Financing International Education: Alumni Omar Azabi and Enrica Pacitto Launch CoSign
JCU alumni Omar Azabi (Class of 2017) and Enrica Pacitto (Class of 2016) recently launched CoSign, the first financial guarantor that allows foreign students to access loans in the United States. After graduating from JCU with a degree in International Affairs, Omar and Enrica moved to the United States to start their graduate school and law school journeys. CoSign’s purpose is to “empower the international community and help them prepare for all the challenges that international education might bring.”
Tell us about your new venture – what is CoSign?
Foreign students do not have access to student loans in the United States. CoSign is the first financial guarantor that allows international students to finance their American education. It is the solution to hundreds of thousands of foreigners lacking partial or full financial ability to pursue their dream education abroad. CoSign’s business model was created with a core idea in mind: to provide students with financial relief and allow them to focus on their studies and their experience abroad.
Here is how it works: upon U.S. university acceptance, students calculate the expenses they would have abroad and apply to CoSign. Our team will match them with a scholarship program provided by our partners. The last step is for applicants to finalize the financial details for their loan amount and subscribe to our guarantor policy to gain complete access to it.
Although CoSign was first created as a financial service, it is – above all – a community. It represents students all over the world by rethinking global credit barriers and empowering through international education.
Where did the idea come from?
The CoSign team came together in the middle of the pandemic. At a time when international travel was banned and people were no longer allowed to study abroad, we realized there was no better timing than the ‘Covid-19 year’ to launch.
The idea is very much embedded in our story. We met at JCU about 6 years ago and both pursued our bachelor’s degrees in International Affairs. It was during those college years that, as two people born and raised in Italy, we were exposed to a community of international faculty and students while experiencing both the European and American cultures. Right after graduation, we moved to San Francisco and Philadelphia to pursue our law school (Omar) and graduate business school (Enrica) degrees.
However, to financially support our studies and comply with student visa regulations, we both had to work multiple jobs that paid for tuition fees, rent, visa-related expenses, and much more. We knew we had to work hard the day we decided to embark on this journey. However, the possibility of paying more attention to our books rather than our finances would have made it a little easier on us.
When we started looking for student loans, we faced the sad reality we were not able to access funds because of the bureaucracy and lack of financial flexibility towards foreign students in the United States. At a time of financial adversity for both of our journeys, CoSign turned into the perfect solution for the international community going through the same path.
We think of future generations and their post-Covid 19 ambitions. CoSign is here to encourage future international connections at a time of social distancing in the hopes that finances will no longer be the sole factor preventing students from pursuing their dream education.
How did your classes at JCU prepare you for something like this?
Our international affairs degree backgrounds were crucial in the development of our startup business. The JCU coursework – including politics, history, economics, and law classes – taught us how to interpret the current world scenario and analyze global markets both from an American and European perspective.
Mindset and pragmatism were key. Our exceptional faculty taught us the importance of critical thinking by exploring material outside of our regular lectures and challenging us on innovative subjects. It is at JCU that we learned that gaining external work experience while being full-time students would be beneficial to both our professional and academic growth. Along with the inspiring coursework that developed our qualitative and quantitative skills, the internships obtained through the Career Service Center shaped the professionals we are today.
CoSign would have not been a reality without our story, and our story traces it all back to JCU.
What are your ambitions at CoSign, and for yourself?
CoSign is the first cross-border collateralization system that opens the financial market to foreign creditors. Despite the financial side of it that is at the core of our mission, our main goal is to positively impact our community and grow the reach of international students. The CoSign team not only plans to help them achieve financial relief through our product but also educates them on what it takes to live and study abroad. We are working to guarantee students access to a variety of services ranging from student loans to health insurance, flight and hotel deals, and direct mentorship programs with our student ambassadors.
As two newly-experienced entrepreneurs, teamwork is everything, and every day we remind ourselves to ‘learn as we go’ and that it is okay to make mistakes to keep growing. Our next exciting goal is to hire professionals in our field sharing diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages. That will be a major asset for us in order to penetrate other foreign markets – i.e. East Asia.