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Student Aid: tapping into the student market

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Andy Fidler set up Student Aid nearly three years ago, and the company is growing quickly.

Student Aid is “a network of online and offline media channels that enable brands and universities to interact directly with students”. In other words, Fidler sells brands the opportunity to get in front of university students. And by “in front”, he means it – straight into students’ bedrooms.

The business currently works with over 50 universities to place a box of branded products straight into students’ bedrooms before they move into their halls of residence.

Fidler has big plans for Student Aid. Student Aid’s university-branded welcome parcels are already placed in a quarter of all university-run student rooms – that’s a whopping 150,000 bedrooms – but he wants more.

“We’re ready to get bigger,” says Fidler. “We’ve already presigned a number of brands to our product for the autumn of 2011, and we’re looking at how we could eventually expand abroad.”

Although Fidler has already been approached by several private equity firms interested in buying a stake, but he’s fended them off so far. “Student Aid can still grow organically for now – but yes, there are definitely certain plans that would require some additional investment in the future.”

Student Aid has also seen interest from buyers looking to acquire the business, but 29-year-old Fidler is hungry for growth – he doesn’t want to sell just yet. Student Aid isn’t Fidler’s first business – prior to Student Aid, Fidler set up and managed graduate selection firm Graduate Fasttrack as well as Findagap.com.

To help the business grow, Student Aid has been building a strong team. The business recently signed on David Mansfield (currently a non-exec of GAME and director of the media VC Ingenious Media and the former chief exec of Capital Radio and GCap Media) as non-exec chairman and also uses TalkTalk’s former head of strategy, Ciaran O’Donnell as a part time FD. 

The Bounty model

If you’re sceptical about Student Aid’s model – or still can’t really see what the business does – have a look at Bounty UK. Fidler says this is what Student Aid is basing itself on.

Bounty UK, which sends free samples and information to expectant and new mums, has proven just how successful the model can be: Bounty was sold to an American media group for £70m in 2007.

In Student Aid’s case, rather than sending sample diapers and baby food, its packs are filled with toothpaste, food, tea, vouchers, and other student essentials.

Most of the brands that work with Student Aid are big household names ranging from Kraft, to Tetley, Haribo, Colgate, Unilever and others. Student Aid also works with the university to provide a university-branded welcome information pack on the area and what’s happening at the student union.

“We want new students to feel like the packs are actually useful to them. They’re not just free samples, they’re designed to help students settle in,” Fidler explains. “For example, if an international student arrives in his halls of residence and sees a Student Aid pack, he should have enough essentials to cover a couple days before having to go shopping.” 

Each Student Aid pack holds around 15 branded products. Brands will pay an average of £33,000 each for getting space for their products in the pack, as well as for ad space in the information pack and an online profile.

“Valuable asset”

But integral to Fidler’s business is also the insight that Student Aid gathers. Student Aid’s team includes a consumer insight team that analyses student trends, information that Student Aid uses with its partners. This enables brands to plan and target effectively.

To achieve this, Student Aid is launching a social network in September, where students can find out information about nights out, clubs and societies and other university information. Fidler hopes that 80,000 students will sign up in the autumn, creating a useful community for the students and the universities.

“What the advertisers and brands find valuable is that Student Aid has exclusive advertising rights in the university bedrooms,” says Fidler. “We’re the only business that can give them access to inside students’ bedrooms. It’s a very valuable asset.”

Fidler won’t say how he’s negotiated this exclusive access, nor how much he pays – if at all – for the privilege. But the fact remains that Student Aid can open students’ doors, and this valuable market segment means that Fidler is in a prime spot.

“Universities were sceptical at first – they weren’t sure about allowing brands into students’ bedrooms. But we’ve been careful to keep everyone happy. If the students are happy, the university is happy and the brands are happy. That’s the only way it can work.”

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