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Want to Go to Princeton? This Asian Start-up Shows You How

Singaporean edtech start-up taps Asia’s big study abroad market

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BY Tanya Mariano - 19 Aug 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

College application can be a grueling process of scrambling to meet deadlines, compounded by the occasional self-doubt that comes with assessing your young life’s achievements (or lack thereof).

The process may be harder for students in Asia who want to study in top universities abroad. Says Rohan Pasari, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based education technology start-up Cialfo, “When you look at American students looking to enter American colleges, it's not so much a different process for them. It comes more naturally. However, for Asian students, this is not something that they're used to.”

This is what Cialfo wants to change.

Through their online platform and mobile app, they want to automate and streamline the process of applying to universities in the U.S. and the U.K. Students are matched with a counselor who can guide them through crafting their essays, preparing for tests and interviews, securing letters of recommendation, and fulfilling other such requirements. Their platform even runs an algorithm that tells students which universities fit them best.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, China is the top country of origin of internationally mobile students, or those who leave home to study abroad, with 712,157 students in 2014, followed by India with 181,872. Malaysia is ranked eighth with 56,260, followed by Vietnam with 53,546. The U.S. and the U.K. remain the top destination countries, hosting 19% and 10% of mobile students, respectively.

The company prides itself in having successfully placed students in universities like Oxford, Harvard, and Cambridge. Some of its investors include Temasek board member and former DBS Bank, Singtel, and Singapore Airlines Chairman Koh Boon Hwee, as well as Govin Capital CEO Anand Govindaluri.


From college consultants to Software as a Service

Cialfo – short for Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Latin phrase for “faster, higher, stronger” – was founded by Pasari and Stanley Chia in 2012 as a college counseling service that also offers an online tool to help students stay on top of their applications. But in the past few years, they’ve been focused on building the online platform and, about three months ago, pivoted their business model outside of Singapore into Software as a Service (SaaS). That is, they license their platform to other consultancies and educational institutions for a monthly subscription fee.

Says Pasari, their present priority is to partner with college counselors in China, India, and Vietnam. They still do consulting services in Singapore, but Pasari says they’re careful not to offer such services in other countries as that would put them in direct competition with their clients.


Online platform to stay on top of things

Cialfo’s platform has three main aspects. First is an automated college shortlisting algorithm. Pasari says, “We took in 10,000 data points from our students in Asia, then mapped what academic and extracurricular profile they need to get into top colleges in the U.S. and U.K.” This tells students which universities they're most suited to, but also which parts of their profile need strengthening in order to get into their dream school.

Second is a task management tool to oversee the entire application process. It displays in a clean interface the deadlines for the different schools the student is applying to, major requirements, and the smaller tasks that need to be completed in order to fulfill those requirements, among other things. Basically, it “[combines into a single platform] a bunch of things that students have to do over a period of six months to two years,” Pasari says.

The third aspect is communication management. “Managing communication is a huge pain point in this ecosystem,” says Pasari. “Right now, the communication between students, parents, and counselors is managed very randomly – over e-mail, WhatsApp, or SMS. Now, all of that happens through our mobile app and the platform itself. It makes it extremely convenient for parents to be updated on what's happening, and consultants are aware of their students’ progress.”

In China, Cialfo is working on a WeChat integration. For other markets, a Facebook bot is in the works.

Despite the obvious potential, Asia is still an untapped market when it comes to edtech, says Pasari. “There are consultancies offering these services in these localized markets,” he says, “but there is no tech solution to streamline the ecosystem in this part of the world.”

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