Armed with a master’s degree from IIT Kharagpur, a young Vivek Pawar left to ride the IT wave in US in early nineties. But, after working for nearly 14 years in Texas Instruments, he decided to come back to his roots and provide employment to the local youths and prevent brain drain to metropolitan cities. And with that vision, he founded Hubli-based Sankalp Semiconductors in 2005. An Analog and Mixed Signal (AMS) semiconductor design service provider, the company has grown over the last decade from six employees to more than 450. Today, Sankalp Semiconductors services nearly 20 of the top semiconductor companies in the world. Vivek says, “My only intent was to create centres in Tier II cities of India, in order to enable inclusive growth. Sankalp Semiconductors is a small step towards that.”
Somewhere along the way, he questioned himself, “Was merely creating opportunities for educated professionals enough? What if we were to equip college students with the right skills and technological knowledge that will enable them to be job-ready?”
That simple thought inspired Vivek to set up ekLakshya VLSI R&D Centre in 2007. Following the concept of ‘outcome-based education’, ekLakshya imparts education and training programmes in the areas of VLSI and embedded systems. Some of the programmes it conducts are certifications in custom physical design, software design using C, digital design and verification. The trainings are given to final-year engineering students, post which placement assistance is also ensured. In the last decade, ekLakshya has trained nearly 1,000 students and has achieved 100 percent placement, with an average starting income of Rs 3.5- 5 lakh.
However, while the ekLakshya model has been a success, Vivek realised that an even better approach would be to introduce training programmes while students are in high school itself. He says, A lot of time was being spent on unlearning the concepts; this is primarily because an engineering student gets introduced to at least 40 subjects over four years, and they have no idea which area they intend to eventually specialise in. Underprivileged children from rural areas end up missing on opportunities, not because of capability but money.”
And that’s how Vivek set up his next venture towards inclusivity – Abdul Kalam Susandhi Fellowship Program in 2010. Based on ‘Earn while you Learn’ concept, Susandhi Fellows are chosen through an entrance examination process. In the year-long programme, students have the opportunity to build their skills across communications, self-confidence, problem-solving and team work.
Above these, students are taught the basics of physics and mathematics and introduced to chip designing and VLSI through a hands-on approach, making them immediately employable. The programme takes care of everything – education, accommodation and meals, which cost around Rs 75,000 per child. While Sankalp Semiconductors takes care of the fees partly, they raise the rest through corporates and foundations. Once the students complete the programme, they receive paid internships and eventually get absorbed into the company in part-time roles allowing them to earn as well as pursue their higher studies. Vivek says, “They start earning around Rs 1.5 lakh and by the time they complete their engineering and enter the market full-time, they start drawing over Rs 3.50 lakh.”
When Susandhi started, the initial batch had just eight children. Vivek recalls, “And after six months, six out of those eight children actually found employment. One of the companies was looking to employ people and we sent around 30 resumes. The company refused to even look at the resumes. But upon insisting, they eventually took a Class XII student who was put in a team with two senior employees having six and 13 years of experience. He soon became a pivotal part of the team shouldering complex tasks all by himself.”
As of now, the programme operational in Hubli, Bangalore and Pune, has trained around 75 students but hopes to train 500 students every year by 2020. Sankalp Semiconductors is a great example of what a corporate can achieve for the benefit of smaller towns, integrating professionals and students. And with the Companies Act 2013 in full force, it’s time such initiatives find more space.