Namita Thapar is turning the enthusiastic students of today into the problem-solving entrepreneurs of tomorrow
Namita Thapar wants to give children the opportunity to explore their creativity beyond the classroom.
On a cold Saturday morning in February in Delhi, a brightly lit classroom in Shri Ram School is sizzling with excitement and nervous energy, the kind that anyone who has made a pitch to VCs and other stakeholders of the startup ecosystem will know and understand well.
Only this time round, it is kids from different schools of Delhi who are presenting before business leaders. Thirteen-year-old Avi Dayani goes on to present his idea for an app called Shanny, or Short Service Nanny. Avi’s business partner is his classmate Naksh Kohli. Both are in 7th standard at Shri Ram School. The app gives the user options for babysitters near them, with ratings and personal details, so that they can choose the perfect person to care for their child. The idea came to Avi when he saw his dad struggling with babysitters while his mom was out of town.
The boys will register their company and launch a beta version of the app this year. Avi will be CEO and Naksh the CFO. Radhika Ghai Aggarwal, Co-founder of Shopclues and a mentor to the students, has invested Rs 25,000 in Shanny. The idea won the first prize of Rs 50,000 at Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which aims to go a long way in nurturing entrepreneurship.
Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA), of which the two boys are a part, is a franchise of the YEA America. The YEA transforms students between the ages of 11 and 18 into real, confident entrepreneurs. It was started last August here in India in Mumbai and Delhi, with 120 kids across 30 schools, by Namita Thapar. Namita (39) completed her chartered accountancy in India in her first attempt at the age of 21, and went on to Duke University in the US for an MBA. In 2006, she returned to join her family business in Pune. She is the CFO and Executive Board Member of Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd. She is also the Founder of Incredible Ventures Pvt. Ltd, which has brought the franchise to India.
Young entrepreneurs in the making
It was Namita’s 10-year-old who inspired her to start YEA. “I believe we need more education programmes in India that instill creative and innovative thinking at a young age, so we can inspire our gen next to dream big and not just take a job, but make a job.” Through a course that lasts six months, spanning 20 Saturdays, the students develop business ideas, write business plans, conduct market research, pitch their plans to a panel of investors, and actually launch and run their own real companies and social movements.
The students have to apply online, with the selection criteria being not grades, but their interest, motivation and excitement for the programme, and are selected after an interview. Students are given the schedule for 20 Saturdays along with the acceptance letter so that their academics and school timings are not impacted.
Four premier education institutes - American School of Bombay, The Shri Ram School in Delhi, The Cathedral School in Mumbai, and American Embassy School in Delhi - are the host locations for YEA’s Investor Panel, where the students showcase their business ideas to a panel of successful business leaders to secure funding and launch their business. Each of the centres has two teachers for a year. The rest of the team comprises of admin, IT and design personnel based out of Pune.
In addition, they get to be inspired by speakers from industrial houses and large companies and mentored by mentors from top consulting and venture capital funds in India. Students also get the opportunity to make field trips to India’s most successful businesses.
The mentors play a pivotal role in their growth. Namita says, “The mentors we picked are experts, but are, at the same time, individuals who are high on energy and good communicators. All mentors and teachers are given training by the US franchise on how to be nurturing to the kids. Their role is to be facilitators rather than teachers/preachers.”
Challenges and response
Initially, selling this concept to students, parents, host schools, mentors and teachers was a challenge. “It was a very humbling experience for me. Trust me, I heard ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’.” However, Namita’s passion and her pitch, which was backed by data, made her a convincing brand ambassador for YEA.
The response from all the stakeholders has been positive. Parents have not only extended mentorship,
time and funding, but have also shown continued support to the children. Namita says, “All our speakers, whether it was Ronnie Screwvala, Kiran Shaw, Harsh Mariwala or Raju Hirani, have seen the value of this programme and have been most enthusiastic to speak to our kids. The host schools have also bent backwards to help us. Our mentors, who are all from consulting and private equity backgrounds, have dedicated several Saturdays selflessly to help our kids refine their business plans. It is such a beautiful team effort.”
The programme has helped families bond in a unique way too, shares Namita. She says, “There are so many parents who said that dinner table conversations are so animated and fun thanks to our programme.”
Going beyond jugaad
In a country where jugaad is the mother of all inventions, how does one nurture the spirit of innovation instead of jugaad? With this goal in mind, students are encouraged to look around them and draw inspiration from their circles. Of the 65 business ideas presented at this year’s investor panel, most emerged out of the personal experiences of the students - from online khadi wear and an online aggregator for nanny services to an AI-inspired robot cleaner and valet services.
Failure is a part of life
From marketing and finance to accounting and investor pitches to business plans and presentations - the students learn a grand variety of skills. Mentors and speakers’ own experiences, especially those of failure, help the children get comfortable with the idea of failure and challenges. “Hearing stories from our super-successful speakers about their challenges and failures made them realise that it is ok to fail and look at it positively as a learning experience,” Namita says.
It makes young entrepreneurs ready to take on the world and chart their own course.
The long term vision
Similar to the YEA, the TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE) programme is focused on fostering a future generation of entrepreneurs by teaching entrepreneurship to high school students. Unlike TiE, however, the YEA is managed by the same team, which ensures that the quality is not diluted and the structure and content remains consistent pan-India.
The YEA is soon going to be launched in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Namita has invested her own money to begin with, and though the company did not break even this year, she plans to make it profitable and
self-sustaining in the next two years. “I already have a full-fledged business, so I am not doing this for the money. However, I do want to make it into a profitable, self-sustaining business in the next two to three years,” she says.
Her long term vision is to expand the YEA reach across India, and once the company is making profits, to reach out to children who may not be able to afford the programme and provide them scholarships.
“I don’t want it to be for the elites. I want to reach out to deserving children and provide them scholarships to do the programme and give more and more kids the opportunity to learn and grow,” she says.
The other thing she wants to do is to standardise the talks by mentors into webinars and videos that can be shared with children from underprivileged backgrounds. “I want these motivational talks by, say, people like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Ronnie Screwvala to reach more children who don’t have access to technology or resources,” says Namita.
With the YEA expanding pan-India, we look forward to the rise of these future CEOs and entrepreneurs who will solve problems and generate employment on a grand scale.