GraduFund aims to make higher education accessible with easy micro-financing optionsLibza Mannan
GraduFund offers AI-based, hassle-free micro-financing and career connect to graduates through web and mobile platforms, and has partnered with financiers, educators, and merchants to provide funding for higher education.
At a glance
Founder: Abhijit Onkar and Lalit Chawla
Year it was founded: 2017
Where is it based: Gurugram
The problem it solves: Micro-financing options for higher education
Funding raised: Angel
A report by KPMG and Google highlights that India’s edtech market is expected to touch $1.96 billion by 2021, with close to 9.6 million users, from $247 million and over 1.6 million users in 2016. Keeping the potential exponential growth in mind, several startups are on a mission to disrupt the sector with innovative offerings. Gurugram-based GraduFund is one of them - this fintech startup is working to make higher education accessible and affordable.
Established in 2017 and incubated in Haryana’s startup warehouse, GraduFund uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide hassle-free career guidance and micro-financing options to graduates through web and mobile channels.
Abhijit Onkar, Co-founder and CEO of GraduFund, says: “Our core strategy is to drive value for everyone in the education ecosystem through easy availability of micro-credit. It means increased enrollment rates and reduced dropout rates for educators, amplified loan portfolio and outreach technology for private lenders, and ultimately a hassle-free experience for the career savvy.”
GraduFund aims to tap the billion-dollar market through its effective screening practices, proprietary scoring model, and student-friendly platform. To deliver on its promise, the startup has partnered with financiers, educators, and merchants who offer great value to graduates and parents. Currently, the platform claims to have 100,000+ verified profiles, 20+ colleges, and is handling 1,000+ inquiries per week.
To suit the pockets of graduates and parents, the platform provides three graduate-friendly credit products. These include CreditBuilder (for financial emergencies), SmartGrad (to avoid financial shocks), and Parent+ (for parents). CreditBuilder, at 1.5 percent interest per month, allows three fund requests per month, offers one-day approval, and disburses a loan of up to Rs 10,000. SmartGrad has pre-qualified rates and converts monthly fees to EMI. Through SmartGrad, one can avail financing of up to Rs 2 lakh. Parent+, meanwhile, offers pre-qualified rates, and disburses loans of up to Rs 10 lakh.
To deliver on its promise of driving value for everyone in the education ecosystem, the platform is engaging graduates/students through curated content, high-utility career/course lists, and mentor connect. On the other end of the value chain, it has lenders and educators mapped to these profiles, enabling GraduFund to make customised recommendations.
Leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence, GraduFund has created an intelligent chatbot that converses with users, tries to understand and respond to users queries, all in real-time.
“We have developed a chatbot deployed on Facebook Messenger and other chat channels popular among our young cohort. The idea is to engage with customers where they like to hang around, rather than pushing an app and competing for space on their mobile,” Abhijit reveals.
GraduFund helps banks, NBFCs, and foundations to amplify outreach to pre-verified graduates and parents looking for customised financial products.
The platform aims to help schools and colleges increase enrolment rates and reduce drop-offs by on-boarding our custom financial aid programme. On the merchant side, it intends to increase average order value and conversion rate by 20 percent by making products affordable to more graduates.
GraduFund offerings can be accessed via both desktop and mobile platforms. In the desktop version, graduates can also create a profile and unlock their line of credit and career benefits in four steps and within four minutes.
The back story
“Having faced serious pain points around financing and guidance in my journey to do an engineering course and later an MBA, higher education affordability was definitely an area close to my heart,” Abhijit says.
The eureka moment came when one of the graduates Abhijit was personally mentoring on her career plans spoke about her troubles in choosing online certifications, and being able to afford her education without incurring the lumpsum payment shock. It made him realise that these were some of the common problems being faced by many graduate students. Soon after, Abhijit launched GraduFund in 2017 to address the everyday pain points of students in financing and mentoring. Lalit was initially helping GraduFund with his complementary skills in data science and joined the startup as the co-founder and CTO only last month.
“This market is still nascent and has not yet been cultivated by incumbents, which is a challenge. However, the aspiration to solve a real need has motivated us to consistently learn and grow,” Abhijit says.
The GraduFund team
Before this venture, Abhijit was in high-paying management consulting jobs delivering last-mile impact through innovations in design of financial incentives and operational processes. However, he was determined to take on bigger challenges by taking the entrepreneurial route. An ISB graduate, he has been a strategy consultant with Deloitte. With over 10 years of robust experience in various roles, he is primarily a relationship-oriented leader setting overall direction for the firm.
Besides Abhijit 34, the core team comprises of Lalit Chawla, 26 and Priyanka Das. Lalit, CTO and Tech Head at GraduFund, has experience in varied aspects of information technology: Analytics, API Development and Data Sciences. He has worked in multiple startups prior to joining GraduFund. In his last job, he worked on deep tech predictive analytics as Senior VP at Cron Systems. Priyanka is GraduFund’s Marketing Head, and has led multiple marketing campaigns and user research at Deloitte and Novartis.
Creating a niche
GraduFund is banking on its two-pronged business model – transaction and engagement - to create its own niche among other players micro-financing education such as Bengaluru-based Slice Pay, and Buddy.
“If we look at our competitors in a 2X2 matrix, with Transaction Focus at one end and Engagement Focus at the other, we attempt to score high on both areas,” Abhijit says.
GraduFund has received angel funding from HNIs and is planning to raise the next round of funds soon.
In 2017, GraduFund was among the top five alternative lenders from among 800 fintech firms at an Indian Banks' Association event, and made it to the top 10 in TiE Eduthon.
So far, the platform has a base of over 10,000 monthly users across web and mobile platforms.
Abhijit says they are handling over 1,000 queries per week.
“We have an exciting product roadmap ahead. We are planning to open our technology solutions and APIs to progressive lenders,” he adds.
Going ahead, the platform also plans to work on a product pipeline of tech-enabled channels to enable students to pay for education costs, and to upskill. It also intends to partner with progressive colleges and employers to help them attract the best talent using GraduFund solutions.