Education technology firm supported by UCL raises $20m in funding
16 July 2021
UCL-backed student recruitment platform, Unibuddy has received $20m (£14.5m) in funding to help fuel its global expansion.
UCL alumnus, Kimeshan Naidoo and co-founder, Diego Fanara, founded Unibuddy in 2015 after moving to the UK for university and realising the difficulties of adapting to a new country as a student.
The edtech company allows prospective university applicants to build meaningful connections with existing students and staff through chat, live events and top-tier partnerships with universities or higher education organisations, in order to recruit and engage them.
Popular discussions on the Unibuddy platform include issues such as fitting in, programmes of study, employability and admissions requirements.
Universities pay a subscription fee to use the service and the team has seen revenue almost quadruple over the pandemic.
As a result, Unibuddy has now raised an impressive $20m in funding in a series B round led by Highland Europe, with further participation from Stride.VC.
The site now works with more than 450 institutions in 35 countries worldwide, with around 12 million messages sent via its platform to date.
Its largest market is the UK where it works with more than 80 per cent of institutions. And in 2019, it also began a partnership with university admissions service, UCAS.
Kimeshan and Diego were supported at BaseKX – UCL’s entrepreneurship hub – between 2016 and 2017, where they received business advice and free office space.
From here, they moved into IDEALondon, UCL’s flagship tech hub in the capital, which gives new businesses the support they need to grow – whether it’s access to funding, the space to work or expert growth advice, all in a commercially focused environment.
Kimeshan, who graduated from UCL in 2016 with an MSc in Computer Science, said: “It feels surreal that we have raised $20m in funding.
“I feel excitement that is tempered by a strong feeling of responsibility and ownership to make sure we make the right decisions going forward and scale successfully.
“To me Unibuddy is an important tool because it democratises access to higher education information.
“Unibuddy allows a prospective student in a village in India or a favela in Brazil to speak to current students at prestigious universities like UCL or Cambridge. It allows anyone to access this insider knowledge and to dream big.”
He added: “Five years ago I was just excited to try and build a platform that could solve the problems I’d experienced myself.
“We didn’t have a business model or product-market fit so it was all about experimenting through a tight build-test-learn cycle.
“And, as a student from abroad, I needed a Graduate Entrepreneur visa to work on Unibuddy full time. So I pitched Unibuddy to UCL and they sponsored my visa.
“Today, while we have nearly 500 universities as customers around the globe and have helped close to one million students to decide where to study, I still believe we’re just getting started. We have a lot more students to impact positively around the world.”
Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) said: “Congratulations to Unibuddy on this well-deserved and impressive achievement. Kimeshan is a testament both to our international student community and entrepreneurship at UCL.
“The uptake of the Unibuddy platform proves what a valuable tool it is both for UK students and those overseas to prepare them for higher education.
“It is rewarding to see UCL’s comprehensive support for startups help Unibuddy to flourish.”
Thanks to the funding, Unibuddy is now hoping to expand, with a goal that they will be able to partner with over 1500 universities in the next 12 to 18 months.
They also plan to triple the size of their engineering team and expand their product suite.
On top of this, Kimeshan is also giving back as part of UCL’s mentor network at BaseKX, where he has come back to give talks and share his entrepreneurial journey with other UCL entrepreneurs.