The Indian education system has often been looked down upon for its non-practical approach, narrow mindedness and a lack of focus on an all round experience. The absence of a diverse range of courses and the non-availability of a vast number of extra- and co-curricular opportunities has left Indian students behind, when looked at from a global perspective. Taking matters into their own hands, a group of students from BITS, Pilani Hyderabad started Valonia, with an aim to give students that all-important “extra-textbook” experience.An initiative in the Educational Services space, Valonia aspires to redefine co-curriculars and give students the ‘right exposure and awareness to lead tomorrow.’ “Valonia aims to give students a knowledge base that is enough for them to decide and choose on the career that matches their aptitude. We are a student run organisation with strong support and mentorship from educationalists, Alumni and successful entrepreneurs,” says Swapnil Vats, Founder & Director, Valonia.
The Idea, The Execution and The Plan
The idea was conceptualized in November 2010 but the Valonia team worked hard, researching and building upon it, before they kicked off in February 2011. While at the library one day, Swapnil, Kavya and Gaurav decided to call their venture Valonia, the name of an evergreen oak tree, being symbolic of the lasting nature of the education they aimed to provide.
Valonia conducts workshops (as annual or single events) ranging from topics like robotics (arduino/linefollowers etc) , finance/stock market learnings, networking/programming/machine learning, photoshop and photography events to Movie-making/Animation and Entrepreneurship. They conduct these workshops in colleges and schools in an attempt to give students a hands on experience in using their theoretical knowledge and putting it to practical use. “We also conduct aptitude tests and Olympiads and give personal feedback to every student. We provide suggestions as to how each student can improve their skills in various aspects and attend to every query that the students has,” says Kavya Reddy, part of the core team at Valonia.
In view of the government schools that have a good faculty and bright students but do not have the appropriate infrastructure that would enable students gain their well deserved knowledge, Valonia has recently opened a new chapter called ‘Abhilasha’ which conducts all the above mentioned programs free of cost.
Valonia plans their workshops keeping in mind the target audience standards. Hence, their content for the same topic varies from institute to institute. “We focus on practical workshops keeping to make sure they don’t get boring and we also have a refreshment and fun session in between for the same reason. We also provide post-workshop guidance for every student. We have this long-term model of focusing on only two spheres, an online platform for learning co-curriculars which should be up by mid-July and setting up Valonia labs (classroom learning of different co-curriculas) in different cities,” says Gaurav Duggal, also part of the core team at Valonia.
Valonia has, so far, reached out to around 2000 students with their events. They won Ground Reality, The Business Plan contest by CEL, BITS Hyderabad and were among the runners up at Epsilon, the intra-BITS, B-Plan contest. They partnered with Student Union, BITS Hyderabad for an Olympiad and got featured on the cover page of The Hindu’s education supplement thereafter. They were also among the sponsors for Pearl, 2012 (annual cultural fest of BITS-Pilani Hyderabad Campus).
The core team is made up of Swapnil Vats, Gaurav Duggal and Kavya Reddy. Swapnil, the lead at Valonia, has a way around with people. Having been associated with quite a few start-ups, he brings in new ideas and focuses on new products/services. Gaurav, with his passion and good technical acumen, has made robotics Valonia’s most sought after event. He is assisted by a 3 member technical team. Kavya, being from Hyderabad, brings a good network of friends which make it easier for the Valonia team to approach schools and colleges. She manages Valonia’s Marketing efforts. Apart from these three, the team consists of Chandu Reddy, Ruben Sharma and some freelancers.
Mentorship and Funding
“We’ve been adviced as and when needed by various alumni. Though we do not have a specific mentor on board, but Prof. Vinayak Rao, Civil Dept., BITS-Hyderabad, Gaurav Makkar, Director (NSEF), Bongu Bharat (SourcePilani), Srikumar Murthy G (NSEF) have guided as and when approached,” says Swapnil.
Valonia hasn't looked actively for funding yet. "Valonia really wasn’t a model that needed huge amounts to begin with, our parents helped us out. We are now self-sufficient. We aim to seek funding the coming semester when we expand our services," says Swapnil.
On being a student entrepreneur
"Being a student entrepreneur has its share of fun and tough times but no bad times for sure. The appreciation you receive inspires you to do more. Sometimes we’ve been demotivated too, and that inspires us even more. The moment of joy isn’t really when we get our first profits but it is when someone tells you here’s a model that is needed and can work! Being students, we’ve received mixed reactions from schools/colleges when we tell them we are all students. Some get really happy and motivate us while some get skeptical if we can deliver. A similar situation arose during our second workshop last year. We were told to do a sample workshop for the school so that they can get to know if we are really upto the mark. Immediately after the workshop we received a mail from the school administration congratulating us and expressing a desire for further workshops. It's part of the deal and it's great fun!" concludes Swapnil, with a smile.
Some pretty awesome work is what you are guys are doing. We wish you all the good luck and certainly hope you keep it up!
You'll find more on Valonia, here.