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Startup

Bain Capital to invest $123 mn in South Korean online education startup

May 09, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

ST Unitas, known for English test and civil service exam preparation classes in South Korea, will receive around 150 billion won ($123 million) in investment from Bain Capital as the coronavirus pandemic is expected to provide fresh momentum to grow its online education services beyond the domestic market.

The education startup, which acquired the US test preparation and tutoring service provider Princeton Review in 2017, will sell an unspecified stake in itself to the US private equity firm through rights offering, according to investment banking sources on May 8.

The stake is worth about 150 billion won, but its corporate value after the rights issue was not disclosed.

Founder and chief executive Sung-hyuk Yoon will continue to manage the company as CEO. Yoon had worked at Bain & Company after graduating from the engineering college of Seoul National University.

“Growth in the US online education market had been slow, but the coronavirus pandemic will give an impetus to the market,” said one of the sources. “A combination of ST Unitas’ expertise with Bain Capital’s global network will help it grow as a global company.”

ST Unitas was set up in 2010 to provide online classes for English test preparation and then expanded into the civil service exam preparation market by taking over an offline education institute in 2015. It had posted net losses for the four consecutive years since 2015. Its revenue in 2019 is estimated at around 450 billino won.

The South Korean firm has been trying to boost online services of the Princeton Review, for which it reportedly had paid $87 million. In 2007, Bain Capital pumped $40 million into the Princeton Review.

ST Unitas’ flagship online courses for English tests and civil service exams provide lectures for an annual subscription without limit. It also offers offline lectures at its educational institutes in South Korea.

Recently, it has rolled out a global mobile app, Connects Q&A, to provide instant answers to questions, using artificial intelligence and big data. Students can scan and upload a question to the app and receive a real-time answer. The app has topped the list of education-related apps in 12 countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, according to the company.

Bain Capital’s previous investments in South Korea included Carver Korea, known for its cosmetic brand name AHC, in which it had invested 300 billion won in a consortium with Goldman Sachs in 2016. The consortium reaped almost seven times return just in one year after selling its stake to Unilever.

Last year, Bain Capital secured a 27.1% stake in Schwan’s Co. for $320 million, soon after South Korean food maker CJ Cheiljedang Corp. acquired the US frozen foods company for $1.84 billion.

Write to Chaeyeon Kim at why@hankyung.com



(Photo: Getty Images Bank)

Yeonhee Kim edited this article

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