How Rocketeers is scripting its 'Taare Zameen Par' storyDipti Nair
Rocketeers aims to be a one-stop, tech-enabled platform for anybody to become a rocket scientist or satellite builder of tomorrow.
By the time the 100th rocket was launched from the grounds of the New Era High School in Panchgani, the entire school was on its toes cheering. And with every subsequent launch, the countdown got louder.
At the end of the two hours dedicated to the rocketry workshop, 130 rockets had been launched. What started out with only the senior school students observing the launch by their fellow classmates, had become a spectacle for the entire school. The day truly turned out to be an out-of-this-world experience.
As 27-year-old Divyanshu Poddar wiped the sweat off his brow, he heaved a sigh of relief. He was told this was the same school where the ‘pathbreaking’ movie Taare Zameen Par was shot. It is not every day that one is pitted against a ‘superstar’ and can manage to walk away with a thundering applause.
When Divyanshu, the Founder of Rocketeers, was in his second year at The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), little did he know that the rocket he was designing and building would one day launch him as an entrepreneur in the NewSpace industry that is slowly but surely sprouting in India (more on that coming soon).
“Model rocketry is an over $1.2-billion global industry with India contributing zero to it,” he says. “Imagine the potential it has,” he adds excitedly. Perhaps one of the early and few people to conduct an organised solid fuel powered model rocketry in India, Divyanshu set up Specific Impulse Technologies (under which the brand Rocketeers falls) in 2016, which is billed as a one-stop, tech-enabled platform for anybody to become a rocket scientist or satellite builder of tomorrow. “We want to enable that irrespective of your formal education,” he adds.
Though they have both an online and offline business models, at the moment, Divyanshu and his Co-founder Akash Ekaa (his classmate from IIST) are concentrating on the offline model which is what is bringing them revenues. As a bootstrapped startup, the two are treading softly.
“So far, we have achieved a revenue of over Rs 30 lakh, selling our products and services in over 50 schools nationwide,” he says. Rocketeers has an outreach impact of 70,000 students out of whom over 6,000 have become their paying customers. “We have flown over 12,000 model rockets in the process,” adds Divyanshu.
“Our plan is to engage with junior school students to engineering graduates. We will provide knowledge and data on everything around the NewSpace industry, be it the laws and regulations that govern us, the tech and non-tech aspects, everything,” he says. They are working on formulating end-to-end solutions for space technology centric K12 & STEM education for schools, satellite and sounding rocket projects for colleges, workshops, courses and fellowships for professionals, and skilling, training and recruitment solutions for the NewSpace industry.
With the opportunity in the defence space for private players opening up, there will be an increased demand for skilled human resource for the NewSpace industry, and Divyanshu wants to be the first mover by building a one-stop shop for all things NewSpace.
Says Neha Satak of Astrome Technologies, who is building Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to provide internet connectivity to remote areas, and whose company is in initial talks with Rocketeers regarding recruitment, “If they are able to execute it, it will certainly help this new industry. They are very motivated.”
Divyanshu, who has worked in ISRO, feels their secret sauce is their curriculum and content design philosophy, which, he calls, experiential learning. “We have incorporated into our curriculum experiential learning of industry professionals, experts, academics, scientists, and NewSpace pioneers. This makes the programme industry relevant and also keeps it updated to latest best practices in the space tech industry. For our Cubesat curriculum, we are already consulting over 30 ISRO scientists and more than 20 private space industries.”
In 2015, Divyanshu had conducted the first model rocketry workshop in a school. “For one year after that, we were only flying model rockets. I did not know where I wanted it to go. We could have turned it into a propulsion company where we design propulsion systems for rockets, or an out and out a toy company, or just a K12 and robotics edtech company,” he recalls the dilemma he encountered in the initial months.
The idea of what shape his ‘space dream’ would take happened in March 2016 when he met Anirudh Rastogi (VC, and Founder of TRA Law) and Abhishek Raju (space and NewSpace industry architect). “They are my strategy advisors and helped me realise the potential of what we are trying to do,” he adds.
The startup has not spent anything on marketing and is not paying even the two co-founders any salary. The founders rely on a few volunteers who help them during workshops.
With Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos blazing a trail in the space sector, it has opened up possibilities for many entrepreneurs to dream big. In the past 10 years, around 1,000 NewSpace companies have emerged globally. In India, there are about a dozen or so companies in this sector, including Team Indus, Bellatrix Aerospace, Dhruv Space, Astrome Technologies, SatSure, Earth 2 Orbit, and others.
Those involved in the industry term this ‘the era of the second wave of exploration’.
And as with any exploration, there are hundreds and thousands of challenges. In Divyanshu’s case, a big challenge is the legal and regulatory aspect related to model rocketry. Though in the US, the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) has drafted safety and compliance guidelines, it is unclear under which law model rocketry falls in India. Some say it could be under the Explosives Act.
The other, even bigger, challenge is getting investor attention. Divyanshu, who is looking to raise funding, says, “A lot of people do not understand the space sector, thus it becomes difficult to pitch to investors.”
Now, this is one aspect of entrepreneurship that only a few have been able to crack. It sure qualifies as rocket science when it comes to raising funding and running a business.
Divyanshu can be reached at email@example.com.