M Square Media, or more fondly known in the industry as MSM, is a success story like no other. Bootstrapped right from the beginning, MSM’s growth emanated from an innovative idea whose time had come. And at exactly the right time.
In 2012, Sanjay Laul was already a successful entrepreneur. He had founded an overseas education consultancy based in India in 2005, specializing in international student recruitment and English language training.
He had a good thing going but he felt there was more he could do. Sanjay saw a need in the market, particularly in Canada where his business idea would eventually take root. With their limited resources, educational institutions in the country were having trouble increasing their international student enrollment.
He introduced an innovative business model that aimed to simplify student recruitment. This model was based on many years of experience navigating the many bumps and hurdles he experienced working with educational institutions along the way. It was a new idea, so it was risky, but he was confident it was going to work.
A Fateful Dinner
One evening in New Delhi, India, Sanjay had dinner with a visiting college official, Shelley Nickel of Northern Lights College (NLC) in British Columbia. He told Shelley about the business model he had in mind and proposed, “Appoint us as your country office and we will manage all the on-ground promotions. A dedicated team is ready.”
Suneetha Qureshi, who was with Sanjay in the overseas education venture for 5 years (and who is currently the Vice President for Global Operations for MSM), initiated the talks between Sanjay and Shelley. Suneetha was very familiar with Sanjay’s way of doing things, which encouraged Shelley to have faith in the idea. Upon her return to Canada, Shelley pitched it to her executives. Thus, after that fateful evening, the MSM journey began and Suneetha was the first manager on board, representing NLC.
MSM is a marketing and business development company for colleges and universities seeking to increase their international enrollment for online and on-campus programming. It is a leading platform supporting the international education sector.
“We are known for establishing global and in-country offices that brand, promote, and recruit students for our client institutions in Canada, the US, the UK, and Europe,” explained Suneetha. “However, we offer many more services including professional development, international education consultancy, networking events, and customized business solutions.”
The MSM headquarters is in Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada, but currently has offices in 17 countries. On January 4, 2016, MSM was officially incorporated under the laws of the Province of British Columbia as M Square Business Solutions Inc.
Canada came first
Sanjay took the successful acquisition of Northern Lights College as a client as an invitation to begin MSM’s journey. A year after that fateful dinner, MSM took on a second client, Selkirk College, which is the first regional community college in British Columbia. They offered marketing support for the institution.
The period between 2014 and 2016 seemed relatively quiet, but it was far from such. Behind the scenes, Sanjay and Suneetha were working hard to bring MSM even further down the international education management road, going beyond making international student recruitment simple, efficient, and effective.
In 2016, MSM signed up Yukon College, now Yukon University. By 2017, MSM was so far ahead of the competition that it was able to form a public-private partnership (PPP) and tri-party agreement with St. Lawrence College and Canadian College.
In 2019, MSM became the largest player in the Canadian international education space, managing global and country offices of 20 public and not-for-profit institutions. The same year, MSM launched its International Advisory Body to serve as a body of mentors and guides for global endeavors, growth roadmap, and compliance.
While Canada continues to be a favorite destination for international students, even amid the pandemic, it is not the only market for MSM. Expansion was definitely on the menu.
The year 2019 proved to be a banner year as MSM successfully signed up the Community Colleges of Spokane, effectively expanding its reach into the United States market. MSM launched its USA Advisory Board in the same year as well as its new campus management division MSM Higher Ed to demonstrate its strength in PPPs and articulation agreements.
Around the same time, MSM was setting its sights on the European market. It landed a landmark deal with the London South Bank University in the United Kingdom. In 2020, MSM opened its UK division with the appointment of its two Vice Presidents for the UK, Andrew Disbury and Jo Nesbitt. By this time, MSM was fielding partnership and articulation agreements with higher education institutions in Canada, the US, UK, Europe, and other key markets.
Since the beginning of 2019, many more institutions have joined MSM to tap into its many resources, not the least of which is its more than 4,500 affiliated agents. Among the most recent additions are University of Missouri-St. Louis, Castleton University, Presentation College, and Hawai’i Pacific University.
An overview of MSM
“It was a slow start after that first client,” admitted Sanjay. “However, a lot of work went into making that a successful partnership, and we are now on the fast track to expanding our reach as a service provider that benefits not only institutions but also students and agents.”
That work paid off. Sanjay worked hard to grow MSM into a global service provider serving high-quality colleges and universities in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe. MSM also manages and trains education agents on behalf of partner institutions.
The company currently employs over 250 people, although this figure is expected to grow as the company is in a continuous process of expanding its operations. MSM operates in 17 countries and is affiliated with more than 4,500 education agents around the globe.
MSM offers a wide range of global business solutions to institutions including international business development, market research and deep opportunity analysis, sourcing sales channel partnerships, market entry strategy, market expansion, lead generation, brand development, finance and accounting management, agent management, and many more.
The MSM edge
The key to MSM’s success was the brainchild of Sanjay, which is a boots-on-the-ground business model. Not only does MSM provide the expertise and experience of seasoned educators and education managers to benefit its clients, it also makes a point of localizing its operations by establishing in-country offices.
Currently, MSM has country offices in: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vietnam.
Having a local presence in so many markets made MSM quite an agile organization, able to pivot quickly to changing circumstances. It also made the company more sensitive to shifts in the behavior and preferences of its target market. MSM’s growth from 2016 to 2020 was 1,704.36%. The company generated around $627.77 million in tuition fees for the partner institutions for the same period. The number of partner institutions for that period also grew by a huge 266.67%.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the education sector was one of the hardest hit. So as educational institutions struggled with the restrictions brought about by imposed safety protocols, students started to keep a safe distance. International students either did remote classes where allowed or went back home to their home countries.
Despite the challenges and the expected effects of the health crisis to its business, MSM still managed to forge partnerships with eight new educational institutions. After all, more and more institutions are realizing rather belatedly the importance of seasoned recruitment and education management professionals at their side. The point is that before 2020, MSM was at least doubling revenue growth and increasing recruitment numbers by 47% YOY.
More is better
Despite MSM’s success and undeniable dominance as an education marketing company in Canada and significant inroads into other countries, Sanjay was not content to rest on the company’s laurels. He believed there was always room for growth and, together with his executive team, developed and launched innovations in the international education space.
Among the major initiatives Sanjay spearheaded is an EdTech initiative MSM Unify, the largest international education marketplace in the making that plans to automate, analyze, and amplify student recruitment for institutions, agents and students.
MSM Higher Ed’s Pathway Programs, in turn, prepare students for entry or advanced standing to Founding Member Universities, particularly in the areas of English, Business, Arts, and Science. Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), in turn, provide international students from private institutions course credits and direct entry to public institution programs, which in turn opens up opportunities to advanced studies and careers
It seems fitting that, after all its recent accomplishments, MSM was named a finalist in the PIEoneer of the Year award at The PIEoneer Awards 2020. The PIE is The Professionals in International Education, an independent media and event organization that connects a global community of professionals through its website.
The recognition of MSM with the potential “slice” of the PIEoneer Awards is for its Global Marketing Office (GMO) model, which builds global and in-country offices for partner colleges and universities.
The way forward
MSM has many irons in the fire, so to speak, but not too many to handle. The biggest challenge to Sanjay now is to manage the issues facing institutions and agents because of COVID-19, including, but not limited to, regulatory compliance. Since MSM is global, compliance is a major issue because it varies from country to country.
Sanjay also seeks to address the drop in enrollment in key markets while improving the international student population in underdeveloped school systems. He has made moves into countries with little or no international student markets and these overtures, given the economic benefit of robust international student populations, have been met with some enthusiasm.
Finally, Sanjay shares his vision of a world that empowers people with education worldwide, ensures their success, and transforms their lives, their families, and communities through technology and partnerships with industry and the academe.
Indeed, the success of MSM as a bootstrapped company is a combination of innovation, hard work, expertise, and, ultimately, the experience of the executives and team members that make up the whole MSM team. Sanjay, Suneetha, and many of the top executives and advisory board members are long-time education professionals on both the teaching and administrative sides. With their insights and guidance, MSM is poised to continue leading the way in the industry as the company simplifies international student recruitment for its partners.
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