“Education is all about delivering outcomes. And it always takes time to execute, so beef yourself up if you want to be in this space for the long haul. Feel, imagine and do scale.” These were the three key lessons Madan Padaki, entrepreneur extraordinaire who set up MeritTrac, now, India’s largest testing and assessment company, shared at the Edustars 2013 finale on 6 December 2013 at GINSERV, Bangalore. In a hall bursting at the seams with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, industry experts and students, Madan recounted how he built up MeritTrac from scratch before moving on to start Head Held High, a foundation that aims at eradicating rural poverty through education.
Madan was part of a power-packed panel discussion on the role of technology in both learning and education spaces, the big opportunities here and how startups in this space could establish themselves. Some of the big-wigs in this space, including Sachin Kelkar, Head, APAC Scale Program, Intel Software, Anand Daniel, Principal, Accel Partners, Capt. Unni Gopala Krishnan, Founder & Managing Trustee, Primus Public School, Dr. G. Sridhar, Founder & Managing Director, Ace Creative Learning and Sumit Sahni, Head – Solution Design & Delivery (South Asia & Middle East), Harvard Business Publishing, participated in the discussion.
Education will become individual-driven
Remarking on the difference in approach to education by conventional schools and the newer entrants like Primus Public School, Capt. Unni Gopala Krishnan said that to succeed in this highly competitive space, one has to walk away from the herd. Before conceiving and setting up the Indus International School in 2003 and later, Primus Public school, he said that his team studied about 100 schools. He noted that our education system is still geared towards “studying” to score marks and not “learning”, which is wholesome and experiential.
In this space, there is no one-size-fits-all, Capt. Unni said. There are no overnight successes either. “Provide niche schools with solutions that will enhance learning. Conventional schools, meanwhile, need solutions that will enhance studying,” he said. The next wave in education will be “students determining who will teach them and how”. He firmly believes that education will become individual-driven.
Anand Daniel, speaking from the perspective of an investor, noted that among the 75-100K private schools in the country, only about 15,000 are early adopters of technology. Those 15000 schools itself present a huge market for the education startups, he remarked.
What is the problem I’m going to solve?
“This space holds lots of opportunities for disruptors,” Sumit Sahni said, adding that it wasn’t just the Harvard brand that made Harvard Business Publishing one of the biggest brands in the corporate learning space. It was their focus on designing and delivering the right solutions that clinched it for them. “We parameterized solutions based on the pain-points of the industry,” he said. His word of advice was to remember Henry Ford’s line: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
Sumit does not believe that MOOCs (massive open online courses) are yet disruptors, though they definitely have the potential to be. “Startups who are running MOOCs have to think, ‘what is the problem I’m going to solve? What is the job we’ll do for the student?’ This is important,” Sumit said.
Think as disruptors
In the 21st century, where technology has opened up an array of opportunities for education startups, those operating in this space have to constantly think of “what can we do beyond what we had earlier”, Sachin Kelkar said. The startups have to think on the lines of continuous learning, emphasis on communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, and digital literacy, he added. In his keynote address, he remarked that the pedagogy — the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept – itself has evolved. This, he said, demands that in order to succeed in this space, startups have to focus on new learning and education needs, inclusive business models, open platforms, think as disruptors and address the scale challenge.
Calling himself an “accidental entrepreneur”, Dr. G Sridhar shared how his model evolved from a tutorial in 1998 to the pioneer in integrated teaching, coaching and holistic education in Karnataka. His mantra through the years has been to “always watch, observe and improvise”. His company, Ace Creative Learning, has drawn two rounds of investments from some of the top VCs in the country like Catamaran, Accel Partners and Kaizen Private Equity.
He gave three words of advice to the startups:
- Keep your eyes open
- Be bold enough to change your plans
Much to the amusement of other panelists and the audience, he quipped: “It also helps to have a good chartered accountant wife.” In fact, he gave the entire credit for his financial success to his wife.