Raj Singh came to the United States as a foreign student more than a decade ago, and now he’s using that experience to fuel a business. The St. Louis startup is a 2019 Arch Grants winner. Singh’s company, Connexio, provides an app to act as counselor, advisor and tour guide for students from the other side of the world looking to further their education in the United States.
For Singh, the experience of leaving India for school in the U.S. was like a blur. He was a kid from an immensely crowded city and very warm country before stepping foot in St. Louis. He said St. Louis seemed a little smaller, but the culture shock hit the moment he left St. Louis headed to Rolla, MO to attend Missouri S&T.
“They put me in a truck to take me on I-44 and I got to Rolla and those 10 floor buildings turned to two floors. And I didn’t know where I am,” he said with a laugh.
Singh was suddenly in snowy Rolla where he said he made the most of it. That experience is fueling Connexio.
“When you wake up the next day in a totally different world and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do,” Singh explained. “That’s very hard. So, now that we’re building this app, we’re taking that into account that when you wake up as an international student in a new country, the app will greet you and tell you where you can actually go and eat. And that small thing goes very far.
Connexio is the brainchild of Singh and his co-founder Satya Mishra. What they have created is almost like an online dating service, but for academia.
“That’s a fair description of it,” Mishra said. “We are trying to match the students with the university, and both sides have to like each other.”
Finding that perfect fit is particularly tough when you live in another country. Singh found that out firsthand back when he was trying to come here, paying a broker to help him.
“I was paying money for them to tell me which schools to apply to,” he recalled. “Which doesn’t seem to be the best option because the person who was giving me the advice hadn’t been to the U.S. himself.”
Their new app is meant to address those problems. Singh said they’re doing it by designing an app around his challenging experience. It uses data on everything from test scores to personal interests, which they get from the students. They combine that with everything they can come up with on the universities.
“We have an algorithm that looks at the university’s performance and acceptance data, and we’re looking at the students’ interest and what they want to study,” Mishra said. “And we’re looking at the emotional part of it; so what they find interesting, what kind of campus life are they interested in?”
Singh said it’s the data that forms the next line of questioning.
“Based on asking questions around those variables, we narrow them down to a particular set of universities based on their scores, what do they want to study, what are their preferences, and U.S. News (U.S. News & World Report) or some other rankings they’ve looked at. If they want to go to Berkeley, we would tell them if they actually have a good match with Berkeley or not.”
Their first test case is Saint Louis University student Rahul Kumar. He comes from New Delhi, India and had only a cursory knowledge of the U.S. education system.
“One of the best things that I got to know from the Connexio app is that faculty-to-student ratio is what matters more in the masters, not the professors and not the university. It’s the faculty-to-student ratio,” said Kumar.
With Connexio, the support will continue and the answers will keep coming while he continues his studies in St. Louis.
“It has to be a constant companion to them instead of just another website,” Mishra said. “We are making an app because it’s more personal. You have it in your pocket and it prompts you to do the right things at the right times.”
They are working in five countries for now, and hoping Arch Grants will take them to many more.
“For us, it’s more than the money,” Singh said. “It’s getting into the right circle and being with the right people, getting the right mentorship to build this platform.”