to operate a version of ApplyBoard as a hobby.

In 2015, they founded ApplyBoard as a startup and entered Velocity with a mission to make education accessible to more students across the globe. They believe that education is a human right for everyone. 

Don’t think that Velocity is only free office space and desks, it is way more than that. Velocity is the best ecosystem in town to grow your idea into a company. Always use the free mentorship as much as you can and try to talk to other companies and founders – you never know how other companies might be able to help you or for you to help them. There are many talented people in Velocity, and you have the chance to meet and learn from them.

Martin Basiri, CEO & Co-founder, ApplyBoard

The founders’ work ethic is legendary, and so is their ability to motivate their employees to work hard. According to Meti Basiri, Co-founder of Applyboard, “Work hard, and when you see someone not working as hard, that’s the best motivation to work even harder. If you believe you’re solving a problem, that’s all that matters. Just make it happen.”

Scaling up a future edtech giant as a Velocity alum

Since the founders were solving a critical problem, the company grew rapidly—expanding from working with 8 schools to over 165 schools in North America in 2016. When ApplyBoard launched from Velocity, the fast-growing startup had users in 80 countries.

Their incredible momentum has continued year-over-year since achieving the Velocity alum status. In 2017, ApplyBoard counted over 400 education institutions as partners, positioning it to raise over $17 million (CAD) in Series A funding. In 2019, ApplyBoard became the world’s largest platform for international student recruitment to Canada and the United States, achieving growth of 12,526%, according to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50. It also secured $55 million (CAD) in Series B funding. In 2020, the global scale-up named Jo Johnson, younger brother of UK prime minister Boris Johnson, as the Advisory Board Chairman.

“ApplyBoard is just one of the many Velocity companies and alumni that are poised to achieve such global prominence,” says Adrien Côté, Executive Director of Velocity.

ApplyBoard and Velocity

As most successful startup stories go, there are rarely any overnight successes. Even as a company generating over $300 million in sales annually, the founders still credit Velocity and remember their early days fondly.

Of course, Velocity offers much more than just free space. “Don’t think that Velocity is only free office space and desks, it is way more than that. Velocity is the best ecosystem in town to grow your idea into a company. Always use the free mentorship as much as you can, and try to talk to other companies and founders – you never know how other companies might be able to help you, or for you to help them. There are many talented people in Velocity, and you have the chance to meet and learn from them,” explained Martin Basiri in 2016, when ApplyBoard launched from Velocity. 

ApplyBoard founders are still very generous and take time to give back to the Velocity community. Case in point: when a flight cancellation led to an incomplete judging panel for the Velocity Fund Pitch Competition Winter 2020, Martin Basiri stepped in at the very last minute and allowed the competition to continue without a hitch.

“Alumni like Martin are what the Velocity community is all about. We’re incredibly fortunate to have founders like him. Our community always comes together in both good times and bad. This makes me hopeful and grateful,” says Briton Burgio, Community Manager at Velocity.

Edtech in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor 

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, multiple edtech products and services are experiencing an incredible surge in usage, which in turn, is leading to an increase in investment momentum. HolonIQ, a global education market intelligence firm, predicts that the global edtech market will reach $341 billion by 2025.

While there has always been a thriving edtech ecosystem with over 100 startups in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, ApplyBoard shines as one of the brightest and places itself along with edtech stalwarts like Top Hat (a graduate of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre) and Velocity-incubated Kira Talent (with founder Emilie Cushman). ApplyBoard’s revenue model is most similar to that of one of the more successful edtech exits from the corridor, Embanet Knowledge Group, which sold for $200 million in 2007. [3]

“Education has aspired to be virtualized for awhile, and the recent world events have just propelled the edtech sector into high gear, inspiring legacy systems to try new things,” says Ryan McCartney, the CEO & Co-founder of LumenEd.io, a current Velocity startup with a mission to remove administrative obstacles for tutoring companies. The startup has recently provided free virtual classrooms to Carizon.ca, a Pathwaystoeducation.ca provider, connecting tutors to underserved kids who are impacted by the pandemic.

Footnotes:

[1] Kik was valued at over a billion with its $50 million (USD) raise in 2015. Faire was valued at over a billion with its $150 million (USD) raise in 2019. Velocity announced in November 2019 that companies and alumni had collectively raised over $1 billion (CAD) in private investment.

[2] Businesses with more than 500 employees are classified as large businesses in Canada.

[3] Embanet was eventually sold to education industry giant Pearson in 2012 as EmbanetCompass for $650 million.