‘Understanding’ real education -
If anyone believes that a mere repetition of lessons can help children learn, Sridhar Rajagopalan, Sudhir Ghodke and Venkat Krishnan will prove them wrong. Understanding is the key to obtaining right knowledge, and it was while emphasizing on this aspect of education that the trio founded Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd (EI). The three, all graduates of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), took the initiative to offer assessment and digital adaptive learning system for students and aim to create a world where children learn with ‘understanding’.
EI has grown rapidly over the years, and is presently working with 2,500 English-medium schools across the country, including cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. The company’s first product was a large-scale diagnostic exam, which tests the child’s and the school’s strengths and weaknesses, and accordingly grades them on the ability to understand. “We wanted to do something that will help students learn with understanding,” said Rajagopalan. EI’s new digital adaptive learning system, Mindspark, determines a student’s understanding ability and then sets questions a notch higher to push the student towards improvement. “Our product serves as a supplement at a time when getting good teachers is a problem. We have already conducted a couple of trials in the rural areas and we have met with quite a success,” he added.
In addition, EI is also working with some leading organisations like Google and Naandi and the government of Bhutan in areas of assessment and learning. Last year, the company secured funds from Footprint Ventures, a company that has prominent investors like NR Narayana Murthy, Jerry Rao and Gautam Thapar.
“There is a marked improvement in the performance of students in schools that have adopted Mindspark,” said Ghodke, adding that the demand for the test and other services of EI has also grown considerably. The company earned revenue of about Rs7.5 crore in 2006-07 and is roughly growing at 65-70 per cent annually. “The company has managed to remain profitable, without losing its focus on developing innovative, high-quality products. We are now expanding our sales and marketing reach, while focusing even more on research and products that fundamentally change the way children learn - making it dramatically more effective,” he explained.
When asked why they chose to become entrepreneurs over doing a job Rajagopalan said, “I did work for IBM for about two-and-a-half years after which I quit and started Eklavya School. I then established the Eklavya Institute of Teacher Education and served as its director till 2001. EI just happened to be my next venture. Technology always excited me, but more fascinating was to see it bring about a perceivable change in the society. I left Eklavya after five years, believing that only primary education can help bring about that fundamental change in the society. My objective, when I started EI, was to focus more on how to improve the children’s ability to learn systematically. Working for the education system as a whole was a part of that ambition.
As for Krishnan, he started his career working with the Times of India. He was also a part of the core team that ushered in Sony Entertainment Television in India. Later, he joined Rajagopalan, and when asked why he said, “Education is one of the key routes to achieving my personal mission — making the world a better place to live in.”
Ghodke, who was also working with Eklavya, moved on to set up EI, where he runs the marketing division.
What about the challenges they faced in the initial years of setting up EI? “Convincing schools to test the efficacy of their teaching methods was an effort. We started by sending mailers to 1,000 schools and followed it up with making personal visits. Only 25 schools agreed to take our tests in December 2001, but even that bode good signs for EI. We then conducted post-test assessment workshops and teachers’ training programme in various schools, most of which found the exercise beneficial and enrolled EI for the next year too.
EI broke even within two-and-a half-years and that was the biggest turning point for the business. Not even for once did any of the three have the inclination to quit and follow a regular career path.
Their tips to budding entrepreneurs — Be 100 per cent ethical, always aim high and take people along with you; they are critical for the success of your efforts.