Nestlings wants to help international students navigate a messy higher-ed environment

The admissions process for international students applying to colleges is outdated. For starters, there is no Common App, the one-stop application that U.S. students are able to use to apply to a variety of schools in one go. Instead, international students must navigate thousands of schools, each having their own requirements and application process, on a one by one basis.

It’s a time-consuming and convoluted process, which is exactly where Nestlings, a Cupertino, California-based startup, comes in. Founded by Sowmya Satish, a former Apple product manager, and her husband, Raj Basavaraju, the startup is hoping to streamline the college admissions journey for international students.

Nearly 15 years ago, Basavaraju left Bangalore to pursue his master’s degree at Glasgow Caledonian University.

“When I was looking to study, I was not able to find a proper course, proper program, and I didn’t find much support,” he said. “It was not easy for me to get all the information I needed, like how safe it was, the lifestyle, and all of those things that are actually very important information.” So, he had the idea to put the information online and make it more accessible for other students who were interested in studying abroad.

At its core, Nestlings is a platform to help international students browse colleges in the United States, U.K., and Canada and apply to multiple colleges with one application. Beyond this service, Nestlings wants to help connect students to mentors in their potential fields to help with advice along the way, as well as place Nestlings students into post-graduate employment opportunities.

“Our goal is to help students build their career, not just be an admissions portal,” said Satish.

Nestlings is essentially itching to be part of a student’s entire professional life, from the moment they decide to pursue higher education to the jobs they apply to during and after graduation.

Nestlings, like any college recruitment platform, is only as successful as how many students use the platform. For that reason, Nestlings has made its service free for students, and instead charges fees to its partners, both universities and employers, whenever it places a student in one of those groups. The business works as a two-sided marketplace; it scales its students through word of mouth, and its institutions by promising recruitment results.

So far, Nestlings has more than 30,000 students on its platform. It has partnered with over 180 universities, and, more recently, signed a non-exclusive partnership with one of the largest testing centers in Southeast Asia. The testing center is part of Nestlings’ strategy to bring in more students without paying an agent fee or having to advertise.

As an early-stage startup, Nestlings has a huge competitor: ApplyBoard, which recently raised $75 million at a $1.4 billion valuation. ApplyBoard similarly helps international students navigate the abroad college application process, but is a massively bigger company in the late stage. The business did not immediately respond to request for comment on its thoughts about Nestlings.

Still, Nestlings is hoping to win by focusing its business more broadly on student success than simply college admissions. The focus is partly why Nestlings acquired AdmitAlly, a Cincinnati-based video chat platform that matches students with mentors and college applicants with current students.

“Especially in the pandemic, we didn’t want to waste time reinventing the wheel and saw an opportunity to fold the technology into Nestlings’ existing offerings quickly,” Satish said of the acquisition. “International recruiting is going to be tough this admissions cycle, as students can’t visit campuses and recruiters cannot travel abroad.”

AdmitAlly, which was founded by Anu Vora, was sold for an undisclosed price. However, as part of the deal, Vora became both a board director at Nestlings and, separately, an investor in the startup. In tandem with running AdmitAlly, Vora runs an investment firm and incubator, Candid Ventures. She put $1.5 million into the company in seed funding.

As higher education faces its own renovation from low enrollment and remote schooling, Nestlings is still betting on a long-term vision where international students will crave a United States education. The strategy will only pay off if that remains true.