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[Exclusive] M&As

The Princeton Review up for sale by Korean edutech firm

ST Unitas seeks to sell the US college test prep service to turn around its domestic businesses

By Jan 11, 2022 (Gmt+09:00)

The Princeton Review up for sale by Korean edutech firm


South Korea's leading edutech service firm has put The Princeton Review up for sale, five years after it acquired the US college test preparation service for about $100 million, according to investment banking sources on Jan. 11.

Seoul-based ST Unitas recently decided to sell the profit-making US business to focus its efforts on turning around its loss-making flagship services at home, hit by the shrinking student population and competition with new online class providers.

For an estimated price of 300 billion to 400 billion won ($251 million-$335 million), ST Unitas is reaching out to potential buyers, including education services companies, online platforms and global private equity firms, the sources said.

In early 2017, it took 100% control of the US academic business from the US dating app conglomerate Match Group, in what was the first acquisition by a domestic startup of a global education service provider.

"ST Unitas decided to improve its financial conditions with the proceeds from this sale and focus on its traditional businesses," one of the IB sources told Market Insight, the capital market news outlet of The Korea Economic Daily.

He referenced the company's online lecture services to prepare for the country's civil service exams and the English language test TOEIC, for which the startup built its market share rapidly since its inception in 2010.

TRANSITION TO ONLINE-BASED MODEL

Headquartered in New York, The Princeton Review was launched in 1981 to offer education and consulting services for non-US students to prepare for the SAT, GRE and GMAT tests required for acceptance to American universities and graduate schools. 

ST Unitas took over the US company with the goal of transforming its offline business into an online-based model like its domestic services. As an example, it introduced the "score guarantee service," under which SAT preparation courses are offered free of charge until the student reaches his or her target score. 

Thanks to the online-focused strategy, The Princeton Review swung to a profit from a loss in 2017. Last year, it earned $17 million in operating profit, in line with the rapid growth in the contactless private education market following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
Contrary to the robust earnings at the US business, ST Unitas' anchor businesses at home have suffered shortfalls since 2015, resulting in negative equity capital. 

The startup also took a battering from its 2014 acquisition of a leading Korean online education company for local college entrance exams, Skyedu, on top of its heavy borrowing to finance the purchase of The Princeton Review.

To prop up its bottom line, ST Unitas in 2020 received around 150 billion won in investment from Bain Capital and streamlined its business, including the closure of Skyedu, to concentrate on adult education services.

Write to Jun-ho Cha at chacha@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article.

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