Student housing startup UniAcco wants to make studying abroad hassle-free
While accommodation is its primary product, Mumbai-based startup UniAcco also offers property consultation and helps Indian students with visas, loans, concierge services, and guarantors.
The dream of studying abroad does not end with getting through the best college. While moving outside the country for higher education can be extremely beneficial and a great learning experience, it often comes with its own set of challenges. Moving to a new country can often get intimidating for a lot of individuals.
Amit Singh, Co-founder and Director of Adventum Offshore, an investment and wealth management firm, realised this while interacting with his clients.
“I was investing in the sector on behalf of my clients in the US and UK. While interacting with various stakeholders, I was exposed to the challenges that their children faced while finding the right accommodation abroad,” says the 42-year-old entrepreneur.
With this as his inspiration, Amit got interested in the student accommodation space and started researching about the same. At the same time, in September 2019, IIT-Roorkee drop-out Sayatan Biswas, who had just quit his job at AmberStudent, a student accommodation startup, reached out to Amit.
Initially, Sayatan met Amit regarding investment opportunities in his potential startup. However, the discussion soon shifted to building a student potential platform.
The duo founded a cross-border student accommodation startupin October 2019. Based out of Mumbai, UniAcco aims to make studying abroad a hassle-free process. It uses innovative product solutions, optimised sales models, and better algorithmic demand generation.
Amalgamation of like-minds
Amit has over two decades of experience in the financial services and real estate sector. He has previously worked with companies including Birla Sunlife Asset Management, Standard Chartered Bank, IDFC Investment Advisors, and Tata AMC. He co-founded Adventum Offshore, and while at present, he is not entirely associated with the firm, Amit still holds equity in the company.
In 2017, Sayantan dropped out of the Mechanical Engineering course from IIT-Roorkee after getting accepted for the Thiel Fellowship Summit. He has previously headed the sales and marketing for home rental startup Fella Homes. Before co-founding UniAcco, he was a core team member and the Vice President of Sales at AmberStudent.
“One of the biggest challenges a student faces while choosing the right accommodation is the transition from a comfortable home environment to an unknown or rather new surrounding,” Amit says.
UniAcco’s motto is ‘Compare-Consult-Choose,’ and it aims to make this transition as easy as possible for students and their parents. The startup’s name is an amalgamation of the words ‘University’ and ‘Accommodation.’ At present, the startup has a 50-member strong team.
Marketplace for student accommodation
The startup works as a marketplace. It partners with Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) providers on the supply side and lists them on its website. On the demand side, it connects students looking for accommodation to PBSAs.
While accommodation is the primary product of UniAcco, it also provides property consultation. Further, it helps students with visas, student loans, concierge services, and guarantors.
To make the process hassle-free, UniAcco also provides airport pick-up services and pre-activated overseas SIM cards for students. It has partnered with the likes of HDFC Credila, Avanse Financial Services, and Barclays Partner Finance for these services.
“These services are provided free of cost; we do not charge the students. Our primary source of revenue comes from the accommodation partners or PBSAs,” Amit adds.
Amit initially invested Rs 1.5 crore in UniAcco. His company, Adventum Offshore, has committed a $1 million investment in the startup.
UniAcco’s platform has listed 1,50,000 rooms by 40 operators across the UK and Europe. It went live on January 15 this year, and so far, it has already completed 75 bookings in the UK.
“Currently, most of these are short semester-led bookings. The full-time bookings start in March and go until August. Those are usually 44 to 52 weeks long bookings,” Amit adds.
The website through which bookings are done has received 20,000 clicks so far, and by April 2020, Amit is targeting to attract 80,000 students. The platform provides a plethora of options, flexible contracts, and payment options with round-the-clock assistance over chat, email, and call.
Rent for accommodation in the UK is between 120 and 175 pounds per week. UniAcco charges one to two weeks of rent, which is up to four percent of the rent (long-term bookings) charged by the PBSAs.
Moreover, Amit says, “We are providing a one-stop-shop to international students where the post-admission services are taken care of by a verified team.”
The student housing space
According to Statista, the student housing industry across India stood at Rs 12.67 billion in 2018 and is estimated to reach Rs 24 billion by 2020.
At present, UniAcco competes with players like Unilodgers, University Living, Student.com, AmberStudent, Nestaway’s Hello World, and Fella Homes. However, Amit believes UniAcco has a differentiator to offer. He feels that its USP lies in the freedom that it offers to students to compare accommodations and arrive at the most suitable match.
“The UK is the most mature PBSA market in the world, and it has more than five lakh beds to offer. Our Indian competitors can fill only 50,000 of these beds. There is a huge market to explore,” he says.
Currently focusing on the UK market, Amit plans to start operations in Australia, the USA, and Canada soon. UniAcco will be entering the Indian market in 2021.
“We are looking at selling about one million nights this year and approximately three million nights by 2021,” Amit says. It plans to raise its Series A round in 2021.
(Edited by Suman Singh)