UCL-backed company helps millions of students choose the best university for them
Unibuddy is transforming the way students choose their place of study, and how universities recruit them, with its interactive digital platform.
23 September 2021
Co-founded by UCL alumnus Kimeshan Naidoo and Diego Fanara, the company has raised $32 million in investment and is working in partnership with 500 universities in 35 countries. The company employs 130 staff.
Prospective students can chat and interact with existing students through the Unibuddy platform. Nine out of 10 students who use the platform felt more confident about their university choice, according to user feedback.
Understanding the student experience
Both co-founders moved from overseas to the UK. Kimeshan studied an MSc in Computer Science at UCL (graduating in 2016) and Diego a BSc in Investment and Financial Risk Management at Bayes Business School.
Their idea for Unibuddy was born out of their frustration in trying to make an informed university choice and not knowing what it’s like to study at a particular institution. They also realised that this makes it difficult for universities to recruit effectively and market their unique offerings.
Kimeshan, who is now Chief Technology Officer as well as co-founder at Unibuddy, comments:
“Current students are a university’s best asset in terms of being ambassadors of the student experience. We found that many universities already had student ambassadors, but they were only using them in offline mediums, at open day tours, career fairs, orientations. They weren't actually leveraging that online. So what we did was provide a way for them to bring their ambassadors onto an online platform that was designed for them.”
Through Unibuddy, prospective students can chat and interact with student ambassadors from partner institutions to get a better sense of various aspects of the student experience. This might be related to degree subject matter, workload, social life, or even specific to a community, such as an international student group from a particular region or country.
Developing a business model
Unibuddy partners with universities and colleges on a subscription basis. They launched with just five universities in 2017 and have grown exponentially to 500 partners.
The secret of their success is in making their platform easy for universities to implement on their own websites, and for prospective students and ambassadors to interact. Many universities embed a Unibuddy widget on their webpage for prospective students, allowing visitors to sign up and almost immediately chat with current students. Website metrics show that on average around 10 to 15% of all visitors to the student pages sign up.
“When you compare that to other mediums like email marketing or Google advertisements that have a call to action, those engagement rates are usually 1% or lower. So if you're looking at the stats as a student recruitment or marketing officer, it makes your decision much easier. You can't go back to 1% once you've seen 10%. So I would say the proof is in the pudding so to speak.”
Looking at one institution in detail, they found that students who used Unibuddy were 34.8% more likely to actually enrol on a course than those who did not.
Harnessing the potential of an idea
Kimeshan’s Master’s dissertation project at UCL was “essentially an early version of Unibuddy,” he explains. Linking up with Diego he was able to establish the company at BaseKX, UCL’s dedicated entrepreneurship hub, run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. With the free, tailored support and office space they were able to grow the company further. Staff there also helped Kimeshan in obtaining a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, meaning he could continue growing the company in the UK after graduating.
From BaseKX the company moved into IDEALondon. This is UCL’s flagship tech hub (in partnership with EDF and Capital Enterprise) in the capital. It gives new businesses the support they need to grow in a commercially focused environment.
Since its inception in 2017, Unibuddy has raised a total of $32 million, including $20 million in a series B round led by Highland Europe, with further participation from Stride.VC.
Thanks to the funding, Unibuddy is now hoping to expand to partner with over 1500 universities in the next 12 to 18 months, and recruit at least an additional 100 staff in-house. By 2025 the aim is to empower 10 million students to progress on their higher education journey.
Find out more about:
- Unibuddy (overview video on YouTube)
- Entrepreneurship support for UCL students and graduates
- Education technology firm supported by UCL raises $20m in funding
Photo © Unibuddy