BridgeLabz offers a live lab environment and works with tech companies by hiring fresh engineers and transforming them into industry-ready developers; the startup's immediate plan is to make 2,000-3,000 engineers employable.Athira Nair
At a recent event in Bengaluru, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty made a statement that Indians don’t have the skills required for employment in the IT industry. This is not the first time the employability issue among engineers has been called out. Various research reports and industry veterans have earlier put the number of employable fresh graduates in India at less than 10 percent.
Mumbai-based serial entrepreneur Narayan Mahadevan (49) wanted to build a solution to this problem. In 2015, he launched Mumbai-based BridgeLabz, an incubator looking to bridge the employability gap. The startup aims to increase the talent pool by 25 percent, and reduce the demand-supply gap in tech-based profiles. Through this, the company aims to help startups and enterprises, who would otherwise lose talent to corporates and unicorns who can pay better.
According to Narayan, majority of fresh engineering graduates in India do not get enough hands-on experience, unlike graduates in the fields of medicine and chartered accountancy, who get experience with residencies and articleships, respectively. He believes that one can learn only with experience, especially for roles that require expertise in specific technology.
Even those with excellent skills may lose out in an aptitude test, says Narayan, and hence remain underconfident. Many of them lack the skills needed in the product market too. On the other hand, vacancies for tech roles often remain vacant at many organisations for months, sometimes years, because the available talent pool is too small.
A mechanical engineer by education, Narayan ran his first startup, tech services platform Zesta, for five years. After it shut down in 2012, quite a few engineers who were at Zesta were employed at the likes of Flipkart and Myntra in product manager roles.
“Nowadays, engineers are often employed as product managers. (It was the experience at Zesta as engineers, which helped them become product managers later.) At my second startup, MakeTechEasy, I realised that I could make engineers confident in coding. If they can code in C++ they are eligible for a job anywhere. So, I launched an 18-week programme, in which they solved some 400 problems in C++ and became thorough in the topic,” he recollects. After realising that he could do this on a larger scale, Narayan decided to start up again in 2015, and launched BridgeLabz.
BridgeLabz claims 100 percent guaranteed job placement to engineers on emerging technologies. Its flagship ‘Maker Programme’ helps fresh engineers learn coding by making tech products themselves from scratch. The four-month long fellowship programme is paid for by corporates who want to get the right talent for tech jobs. They have no standard curriculum of content, as programmes are customised to enable graduates to meet corporates' mandates.
Narayan explains, “About 45 percent of engineering graduates have the aptitude for coding. The freshers are chosen through a coding test. (BridgeLabz takes the loss if the client is not happy with the talent provided.) Through the programme, engineers acquire new skills in product development. This makes them job-ready, and companies get the best talent to work for them on a made-to-order basis.”
BridgeLabz focuses only on engineering/software requirements, and hence its targets are mostly fresh engineering graduates and postgraduates in MCA hired from training institutes across the country. Incidentally, these training institutes are also competition to BridgeLabz.
Narayan says, “Fresh engineering graduates usually seek training and certification to find employment. Our differentiation is that we get the tech specs and develop engineers accordingly. However, these freshers can always choose to go to training institutes.”
BridgeLabz is a team of 50 people, including product managers, experienced engineers, and designers. The core team, which comprises 32 mentors, has experience as engineers and product managers at established enterprises, including Yaatra.com and Shaadi.com. They hand-hold fresh graduates while the latter learn themselves from the online content. (BridgeLabz gives the necessary infrastructure, tools for tech, etc.)
The mentors are also encouraged to participate in projects to further their understanding of new technologies, rather than restricting themselves to teaching. BridgeLabz’ incubator, recognised by Amazon Web Service (AWS), occupies 40-50 percent time of these mentors.
However, Narayan stresses that BridgeLabz is not an incubation fund. “Ours is a lab where ideas can be incubated and minimum viable product can be developed.” The angel-funded startup was selected by the Maharashtra government as one of the Top 100 Startups in 2019.
BridgeLabz has a Maker Lab in Mumbai and Bengaluru now, and will soon open in Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Jaipur, and Indore. Their immediate plan is to make 2,000-3,000 engineers employable via BridgeLabz.
The startup has partnered with over 150 companies, including startups (mostly in Series B) and corporates such as Yatra, Capgemini, Meru Cabs, JDA, UrbanLadder, and RBL Bank, among others. It claims to have made more than 500 engineers employable to date.
According to Narayan, with BridgeLabs, every fresh graduate can get the industry average of Rs 4.5 to Rs 5 lakh per annum. “Some companies have a contract to keep them; we do not interfere in that,” he adds.
BridgeLabz does not get talent from engineering colleges, as the latter has placement programmes only once in a year, while BridgeLabz’ has clients through the year.
Companies can do an upfront payment of Rs 2.5 lakh per head, or deferred payment of Rs 3.5 lakh (in addition to taxes) to BridgeLabz. Narayan explains, “Once we get the tech specs from the client, we look for someone who understands those. It takes two weeks to find the right candidate. S/he should be motivated to learn and produce great things. We develop software in our lab with the client’s tech specs to train talent.”
Narayan says clients don’t conduct any tests or interviews before hiring candidates from BridgeLabz.
“They trust BridgeLabz, as we have trained talent for a specific role the client has asked for. In fact, this was also a challenge when we first started up. We were introducing a model that did not exist – engineers don’t pay anything, but get upskilled and get a corporate job; companies are paying us for freshers selected, mentored, and groomed by us. We had to get them to trust us so they would hire our candidates without seeing them. ”
Narayan claims that for an inexperienced engineer, four months of training at the startup is equal to two years’ work experience. BridgeLabz also pays a stipend to the talent to cover basic expenses. There are weekly checks to ensure the talent’s progress.
Narayan says BridgeLabz has generated Rs 5 crore in revenue this year, a 2x growth from last year. He adds, “We have achieved the product-market fit. We are fulfilling a need that exists. In FY2020, we will surpass this year’s revenue four times over.”
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