At the first-ever Marriott Hotels TED Salon in India held on September 6 at the Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield, an engaged crowd of innovative entrepreneurs, international media, influencers as well as business school students came together to celebrate and applaud the power of innovation.
In the run-up to the event, Marriott had hosted an online contest on YourStory to give two innovators a chance to attend this first-of-its kind event in India. The two contest winners were Sandeep Senan, founder of edtech startup Bibox and Anuradha Agarwal, co-founder of language learning platform Multibhashi.
At the event, three TED fellows – women’s health advocate Zubaida Bai from India, marine biologist, whale conservationist, educator and founder of The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project Asha de Vos, and Vietnamese agricultural entrepreneur and co-founder of Fargreen Trang Tran -- inspired the audience with their personal and professional stories.
While Zubaida Bai highlighted the potential and impact of the simple but revolutionary ‘clean birth kit’ in enabling impoverished women in the developing world to have safer childbirths, Asha de Vos shared a powerful message on the need for protecting whales as they play a crucial role in the health of the world’s oceans. Trang Tran shared her experience of working with farmers to build sustainable, prosperous communities in Vietnam.
Applauding the speakers as the “best and brightest thinkers working towards making positive, meaningful and lasting change in their communities”, Shoham Arad, director of TED Fellows, highlighted the initiative’s impact. She shared, “The TED Fellows programme, since its beginning in 2009, has continued to bring together innovators and thought leaders to address some of the world’s most pressing issues through the sharing of ideas and strategies.”
The ongoing global partnership between Marriott Hotels and TED is now in its second year following its launch in 2016, and has been expanded to include more exciting and innovative programming at Marriott Hotels across key destinations worldwide. “Backed by 60 years of history, Marriott Hotels continues to innovate and inspire brilliance in our guests – and this TED Salon has really brought to life what the brand stands for,” said Mike Fulkerson, Vice President, Brand & Marketing Asia Pacific, Marriott International. The coming months will see TED Fellows Salons held at Marriott Hotels in exciting destinations including Boston, Cairo and Athens.
Growing up in Jaipur, a young Anuradha Agarwal, excelled in academics during schooling. Her flair for linguistics and numbers was evident in her school grades. After completing her education in engineering and management, Anuradha worked as an investment banker before turning into an entrepreneur. She started Dexter Capital Advisors, a boutique investment banking venture along with her husband Devendra Agrawal. With the rise of the Android economy and the profusion of e-commerce, Anuradha observed that there was an unmet need to enhance the employability of blue-collared and grey collared work aspirants by upskilling their language skills. This industry gap eventually led to Anuradha and Devendra launching MultiBhashi.
What makes MultiBhashi innovative is that it focuses on bi-lingual training, i.e from an Indian language to English, and specialises in 20+ Indian languages. It has a blended learning model consisting of self-paced learning as well as instructor-led online tutorials for hyper-personalised training. The platform’s chatbot and voicebot assistants guide the learners and motivate them based on their behavioural and learning patterns.
“What makes our story unique is the impact we have been making at the grassroots. By partnering with organisations such as Barefoot College (Night School), Vidya Prasar Vidya Mandir, Rural Change Makers, Tortoise Learning etc. we have reached out to the learners in rural pockets across India along with upskilling migrants in the urban diaspora,” says Anuradha. “Through our innovative platform, we are positively impacting the next billion internet users coming online in India and will, to a large extent, set the direction for growth in the country.”
That’s not all. Having reached 1.2 million users, MultiBhashi has been able to generate petabytes of data-sets. “We are leveraging that data to build and power a robust vernacular engine for the future Indian language learner,” she adds.
Anuradha’s contribution as the co-founder of MultiBhashi has helped the startup win many accolades such as the Forbes 50 Social Transformation Companies 2017, YourStory Social Impact Companies 2017 and recognition by the Technology Development Board (Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India) 2018. “The experience of donning the cape of a leader, evangelist, salesperson, language expert and others at the same time has been fulfilling, not just as an entrepreneur but also as a social transformation agent at the grassroots,” she says.
Sandeep Senan has always been a tinkerer. From the time he was just five, he used to spend hours at the neighbourhood electronics repair shop, watching the process of repairing and re-engineering radios, fridges, TVs. By the age of 10, he had learnt to do so himself, and as a college student he developed a six -degree freedom tracking device which was procured by the DRDO’s Advanced Numerical Research Group (ANURAG).
It didn’t surprise many that he chose the entrepreneurial route instead of opting for a plush corporate job. Sandeep co-founded Bibox, an edtech startup known for its flagship hardware and software platform that helps school students with little to no background in engineering or programming build their own gadgets and machines. “Kids are naturally curious, giving them a little encouragement and structured mentoring along with a toolkit can open up their creative freedom and confidence to innovate. Through Bibox we get the process started,” he says.
The startup also runs Bibox Labs which brings together technology, creative content and delivery mechanisms and partners with schools to teach, develop and mentor students to innovate and apply new solutions to everyday problems. At the Bibox Labs functional in over 100 schools, over 25,000 children have worked on a million innovations.
Bibox’s reach extends beyond schools and children. In fact, as Knowledge Partners for the Incubation and Entrepreneurship cell at NIFT, Tirupur, Sandeep and his team at Bibox are conducting a series of workshops to inspire innovations and entrepreneurship among the institute’s students and are closely looking at developing a more involved engagement on technology collaborations. Sandeep is also working a project that combines art and technology for children under the age group of years.
He also played a key role in the setting up of the Medical Innovation Creativity and Entrepreneurship Lab (MICE Labs) at Mumbai’s JJ Hospital, which was inaugurated on September 5, 2018 by Maharashtra Minister of State for Medical Education Ravindra Chavan. The skills laboratory has been designed to enable MBBS students to develop their innovative skills, enhance their thinking and imagination, and develop new technology which will boost the healthcare industry.
His innovative work at Bibox, his contribution to the edtech scene in the country and his earnest passion for innovation earned him a spot among the Top 10 Innovators Under 35 from India in the TR35 India list published by Mint and MIT Technology Review in 2017.