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AFR: EdTech business booms during pandemic

Originally published in the AFR by Yolanda Redrup

Former Young Rich Lister Ryan Trainor’s latest start-up, a marketplace that connects universities with the lucrative international student market, is experiencing a growth surge thanks to COVID-19.

While universities across the country are cutting jobs because of the pandemic, Mr Trainor’s Adventus.io subscription marketplace has been signing up one new global university a day and has added 300 new channel partners in the past two weeks.

“While COVID-19 has been challenging [for universities], they are now getting prepared for 2021. Especially in the second half of 2021, we expect there to be pent up demand,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

“The growth has led to us fielding interest from strategic investors, particularly from North America and Asia.”

Adventus.io lets universities reach international student recruiters, while helping the recruiters find the right courses for the students.

As many as 1.85 million people are expected to start degrees in foreign countries in 2021, thanks to many deferring in 2020, a recent EY report says.

International students use recruiters

While the company has already raised $12 million through a seed and Series A round, it is now targeting a Series B raise, which it expects to be above $15 million at a minimum.

Mr Trainor, who founded the venture alongside his brother, Lincoln, Victor Rajeevan, and Richard Uren in 2018, launched the marketplace after discovering that 70 percent of international students globally used a recruiter, but the vast majority of these recruiters had less than 30 partnerships with universities globally.

On top of this, Mr Trainor said one in three international students ended up swapping courses part way through their degree.

“There was a systemic challenge where students were going to their recruitment agents and just being placed in universities they had a partnership with,” he said.

“From the university’s perspective, it was hard to discern who was a great agent, how to source new students from new regions and find agents to represent them.

“Like Booking.com, think of it as listing inventory – seats in courses – and then forming a marketplace where you enable the agents to use smart tools to access and place students in courses all around the world.”

A serial entrepreneur, Adventus is not Mr Trainor’s first rodeo running an edtech start-up.

Mr Trainor’s previous ventures include global online business school BSchool, work-based vocational education company Franklyn Scholar (acquired by Kaplan Australia in 2011), and beauty education business Beauty EDU.

He is also the former vice-president of Carlton Football Club.

For his latest business, Mr Trainor has already brought on board Richard Forbes’ 333 Capital and Radek Sali as investors, as well as tipping in capital personally with the other co-founders. Mr Forbes was previously involved with Mr Trainor through the sale of Franklyn Scholar.

“In less than 12 months we’ve grown from a team of 14 through to 150 and we have 14 offices,” Mr Trainor said.

“COVID-19 has been devastating for so many, but for us it’s fast tracked the conversations around how we’re supporting universities and we’re now signing up one university a day globally.”

More than 480 global universities have joined the Adventus marketplace to date and Mr Trainor’s goal is for the platform to have placed 50,000 international students in university courses within the next four years.

Real momentum

By the end of the year, he intends to have at least 1000 “channel partners” on the platform. These range from student recruitment agencies through to international schools and English schools in Asia, which have been signing up to the marketplace to help provide careers and education counselling to their students.

“Our goal is to make the complex simple and the simple compelling. We want to take the complexity out of the process for all parties in the marketplace,” Mr Trainor said.

“At the moment there is an over-reliance on source countries like China and there was the inability for universities to travel and work out how to access students from around the world.

“With some universities also reducing staff now, it’s created this real momentum.”

So far, he says, most interest is coming from investors in the US and Asia.

Having spent 25 years in the education sector running his own businesses, Mr Trainor said he’s learnt the critical thing is getting the right mix of people.

“You need a mix of good thinkers and executionists. Sometimes you can get too many executionists.”

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