Edtech startup Cialfo raises US$3m in Series A funds for US expansion

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CIALFO, a college admissions platform headquartered in Singapore, has raised US$3 million in equity for its Series A round led by DLF Venture, with support from Enterprise Singapore investment arm Seeds Capital, YK Capital and angel investors.

DLF Venture is a family-owned holding company based in Luxemburg. It focuses on edtech, healthcare, food and beverage, and digital and media. YK Capital is the private investment vehicle of a Singapore family office, focusing on seed to Series B investments in fintech, medtech and edtech.

The round takes Cialfo's total funding to date to over US$5 million, and follows Cialfo's sale of its consulting business to Singapore-based group ChangedEdu in 2017.

The fresh capital will be used for Cialfo's US expansion, where it has broken into the top three US providers of college admissions platforms. The startup plans to raise Series B funds by late 2020 to support its global expansion.

Cialfo's platform helps with the college admissions process by collating key information of schools around the world, Stanley Chia, co-founder and COO (chief operating officer) of Cialfo, told BT. It also collects data points of successful and rejected applications, which allows the platform to suggest whether a school and major would be a good fit for a potential applicant.

Cialfo is integrated with Common Application, the undergraduate college admission system used throughout the US for sending in documents electronically.

About 400 institutions in more than 40 countries use Cialfo, said Mr Chia. These users are predominantly based in Asia, but the company is eyeing the US - the largest market for college admissions.

Early adopters in the US include Castilleja School (Palo Alto, California), Episcopal Academy (Newtown Square, Pennsylvania), Loyola High School of Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California).

François-Xavier de Mevius, principal at DLF Venture, said: "What convinced us about Cialfo was their ability to disrupt the (admissions) counselling market, by going back to the core: an obsessive focus on the customer.

"The entire platform is built around its users (counsellors, students and parents) and by offering 24/7 customer support, they bring average response times down from days to just hours. Education counsellors love the platform, spending on average six hours per day on it. Students love it too, averaging two to three hours per week in research and admissions-related tasks."

In the last 15 months, there was a 20 times increase in the number of students using the platform, to about 100,000. The firm expects to grow the number to 500,000 by year end.

Revenue has tripled year on year. The company said it is targeting a US$2 billion addressable market for its services globally. It works with a multi-year subscription model.

As Cialfo expands, the goal is to be able to use artificial intelligence and Big Data to do predictive matching of students to educational resources, Mr Chia said. He explained that besides grades, the international admissions process takes into account what students are doing to strengthen their career pursuit.

So by analysing the strengths and weaknesses of an applicant, the platform can suggest resources such as internships, online courses or competitions that the student can tap to beef up their profile.

Competition in the US is stiff, said Mr Chia. But unlike its competitors, Cialfo's platform is able to better tailor itself to the needs of each school based on the school's available resources.

"The flexibility and customisability to every school is much more rigorous," he said.

Cialfo is also working with several international admissions counsellors to design programmes for students. The company now has a global headcount of 25, expected to double in the next year, with offices in Singapore, New York, Beijing and New Delhi.

In Singapore, its customers include the Singapore American School and Hwa Chong Institution.


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