Startup Spotlight: StudyAtlas

We think the North East of England is one of the best places in the world to start a business so we love it when we hear about people from other countries choosing it as a base for their startup. One of the most exciting to do this in recent years is global EdTech platform StudyAtlas which is run by husband and wife team Asanka Jayaweera and Buddhika Herath.

Buddikha Herath and Asanka Jayaweera (StudyAtlas)

1. Hi Asanka / Buddhika, can you please give us a brief overview of your business?

StudyAtlas is an innovative concept, B2B & B2C business model which is designed to provide solutions to the core issues of the current global student placement and admission processing system.

StudyAtlas aims to become a complete one-stop source for prospective international students to explore, compare and apply to courses around the world. We are disrupting the international student recruitment industry by fully automating the admissions and placement process for students and universities.

StudyAtlas is designed to support international students to navigate their way through the process of researching, applying and moving to study abroad. The product offers potential students a truly global agent, replacing the current dependency on local individual agents and offers universities, access to a much larger pool of international talent.

Sign up for StudyAtlas

2. Who is your target audience and how do you help them?

Our target audience are for both prospective international students, as well as students progressing from secondary education to higher education, and universities.

We work closely with prospective international students to improve the application and enhance their chances at acceptance to their chosen university programme.

We intend to work closely with the universities in-order to resolve core issues of the current global student placement and admissions processing system and help students with a vision of making higher education accessible and study choice transparent globally.

Our services will have advanced tools to ease the entire student placement process that will range from the initial search through to the university enrolment and beyond. The platform is 100% transparent and will help reduce market corruption and give full access to students to go through the entire student user journey on their own. We want to provide a soft landing to students for their chosen study destination.

The platform supports universities through marketing, recruitment and placement strategies with easy and effective tools. StudyAtlas will be a convenient online recruitment and marketing partner for the universities to maximise the student recruitment numbers, showcase their programmes and promote events to a global audience. Further, it processes quality applications to the universities through a screening process from the StudyAtlas admin which ensure a higher conversion rate.

With the launch of our beta version platform in October 2018, StudyAtlas has a vision of expanding globally with the aim of supporting hundreds of thousands of students around the world.

3. When was the business established, how many people are in your team & where are they based?

StudyAtlas derived from a company called ABI which was originally founded in Sri Lanka in 2006 by our founders.

The business was established in the UK in April 2016 under the name of The Universities and Colleges Application Processing Services Limited (UCAPS) and was recently re-branded as Study Atlas Limited (StudyAtlas) for its beta release in the first week of October 2018.

There are currently 7 core members in our team:

  • Asanka Jayaweera (Founder & CEO)
  • Buddhika Herath (Founding Partner & COO)
  • Douglas Jones (Head of Partnerships)
  • James Hanson (UX & UI)
  • Chris Jennings (Lead Developer)
  • Andrew Donaghy (Brand Strategy)
  • Sachintha Kaalambaarachchi (CPO)

Furthermore, Will Murray, former Chief Product Officer at Turnitin, recently joined the board as a Non-Executive Director. Will successfully ran his own business nLearning, selling it to Turnitin in 2010 and then helped sell Turnitin to Insight Venture Partners for $750M. His UK team secured nearly 100% of UK universities as Turnitin customers and has developed significant adoption in Europe. Will’s team also established the world’s largest international conference on plagiarism, showcasing best practices to a worldwide audience.

With our upcoming investment raise, we are expecting to double our UK team within the next 3 months.

Further we have 10 operational team members from our existing business ABI who are now part of StudyAtlas’ founding team in Sri Lanka, who help us with our offshore operations to handle application processing, data, tech and student support.

4. What motivated or inspired you to start the business?

We have been in the student recruitment space for over a decade and identified some of the main pressing issues in the international student recruitment industry.

These are:

  • There is no comprehensive one-stop source where undergraduate, postgraduate and professional courses could be found, compared and applied to at an international level.
  • The information sources available are few and limited. Those which do exist are at best, at the national level (UK – UCAS)
  • With such limited resources; finding, comparing programmes and mapping qualification internationally is a time consuming and strenuous activity.
  • 80% of the international students choose to consult a student counsellor or an agent to get guidance; talk to a friend or relative to get their opinion or contact few universities to seek advice on selecting the right course or university.
  • Here the advice that the student would receive may not be accurate. In many instances, the student consultant will express only their personal opinion, the agent may talk more about the institution that pay the higher commission structure, the friend or relave may only know about the university where they have studied and the universities will only talk about their own unique selling points.
  • On top of the university commissions, most agents do charge an additional fee from students for their services.
    International student placement system is not transparent in many markets and this leads to corruption.
    None of the above sources will give the right information for the students where no trustful resources are available to find out the course, university or college that best matches their needs and potential.

This is what has inspired us to form StudyAtlas and it’s a result of our 13 years of hands on experience on operations, talking to hundreds of universities, meeting hundreds of thousands of students and 2 years of in-depth research and developments in the UK on the project to find solutions to the above. StudyAtlas beta is our first phase of development towards this purpose.

5. Where did you go for help or advice when you first started out?

We initially thought of starting this as a university research project but after understanding the scope and the potential of the business, the university directed us to Department for International Trade (DIT) to get further advice and support. After several assessment and due diligence processes, we were accepted for DIT’s Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP) which helps overseas entrepreneurs and early stage technology businesses or startups that want to relocate their business to the UK.

We are proud to be the first Sri Lankan business to be accepted for the GEP. We received tremendous advice and support from DIT as well as from our Dealmaker, Simon Sprince (Curator Technologies & Focus Innovation). This advice and direction has supported us a lot to successfully establish the business in the UK. This guidance and advice is valuable especially when coming from another part of the world.

Thereafter; Simon introduced us to Douglas Jones from Tech North (now Tech Nation) who introduced us to the tech community in Newcastle upon Tyne. As a result of these introductions and along with the support from Simon, we managed to successfully secure an equity deal with our tech partner Layers Studio in order to build StudyAtlas (beta).

Further, in order to work full-time on StudyAtlas, I was endorsed by Tech City UK for the prestigious Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa for Digital Technology and my wife, Founding Partner of StudyAtlas has also been successful in obtaining the Exceptional Talent dependent visa which has the same rights and this has allowed us to work full time on the product.

Also down the line, I would like to thank Blu Sky Chartered Accountants for the initial financial advice and support, Particular Legal for startup legal advice, Colin Tan (Director of Operations, Tuspark Eagle Lab & Programme Director of the Tuspark Dotforge China scaleup accelerator) and Justin Souter (Souter Consulting Limited) part of Digital Futures. We also got great advisory support from Newcastle City Library.

6. We think the North East of England is a great place to start or grow a business. Do you agree & if so, why?

Yes, the friendly tech community has supported us a lot to reach up to this point. As entrepreneurs it is so important to have continuous advice, support and guidance to grow your startup into a scaleup. The close-knit, collaborative network helps a lot when scaling. Almost all of the advice you are getting for free. Further, as a startup, you are always looking for cost-effective solutions (specially when recruiting staff to build the startup team) and great network. Therefore, I think the North East of England is one of the best choices for anyone to base their startup.

7. Have you had any funding or investment to date & if so, where from? (e.g. Angel Investors, VCs, Govt Grants)

Yes, during our pre-seed stage; we managed to secure £60,000 in a sweat equity deal with Layers Studio, (StudyAtlas – Tech and Branding Partner for Beta phase), £55k investment from the TUS Dotforge China Scale-up accelerator. TUS Group is one of the major commercial arms for worldwide universities and we are hoping they will be a potential investor for our future round of investments.

Apart from the accelerator funds we managed to secure several pre-seed investments from Simply BrightSide, as well as friends and family.

8. How would you like to see the business develop over the coming months & years?

StudyAtlas is a promising EdTech startup venture which could be easily scalable as a global brand. To reach that we need to have the right team . Having a person like Will (Murray) onboard with a proven track record at global EdTech platform Turnitin will help the company to scale fast. With the raise of our upcoming investment round, we will double our team in the UK and build offshore teams for data entry and application processing. Currently we are working on further developments, improving UX, UI and new features to the product.

We will soon automate the process much as possible implementing AI, Machine learning and image processing. As we are an EdTech platform, we are mainly focusing on continuous innovation and that’s my key responsibility at StudyAtlas as the CEO. Further we are currently working on partnerships for StudyAtlas to establish a presence in each part of the world.

With this StudyAtlas concept and approach, educators, millions of students and countries will benefit for years to come. We aim to find an international solution for current global student placement issues and deliver a valuable product to the world. Our research sparked a hunger to understand the core issues of connecting the education globally, to develop strategies towards the solution and ensure that upcoming generations have access to global education.

We aim to scale StudyAtlas towards a billion dollar global business.

9. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a tech/digital business?

As a tech founder, you need to think big. But you need to understand that in tech things will not happen overnight. It takes time for product and market testing. You always need to learn from your own and others mistakes. Further to my startup experience, tech businesses mainly rely on product, intellectual property, and company structure. Therefore as a startup, you need to lay a strong foundation, protect your IP, and focus on continuous innovation. Doing these correctly will lead you to secure investments at the right time and scale the business globally.

10. What business book, video or podcast would you recommend people watch?

There is no one particular book video or podcast that we could specifically mention. We are keen to read, watch and listen any entrepreneurial books, stories, video or podcast that could gather knowledge and inspire us. But anyhow, we are great follower of Sir Richard Branson. His books has inspired us in many times. Among these books; Screw It, Let’s Do It, The Virgin Way: How to Listen, Learn, Laugh and Lead, Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School and Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography are a few of my favourites. I hope that I will be able to meet him one day.

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