Educational technology communications and student engagement platform Ocelot said today it has raised $117 million in funding from the software-focused investment firm K1 Investment Management.
The round is notable because it’s the first time the company has secured outside funding, having previously been bootstrapped.
Ocelot, a service of CareerAmerica LLC, has created a unified engagement platform that integrates with existing technology platforms to give universities and other educational institutions. They can enable a more seamless communication experience for their students and help to ensure their needs and desires are met.
Ocelot reckons such a solution is in demand, because the higher education industry is facing significant headwinds from student retention challenges. It says a lack of engagement and communication is a big factor in this, citing both students and universities.
The lack of engagement often has a significant impact on students’ college experiences, especially those who are in their first year of studying. Ocelot cites research from EAB Global Inc. that shows how 33% of first-generation students drop out of college within three years of starting, compared with a dropout rate of just 14% for those who get through the first year.
Ocelot says that by providing the technological infrastructure universities need to deliver greater engagement and communications, it can have a significant impact on student satisfaction, reducing student dropout rates and improving the overall college experience.
The company’s comprehensive communications platform includes two-way text campaigns that empower institutions to proactively reach and engage prospective and current students, as well as alumni. It also provides an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot service for universities to handle student’s common questions, in addition to live chat functionality for queries that need more personal answers. Moreover, Ocelot provides students with virtual access to a student counseling center, providing them with help and solutions to their problems at their fingertips.
Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. said higher-education providers have traditionally always been underserved by enterprise software vendors because of their often very specific requirements and the unusual licensing requirements for student users. As a result, technology providers are less motivated to focus on serving educational institutions as well as they could, the analyst said, creating an opportunity for startups like Ocelot.
“The neglect toward the industry has meant that higher education is often forced to use suboptimal and outdated platforms,” Mueller said. “While much progress has been made in areas such as customer and employee engagement, the same cannot be said for student engagement, which has been neglected. So it’s good to see Ocelot getting a big funding round like this, potentially enabling it to change the landscape and help deliver better education outcomes.”
Ocelot’s platform has proved to be a hit, with the company serving more than 500 universities across 47 U.S. states. In the last 12 months, Ocelot says it has responded to more than 12 million questions from students, demonstrating the need for an engagement platform.
Ocelot Chief Executive Talin Andonians said his company’s mission is to make a better life more accessible for students and resolve pain points for higher education institutions.
“Colleges and universities are competing with so many other daily distractions to capture students’ attention and foster their engagement in order to meet enrollment and graduation targets,” Andonians said. “Ocelot was built as a one-stop platform for higher education institutions to alleviate communication barriers. The investment from K1 will enable us to continue bridging the communication gaps between schools and their most important clientele – their students.”