5 lessons for edutech startups


“Coimbatore is Little Gujarat in its own way. A small yet powerful city, Coimbatore has always had entrepreneurial talent,” said K Vishwanathan Sahasranamam, Vice President, FORGE Innovation Accelerator, Coimbatore, at the TiE Forge Education Entrepreneurship Summit at Coimbatore on Sunday.

Spanning over a period of two days, the event covered startup pitches, panel discussions, one-on-one investor discussions, and the future of the edutech sector in Coimbatore.

While the startups that pitched were from different parts of the country, the event showcased how the Coimbatore startup ecosystem is slowly but steadily heading towards growth.

(L to R) - Founder of Praqtise, Gopal Srinivasan, Vishwanathan and Sri Krishna

Education has always been high on Coimbatore’s agenda, as demonstrated by the presence of top institutes like CIET. Many believe that if a major innovation in the education sector has to take place, Coimbatore will be the best place for it.

The key takeaways from the TiE Forge Education Entrepreneurship Summit are:

Focus on education and not just edutech

Madan Padaki, Founder of Sylvant, and Edcubator, which focuses on helping edutech start-ups said at the summit that most times entrepreneurs forget that the focus of starting up isn’t just the product. It is important to understand the problem you are trying to solve.

Madan said: “As entrepreneurs, we end up focusing on the product and technology and forget that they need to look deeper into solving and understanding what the customer wants.” There are several problems in the education sector that need to be addressed. It is important to know what problem you are solving and for whom.

Look for patient capital in the education sector

A business or startup that is focused on the education sector cannot follow or be taken under the same evaluation process as a regular e-commerce or an online business. Gopal Srinivasan, President, TVS Capital, believes that education sector businesses are more oriented towards the long term , and finding VCs who have the patience for them and even take the risk of having small successes is rare. The investors, he adds, need to be aware of the challenges of pedagogy and be open to taking that risk.

Gopal said:

Like food, education is one business you cannot succeed in if you aren’t passionate. Passion is a deadly thing to have; you need to use that passion to push the envelope and really create innovation.

A need to transform the way the education sector works

“In a world where dropping out is fashionable, it is important to transform the way the education sector is looked at and functions,” says Shankar Vanavarayar, Managing Trustee, The Vanavarayar Foundation, and Executive Director, Sakthi Auto Motors.

Realities in the organised education space are fast shifting and changing. Degrees that were once considered important are not so anymore. The only way the education sector can innovate and change is through technology.

Understanding what is needed by the customer

As an entrepreneur you need to be sure of what you build and how it has helped the market and your target audience. It also is important to know what has gone wrong in the process and your learning,” says Srikrishna Ramamoorthy, Head Partner, India, Unitus Fund.

He adds that being one of the biggest sectors needing transformation, it is important to know that there is a lot of learning required. Apart this is also important to understand the unit economics, of how it will look with scale. It is also important to know what the capital will be used for and what the interesting things done with that capital are.

The need to bring true innovation in the education sector

While there were over 33 startups presenting at the summit, the mentors, investors, and serial entrepreneurs believed that most of them were on the fringes of the education sector.

Whether it is the grading systems or growing number of schools and colleges that focus on ranking and merit, the panelists believed that education in India doesn’t help foster creative and innovative thinking. The reason there is a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg from America and not India is because thinking out of the box disruptively and entrepreneurially is discouraged from the start.

The startups that stood out

Among all the pitches and presentations, three startups stood out. This included Bengaluru- and Coimbatore-based Skaas, which aims to provide skills as a cloud-based service. Founder Vinodhini Boj, a biosciences graduate from Keck Institute, California, says that graduating engineers lack real-world skills, a gap Skaas aims to bridge.

Praqtise, a test prep site started by Yudhir Agarwal and Pranav Upadhyay helps students prepare for MBA entrance tests.

SchoolSaamaan is an e-commerce marketplace helping parents pick uniforms, school books and stationery.

However, while several education startups were present in the system, it was concluded that startups need to start thinking innovatively and look at how learning is imparted and consumed