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"We Got Funded!" Dubai-Based Edtech Startup SecureMyScholarship Raises US$550,000 To Accelerate Growth And Expand Operations The latest investment brings the total capital raised by SecureMyScholarship to US$1.2 million.

By Tamara Pupic

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SecureMyScholarship co-founders Craig Fernandes (CEO) and Ian Fernandes (COO).

SecureMyScholarship, a Dubai-based edtech platform that connects students with scholarship opportunities, has raised US$550,000 in a bridge funding round, which, in turn, values the company at $6 million. The fresh funds will be utilized to accelerate product development and expand the startup's operations into India.

The investment round was led by Sabban Corp Investments, a Dubai-based venture capital firm with a focus on early-stage investments across the GCC, and saw participation from a number of high profile angel investors as well as participation from existing shareholders.

The latest investment brings the total capital raised by the startup to $1.2 million. The startup states that it is already cash flow-positive, as well as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA)-positive.

Since launching in November 2021, SecureMyScholarship has managed to list 414 universities on its platform, including nearly all of the private universities in the UAE, over 220 in the USA, and over 150 in the UK. As of March 2024, the startup has disbursed over $8.2 million in scholarships, which has helped over 1,500 students secure scholarships, and enroll into their dream universities around the world.

Speaking about the demand for the startup's services, SecureMyScholarship co-founder and CEO Craig Fernandes says that there are between 5,000 to 10,000 students visiting its website every week looking for funding options and scholarships. "Our platform is 100% free for students applying for scholarships in UAE, and for students applying for scholarships in USA and UK, we charge a nominal one-time subscription fee of $50," Fernandes notes. "Aside from scholarship support, our team also helps students with loan applications, visa applications, and university application submissions." Fernandes and his fully remote team, which consists of 26 people based in 16 different cities across five countries around the world, now aim to connect students with $100 million in scholarships by expanding its university network, growing to new geographies, and further enhancing the platform.

Related: The Entrepreneur's Guide To Setting Up An Edtech Business In Dubai

The SecureMyScholarship platform. Image courtesy SecureMyScholarship.

Speaking about the future of the edtech space, Fernandes expects that, one, the demand for top quality higher education will continue to surge, two, tuition at top universities will continue to rapidly increase, and, three, demand for distance learning/online degrees will continue to significantly decline, which has been an active trend since the end of the COVID-19 crisis. "Our platform is built keeping all three of these in mind," Fernandes says. "We list many of the world's top 200 universities on our platform (including quite a few of the top 50 global universities), and all universities listed on our platform are present with a scholarship/fee waiver for students who apply via our platform, thus helping provide financial relief for students. 99% of courses listed on our platform are on-campus courses."

Looking back on lessons learnt through the fundraising process for SecureMyScholarship, Fernandes says that being authentic and genuine is key when it comes to pitching. "Investors hear hundreds of pitches every week, so they can recognize the ChatGPT jargon from a mile away- instead, just be yourself," he explains. "Then, stand your ground. Every investor has a thousand ideas for what you could do or how you could do it differently, but at the end of the day it's your startup and your dream. Stay true to that, and remember what you're pitching. If you try to rework your pitch every time an investor has an idea, you will end up going nowhere. Lastly, sell the outcome (i.e. the vision), not the process."

According to Fernandes, the success SecureMyScholarship has seen is owing to him and his team focusing on monetization from the get-go, and that is his first piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs. Indeed, he urges them to focus on monetization rather than raising funds as "pre-revenue startups in UAE find it very difficult to raise capital," he notes. Furthermore, for anyone looking to build a sustainable business, Fernandes' advice is to start planning for geographic expansion early on. "The UAE has only ever had one unicorn exit (despite the enormous amounts of capital in the region), and the reason for this is the small local market," he points out. "The UAE does not have a large enough home market to scale to millions of users, and, therefore, eventually you will need to scale regionally/externally." Lastly, building a team that cares about the mission is key to the success of any startup, Fernandes states. "Startups are built on faith and hope, not fat salaries or generous benefits," he concludes. "You will most likely have to provide equity and underpay for talent, and, therefore, it is very important to build a team of people that care deeply about the mission, and who you can trust to have your back when things get tough. Otherwise, when plans don't materialize, and you need to shift strategy, you may find key team members leaving for higher salaries elsewhere."

'TREP TALK: SecureMyScholarship co-founder and CEO Craig Fernandes shares his advice for founders looking to raise funds

Minimize your burn and maximize your runway "It's not 2021/2022 anymore, and capital is much harder to raise than when interest rates in the US were at 0%."

Push to become cash flow-positive "This will instantly make your startup more attractive to prospective investors who are increasingly looking for 'real businesses'."

Stay focused, and have faith in your vision "Every investor will give you their two cents, but what really matters is what you want to build and the future that you envision for your startup."

Related: Entrepreneurship Education Is Key To The Success Of MENA Economies

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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