Edtech startup Cialfo closes pre-Series A investment in round led by Govin Capital

Visual of Cialfo homepage. August 2016

Singapore-based educational technology startup Cialfo, which claims to have successfully places over ninety percent of its students in Top 50 U.S. and Top 30 U.K. universities, said Thursday that it has raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A funding.

The round was led by Singapore-based Govin Capital. Co-investors include Koh Boon Hwee, who has served as the chairman of Singtel, DBS Bank and Singapore Airlines and other unnamed  angel investors.

Incepted in 2012 by co-founders Rohan Pasari and Stanley Chia, the aim was to render tertiary education more accessible to students; streamlining the US and UK university application process on an online platform with the addition of mentoring was the outco

Speaking on the development, Koh shared: “Cialfo’s vision to democratize university admissions is admirable. Every student deserves the best education they can get; it remains the single most important decision for a young person today. Cialfo is trying to use technology to help them secure that opportunity.”

According to the company, this investment will drive expansion across China, India and Southeast Asia, with an expanded Asian footprint through its SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform offering to education institutions and private college counsellors. Additionally, the product will be further developed and its team expanded.

In email communications to DEALSTREETASIA, Pasari, who serves as CEO, remarked, “Our current focus is Asia. However, depending on the market opportunities, we might be keen to explore those markets in perhaps 3-5 years,” when asked about overlooked markets like universities in Scandinavian nations and Russia, as well as a potential footprint in East African growth markets.

Currently, its platform is accessible on the web and as a mobile app on iOS and Android platforms. When asked about future offerings, Pasari told DEALSTREETASIA: “We have a Facebook Messenger bot that gives user information about university applications and helps them shortlist universities based on their profile. It’s live but still under testing before we start to market it.”

“We are integrating our platform on WeChat for our users in China. We are also integrating a discovery portal for skill development and learning opportunities into the platform by connecting supplemental education providers across the region,” he added.

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Funding, growth & culture

In October 2014, the startup raised a $800,000 seed investment from Singapore Health Management, followed by an additional $400,000. This brings it total equity financing raised to an amount in excess of $1.2 million.

Commenting on the investment, Pasari said, “Cialfo has seen remarkable growth the last four years; we now look to accelerate through strategic partnerships beyond Singapore and Southeast Asia.”

He added, “Cialfo now works with some of the leading private college counsellors and high schools across Singapore, China, Vietnam, and India. We will now reach more students, tapping into the multi-billion dollar a year opportunity of helping Asian students find their ideal university.”

In his interaction with DEALSTREETASIA, when asked about their mission-oriented goals, he elaborated: “Yes, we are very much driven by our mission, and our company values are derived from a mix of that mission and our personal values. We have designed our recruitment interview process such that we hire people who have the same values and are driven by the same mission.

Pasari continues, “That translates into how we work on our product, how we deal with our clients, and how we conduct on a day-to-day basis. For example, Cialfo is short for Citius Altius Fortius (the Olympic motto), which in Latin stands for Faster, Higher, Stronger. We use this motto to inspire the students and businesses we work with and importantly encourage all our team members to aspire towards a better version of themselves.”

Explaining that a mix of both individual and collective responsibility were involved in the process, he ssaid, “We empower the people to take responsibilities and push themselves to do things they otherwise did not think they could, and at the same time get the larger team to hold each other accountable for the success of their peers.”

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Market ecosystems,future prospects

With an annual market for Asian students enrolling into US and UK universities pegged at US$4 billion, this quantum goes increases to US$80 billion per year for global students enrolling into universities. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), around 627,306 Asian students studied in the U.S. in 2014-15. Of these, 304,040 originated from China and 132,888 from India.

Meanwhile, The British Council estimates 493,570 international students are in UK, as of the 2013/2014 period, of which 92,915 (18.8 per cent) and 21,000 (4.3 per cent) are from China and India respectively. Forty million students enter university every year; this is expected to double by 2025.

Cialfo claims that 97 per cent of students on its platform are admitted into Top 50 US universities and 54 per cent into Top 10 universities, while 91 per cent of Cialfo’s students are admitted into the Top 30 U.K. universities and 48 per cent into the Top 5 universities. The company claims that its acceptance rates in 2016 have increased by 27 per cent compared to 2015, and 59 per cent compared to 2014.

Anand Govindaluri, Founder and CEO of Govin Capital & Board Director, Cialfo, said: “Working with thousands of students in Singapore, and across Asia, Cialfo’s understanding of the pain points faced by educational institutes, consultancies, and students has enabled it to build innovative platforms and tools that are seeing rapid uptake within the education ecosystem.”

When queried about how most of his current funding was sourced from angel networks rather than venture capitalists in Singapore, Pasari shared with DEALSTREETASIA: “The venture capital ecosystem has matured rapidly in the last two years or so. There is a lot more funding available, but I’d say it’s still very early for edtech.”

He added, “Most investors don’t have experience with edtech startups and hence Singapore receives a very tiny fraction of the global edtech funding. In comparison, China received over 30 per cent of global edtech funding in 2015. However, there is an increasing interest in edtech over in Singapore, and we hope we can pave the way for other edtech startups that come up in Singapore.”

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