From competing for Global Learning XPRIZE to a full-time edtech ventureHarshith Mallya
From learning mobile development from scratch and picking up a new language, Team Krishna is keen to make a business out of the technology they have developed.
History is rife with examples of ventures that started out as side projects before becoming major successes. Solitaire, one of the world’s biggest games on Windows PCs, was developed by a Microsoft intern who was bored at work.
But working on most side projects generally involves a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, as teams have to work with limited resources and keep the project running till it is able to sustain itself. Here is the story of how Team Krishna went about developing a game, Gurukul, and also overcame challenges along the way.
Story so far
Team Krishna started out in 2014 as a two-member team based in Kolkata. But as the venture grew it expanded to 25 members working across different roles during their peak. Subhajit Roy has been mentoring the team for the past three years as they were competing in the Global Learning XPRIZE competition and simultaneously looking to promote learning using technology. But working on a project with no immediate financial incentive generally means a high attrition rate. Team Krishna was no different.
Balagopal KV, Devraj Höm Roy, Gargi Mazumdar, Satya Sandeep, Saikat Mukhopadhyay and Kaushik Mazumdar recently visited YourStory’s headquarters in Bengaluru and shared their journey with us. They recalled that when they signed up for XPRIZE competition, the core team went about onboarding team members at a rapid pace. But given the dynamic nature of the competition and technical challenges involved, they found that a lot of folks were not able to keep up with the pressures involved and would keep quitting.
Talking about the challenges Gargi noted that the team had to develop a game based on open-source software that worked on tablets, without internet connectivity. The games from the shortlisted team would be deployed in Tanzania to help local school kids learn without teachers. The team explained,
With Gurukul, we have designed a tablet-based software which can help less privileged kids self-learn reading, writing, and numeracy without the need for intervention from anyone with literary knowledge.
Gurukool and XPRIZE
Team Krishna is a participant of GLOBAL LEARNING XPRIZE and is one of the 38 teams globally to successfully submit a prototype (over 198 teams registered for it). Talking about the high drop-off rate from 198 registrants to only 38 final participants, Gargi noted that some teams dropped out as there were many technical challenges and not enough tech support.
One of the team members even learnt Swahili in order to build a version of the game in the language as it was a requirement for the XPRIZE. The going was tough initially and the team had to spend a lot of time building proof-of-concept games and figuring out the best open-source tools to develop their game.
They made a few mistakes along the way in terms of platforms to build their game on but with the deadline fast approaching in early January 2017, everything starting falling in place. The team noted that they pulled all-nighters during the weekends and at one stage were able to automate and complete 80 levels of the game in one day.
While the final stages of the competition are still ongoing the team is happy to have gone from having zero knowledge of mobile application software development and graphics to creating a massive software, that can teach children 1,000 new words.
How Gurukul works and future plans
The team then pulled out a tablet and gave me a demo of how their game works. It mainly relies on audio instructions as the target audience is a demographic of children who are just learning to read. The team explained,
We work on the concept of gamification of education, meaning a kid is lured to play some engaging games and in turn he/she virtually learns basic literary and linguistic skills while moving across various levels.
While Gurukul has been built for the XPRIZE competition, the team now aims to take the skills they have developed over the past three years and create an enterprise version of the software for the benefit of underprivileged students around India.
At this stage, they are working on performing field tests with their existing software across various parts of India and also engaging in conversations with teachers and others involved in the educational domain in India. Gargi noted,
So far, we had worked on Gurukul as a side project in our spare time, but recently most of us have quit our jobs to focus on this full time.
Team Krishna is keen to mention that they aim to augment the role of teachers in classrooms and not replace them. They have found that teachers generally have hectic schedules and can’t cater to the needs of all students in a classroom. So while teachers run through the syllabus, some topics may not be covered extensively enough for students to effectively grasp them. This is where Team Krishna aims to come in.
The team now has experience in poring through educational texts, creating storyboards that children will understand, and then creating a game that arrives at the solution. The advantage of the tablet approach is double-fold. Parents and teachers will also be able to get analytics on the day-to-day progress of students, understand where students are struggling, and take necessary actions.
Going forward, Team Krishna also aims to tie up with device manufacturers and government bodies to take their learning solutions to the mass market. Talking over the phone, Subhajit said,
We will be able to customise content based on languages or specific needs and could contribute to the national literacy programme.
There is tremendous room for growth in the edtech space in India and around the world. According to a report by RedSeer Consulting, the Indian edtech market size was pegged at around $2.5 billion at the end of 2016 and poised to grow at 15 percent over the next three years.
Byju’s is currently the most prominent player in the edtech space in India, having raised over $200 million in total funding from investors Chan-Zuckerberg initiative, Verlinvest, Sequoia India, and others. Ventures like Simplilearn, Embibe, PaGaLGuY.com, Handa Ka Funda, and Toppr are some of the other players looking to improve the Indian education space.
Global Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity, and Bengaluru-based Unacademy are some platforms that are currently operational in India and looking to improve universal learning.
In their study of the educational space, Team Krishna found that there were many educational games out in the market but they weren’t interesting or engaging enough for young learners. On the other hand, the market abounds with highly engaging games that have no educational value. Team Krishna is aiming for the sweet spot between those two extremes.
Website- Team Krishna
Correction- A typo had earlier noted that Google was formally part of this edition of the XPRIZE. While Google had previously sponsored the Lunar XPRIZE, they aren't formally invlolved in this edition. The typo have been updated to reflect this change.