PwC Raise | Ventures advises StudentCrowd on their £2.55m fundraise from Mercia Ventures
PwC Raise Ventures partners with higher education review platform StudentCrowd on their £2.55m Series A led by Mercia Ventures and MEIF
- PwC engaged with StudentCrowd to provide fundraising support for their Series A round to continue to scale their leading student review platform.
- The £2.55 investment came from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia Ventures and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), Mercia’s EIS funds and existing private investors. PwC provided end-to-end advisory services for the deal.
- StudentCrowd aims to become the world’s largest decision-making platform in higher education and is taking on funding to boost their expansion plans.
- PwC and StudentCrowd are exploring further opportunities together, having since co-authored a report into student accommodation costs.
Who are StudentCrowd and what do they do?
Founded in 2014, UK-based StudentCrowd aggregates and presents verified reviews from students, with the aim of providing insights into the quality of education, campus life, facilities and overall student experience. StudentCrowd is aiming to solve the vast information gap in the education sector and become the Tripadvisor for higher education. In the future, the company intends to add new aspects of student life to their platform to become a true one-stop shop for students to make all decisions relating to their time in higher education.
StudentCrowd’s user interface is easy to use for Students to find relevant reviews
From the perspective of service providers, like universities and accommodation, StudentCrowd offers effective customer service management, such as replying to reviews and enhanced product marketing by tapping into millions of unique student users. StudentCrowd also collects data on student decision-making and provides universities and other institutions with actionable insights, giving them the ability to price accommodation according to supply and demand dynamics and make changes as necessary. This approach improves student satisfaction rates, helps to create trust and transparency and gives universities the power to make their services as appealing as possible.
StudentCrowd’s value proposition to service providers
The business is led by co-founders Paul Humphreys (CEO) and Pete Sisson (CTO). Paul Humphreys’ vision to create a data-led approach to student decision-making has become a reality, and he brings market-leading insight to the sector – including as a member of the Higher Education Commission (House of Lords). Pete Sisson has led on technology and products since the beginning, and brings 20-years of experience developing digital products and leading technical teams. The founders are also supported by Gabriel Behr (CFO), who brings 20-years of CFO experience, including time within the university accommodation space at UPP and Liberty Living. StudentCrowd appointed Glenn Jones as Chair to further develop the company. He brings experience operating a ‘two sided-marketplace’ with Madgex and Edtech board experience with Firefly.
Studentcrowd’s Pete Sisson (left) and Paul Humphreys (centre), with PwC Raise’s Sam Taylor (right)
Why did we decide to work with StudentCrowd?
PwC engaged with StudentCrowd in January 2022, led by Cara Haffey, Thomas Hudson and Sam Taylor. They observed that students frequently make poorly informed decisions concerning their course, university and housing selections. This is due to many of the existing information outlets including blogs, websites and personal referrals only offering narrow perspectives and often presenting biassed information.
Collaborating with StudentCrowd presented a compelling proposition for several reasons. The company and the founding team are solving an age-old problem which has recently become more and more severe with student price pressures and poor satisfaction rates during the COVID pandemic. Furthermore, the StudentCrowd team has a very clear vision for how they want to expand internationally and bring in new revenue streams to grow into what is a large and mostly uncontested white-space. As a profitable but high-growth company, StudentCrowd is well positioned to make itself the dominant higher education decision-making platform.
“It’s been a fantastic experience working with Paul, Pete and the rest of the StudentCrowd team as they continue to help solve significant issues in the higher education market. Gathering actionable information with regard to which university to attend, accommodation to live in and course to choose has only been made more difficult post COVID. This combined with Generation Z’s inclination to seek online reviews for decision-making, underscores significant momentum in the sector. I look forward to continuing to support StudentCrowd as they scale!”
How did our engagement support the company?
Our engagement with StudentCrowd began with two months dedicated to investor readiness preparation. This phase included crafting the investor deck, reviewing the financial model, determining the potential market size and collating data room documents. Following this, we launched the investment proposition to our network with an in-person investor event at the PwC offices, leading to nearly 40 investor introductions in what quickly became a highly competitive round. Faced with multiple term sheet offers, PwC played a pivotal role in evaluating the terms and guiding the subsequent negotiations. In the latter stages of the deal, PwC collaborated with StudentCrowd to assemble the due diligence folder. We offered counsel on industry-standard practices, such as post-deal salaries and board composition, and remained available for consultation until the deal was finalised.
(Paul presented StudentCrowd to a room full of over 100 Series A investors in December 2022)
The deal and what next
The £2.55m investment came from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia Ventures and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), Mercia’s EIS funds and existing private investors, and will fuel StudentCrowd’s next phase of growth. The funds will be used to expand the team’s sales and marketing capabilities, develop the existing platform further and also to develop new offerings for students. Beyond merely advising them about universities, the goal is to equip students with tools and insights for future planning as well.
Aside from the funding round, PwC’s Real Estate Corporate Finance team is now utilising StudentCrowd’s market leading data and insights platform to understand trends, behaviours and changes within the higher education market ahead of the competition. As part of this partnership, StudentCrowd and PwC have co-authored a thought leadership piece regarding the increasing demand and rental costs for student accommodation and the barriers that creates to higher education. Major news outlets including The Financial Times and The Times published articles based on this data.
The PwC team advising on the deal were Cara Haffey, Thomas Hudson and Sam Taylor.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Cara, Thomas, Sam and the whole PwC Raise team. The difference with this programme is that PwC takes the time to educate founders on all of the options available – helping us to make the best decisions for our businesses. We’re convinced that we would not have secured an investment that is such a good fit without PwC’s support and advice.
We’re delighted to start this new chapter with Rafael on our board and Mercia/MEIF in our corner. We’ll use the funds to further innovate our products and services as we build the world’s largest decision-making platform for students.”
“Having grown up in a digital world, today’s students are more likely to make decisions based on reviews rather than marketing material. StudentCrowd is the only platform of its type that offers reviews from verified students and covers universities, courses and accommodation. The company has huge potential for growth. This investment will enable it to establish its position as the leader in the UK market and prepare it for international expansion.”
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.