Catching up with one of the companies I covered in the early days, I learnt that Inigral went through some changes. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the name Inigral both in terms of the association I had with it and the accentuation. From what I’ve heard I wasn’t the only one. Those days have come to an end as Inigral just rebranded itself as Uversity which is a more catchy name.
That said, I immediately thought of the team at Iversity and how they might receive the name change. You must admit, it is pretty similar and both companies are in the higher education space. Well, as American companies tend to think very US-centric, a possible confusion of Uversity with Iversity probably went unnoticed or unresearched.
More importantly, Facebook seems to prove not viable for edtech startups, again. Uversity formerly Inigral was until now probably best known for its Schools App, an application based on the Facebook infrastructure, that allowed students to create private spaces within the social network.
Another failed attempt to build an app around college admissions with the aim to leverage Facebook was Acceptly and we also reported on the acquihire of Hoot.Me by Civitas Learning, an app that claimed to turn Facebook into studymode. The latter seems to still exist within Civitas’ portfolio, though.
Uversity recently released and iOS and Android app which is a clear sign of a push for more independence and less reliance on big players that might enter your space and eat your lunch. Though the launch of Facebook’s Groups for Schools did not have an effect on Inigral’s business according to edSurge it must have triggered the thought process that led to the new strategy. And LinkedIn’s recent launch of University Pages surely confirms the decision.
As I pointed out in an article on my personal blog, if you play in someone else’s sandbox you’re not in control and rules may change at any moment without prior notice, especially if the vertical you are in proves itself to be profitable. The big players and generalists that feel that they have reached their natural growth limit for now are increasingly looking for new ways to keep existing users through adding new features besides their efforts to tap into new markets like Google is trying with Project Loon or Facebook and others with Internet.org.
Therefore, smaller players like Uversity need to go more niche and offer services big players can’t. This has also altered Uversity’s message and what they promise colleges and universities to do.
Whereas Inigral’s message was centered around social factors such as getting to know new people and making new connections even before meeting those on campus, Uversity’s message has become much more business oriented.
In times of budget cuts, student debt and increased competition from online alternatives, Uversity now sees itself as a tool that can help colleges and universities to market themselves to high school students who are still indecisive and to subsequently convince these to choose their institution over their competitors. Inigral’s offering was built on top of already admitted students to help colleges and universities with engagement, communities and retention and it attracted 140 institutions who paid the startup between $10.000 to $50.000 per year to use Schools App.
The new UChat product now probably aims at colleges that could not or did not want to commit to a five figure product. UChat is a widget that enables prospective students to chat with admission officers, students on campus or alumni. The chat partners are connected based on common interests, hobbies and majors and the aim is to gather data to make predictions on how many students are likely to enroll.
Uversity should also have some money left in the bank as it raised a total of around $10 million from a variety of funds including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If you do some back of the envelope math, Inigral must have had between $1.4 and $7 million in revenue based on the number of partner institutions.
If you are interested in hearing what motivated the Gates Foundation to invest in Inigral, you will get the answers in my interview with Michael Staton, co-founder and former CEO of the company.