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Student housing moves into fancy digs
The Hindu Business Line  |  June 11, 2019

Purnima S Das

Moving away from home for the first time to study in a different city can be exciting. You’re enthused at the prospect of a carefree hostel life, with new friends, and a future waiting to be discovered. It’s when you enter your room that reality strikes — the tiny, cramped space, peeling paint and bare essentials. And then comes the scarier part — the food.

 

But times are changing. Oxfordcaps, a student housing start-up founded by two women, is transforming the picture. “My business partner and I have worked in the real estate industry for a decade. With our understanding of the industry, we felt it was time for student housing to come of age,” says Annu Talreja, CEO and co-founder.

 

The start-up provides well-furnished rooms, reading room, Wi-Fi, security, transport and gym facilities, and nutritious meals. It has properties in Delhi NCR, Indore, Jaipur, Pune, Dehradun and Bengaluru. The rent for dorms starts from Rs 8,000 per bed per month for twin or triple sharing, from Rs 12,000 and for single occupancy, from Rs 15,000.

 

Headquartered in Singapore, the team will shift base to India as it raised $8 million in a Series-A funding round, including from existing investors Kalaari Capital and Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups.

 

The company says it has clocked a 75x growth in less than 11 months since its launch in India and has expanded from 200 beds to over 15,000 beds. The company is EBITDA-positive at the property level, and should be EBITDA-positive at the corporate level in the next 12-15 months, say the founders. In May, it announced its entry into Indonesia and Malaysia in partnership with a well-known real-estate developer in South-East Asia. “Given the brand presence in Singapore, we become a natural choice for leading universities across APAC,” says Annu.

 

Business Model

 

On the business model, Annu says that if someone owns a large property, they can express interest in leasing it out. Once Oxfordcaps takes over, it manages the entire property after standardisation. All Oxfordcaps housing is located within 10-15 minutes walk from colleges. In Delhi, it has properties in North campus and Kamala Nagar, both education hubs.

 

Annu, an INSEAD graduate, says, “When it comes to food, we focus on hygiene, taste, variety and maintaining quality. We have a strong operations team, including F&B experts.”

 

Kaustubh Lahoty, 18, student at Hansraj College, Delhi, says, “I visited a lot of PGs where the rooms were small and bathrooms smaller. But here, the room is great and we have an amazing common area where we all relax.”

 

“Technology plays a big role in safety. The building has a biometric security system and is CCTV-enabled. On our app, we have an emergency response service to address accommodation issues,” says Priyanka Gera, COO and co-founder, Oxfordcaps.

 

An IIM-Calcutta alumnus, Priyanka says the team is developing a psychometric mechanism to assess whether a student is suffering from depression or is into drug abuse or has family issues. “We have doctors on call and psychologists who visit often,” she says.

 

Redefining student spaces

 

Recognising that student housing is largely unorganised, and lacks customised infrastructure, Anindya Dutta and Sandeep Dalmia founded Stanza Living in 2017. Recently, Stanza Living entered Chennai, Hyderabad and five other cities. It has registered Rs 20 crore revenue in FY18-19 and is backed by Sequoia Capital, Matrix Partners, Accel Partners and Alteria Capital.

 

“It is the largest funded player in the student housing segment, with a cumulative investment of $16.7 million in venture capital and debt financing. Currently, we are profitable at the residence level,” says Anindya.

 

The monthly rent ranges from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000, depending on local real-estate dynamics and the facilities available. Most residences are located within a two-km radius of colleges.

 

On food quality, IIM-Ahmedabad graduate Anindya, says, “We have an operations excellence team which includes specialists in hospitality and customer experience, executive chefs and F&B experts. Meals are cooked in FSSAI-licensed partner-kitchens and undergo frequent inspections.”

 

Focus on service quality

 

Yogesh Mehra, founder of TribeStays, a Pune-based start-up for student housing, says it was his son who encouraged him to enter the segment. “My elder son studied in Vellore and I saw how he lived there. When he went to England for further studies, we noticed a huge difference in the quality of living. My younger son too went to England to study and, when he returned, he suggested we enter the student housing space. As I have worked in the real estate industry for the last 22 years, I thought it was a great idea,” Yogesh says.

 

“All our properties have CCTVs and keyless access control systems. The doors have RFID (radio frequency identification) locks and students can access rooms only via RFID bands,” he adds.

 

Abhishek Jha, 19, who lives at TribeStays in Pune, says, “The selling point for me was the room. It is really good. If I have a problem, the team resolves it immediately.”

 

TribeStays will be operational in Bengaluru and Mumbai from July. All properties are within a two-km radius from the colleges. The company expects to break even in two years. The charge for an air-conditioned single room is Rs 31,500 a month, and for a twin-sharing room it is Rs 21,500. “Our focus is on the premium segment and the rents vary, depending on the location,” says Yogesh. Apart from breakfast and dinner, it provides unlimited Wi-Fi, laundry, electricity, housekeeping, and access to a gym too. Yogesh plans to expand the business in Noida, Kota and Indore.