Singapore’s Oxfordcaps has secured an undisclosed amount of funding in a seed round led by 500 Startups and ReadyVentures. Several unnamed angel investors also participated.
Launched in July, the startup wants to shake up the student accommodation market by applying the “co-living” model that’s already disrupting rental options for expat professionals in Asia’s biggest cities.
Companies like Singapore-based Hmlet and MetroResidences, itself a recipient of seed capital from 500 Startups, are transforming unused buildings into shared living spaces suited to the needs of modern tech workers and corporate executives.
The main target demographic is lone expatriate workers who prefer short-term rentals, the possibility of saving money by sharing accommodation, and the opportunity to socialize with people in a similar situation to their own.
Oxfordcaps co-founder and CEO Annu Talreja points out that international students who come to cities like Singapore to study have quite similar requirements.
Redesigning student accommodation
There is an undersupply of university-owned accommodation compared to the number of students admitted in each intake, meaning that most will have to seek out private rental options.
Like Hmlet, Oxfordcaps works with landlords and developers to redesign and furnish properties to make them suitable for student living.
“The owner typically has a property which is very good for students in terms of location and price,” Talreja tells Tech in Asia. But they may be skeptical to rent it out themselves because they fear the students couldn’t pay rent on time or might not keep the property in the best condition. Or they simply don’t want to take on the task of managing the rentals themselves.
Interested owners approach Oxfordcaps, which then kits out the property as “no-frills” student accommodation. Each room typically features two single beds, a study table with desk lamp, and a bookcase. There are also common areas where residents can mingle.
Oxfordcaps manages the property, providing services such as cleaning and maintenance. It also handles the rentals process all the way from listing available rooms on its site.
The ability to view the accommodation online and secure somewhere to stay before arriving in a new country is what makes the service particularly attractive to international students, Talreja suggests.
Prior to leaving their home countries, foreign students will typically use property listings sites such as 99.co or PropertyGuru to contact agents and organize viewings after they arrive, which isn’t necessarily the most convenient way for them to get accommodation, says Talreja.
“On our site, we are going to provide 360-degree videos and pictures of every room. Details will be provided for the entire unit, down to what kind of mattress each bed has in each room, so that students can book before they get here.”
That can save them from paying for a costly hotel or Airbnb stay between their arrival in the country and when they eventually sign for a room, she adds.
What we are doing here, apart from providing accommodation, is creating a student community.
In addition, Oxfordcaps offers accommodation on a bed-by-bed basis, meaning that students don’t have to form houseshare groups themselves – a situation that’s particularly difficult for those coming from abroad with no existing contacts in the country.
The whole arrangement is meant to be conducive to bringing students together to socialize and form new friendship groups. Like Hmlet and other co-living players, Oxfordcaps runs on-site events, which it sees as an opportunity for future revenue generation.
“What we are doing here, apart from providing accommodation, is creating a student community,” explains Talreja. “These are often very fragmented and limited to the school they are going to, but these students are all in a similar demographic. They’re all in the same boat – going to a new country for their education. We want to create this community and monetize it at some point, but right now, the focus is on creating the community and keeping them engaged on a regular basis.”
She says that Oxfordcaps will use the seed funding to further develop its tech offering and introduce new features on its site, as well as to increase the number of beds and properties under its management.
It has already booked over 1,000 bed-months since July (a bed-month measures the occupancy of one person in one bed for one month, and is a variation on the bed-night metric used in the hospitality industry).
Looking ahead, the startup wants to enhance its presence in Singapore before expanding “into at least one or two more Asian geographies,” with India, Indonesia, and Australia among the likely targets, Talreja shares.
“Within Asia Pacific there are over 100 million mobile students. Singapore is relatively smaller, with only 200,000 to 300,000 international students coming here [each year]. But it’s our Asia gateway market, since it’s the region’s education hub and the real estate regulations are pretty clear compared to a lot of neighbouring markets. But our aim is to be an Asia-Pacific brand.”
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