[Startup Bharat] Gangtok-based educational travel startup Invacations aims for ‘inclusive India'
Most often than not, Northeast India tends to be sectioned off as disparate from India. Edtech entrepreneur Dewaker Baset, 36, felt the same way about his home state, Sikkim.
“Years back, the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, ran an interesting yet intriguing ad that said ‘India and its Northeast.’ The latter half of the ad brought out a distinct exclusiveness to the idea of the Northeast,” Dewaker says.
He realised that “some sort of bridging” was required to connect the Northeast with the rest of India. And that’s how the seed of Invacations was planted.
Based out of Sikkim’s capital city, Gangtok, Invacations is an educational travel startup that connects students from institutes across the country with Northeast India, and vice-versa.
“We have endeavoured to work with educational institutes and young minds with the aim that students from mainland India and Northeast understand each other better and progress towards the idea of an inclusive India,” Dewaker says.
Invacations was registered as an entity six months back, and has obtained a trade licence from the Government of India.
The Eureka moment
Dewaker is a journalism graduate from Bangalore University and has previously worked as an editor at a pharmaceutical magazine. He has over 10 years of experience as an educational entrepreneur. In 2009, he founded collaborative edtech company 24hours Inspired.
At his previous startup, Dewaker would engage in a student exposure platform called ‘Connecting Champions’. As a part of the annual programme, 24hours Inspired would take meritorious students from government and private schools across Sikkim, to different parts of the country for student exposure trips.
In July 2019, Dewaker stepped down from 24hours Inspired and started Invacations. He self-funded the startup with an initial investment of Rs 2.5 lakh.
The startup currently has five employees and intends to grow to 30 by the end of this financial year.
Education through travel
“Being in the hospitality and education space, we have integrated travel and learning,” Dewaker says.
However, the journey was not a cakewalk.
Located in one corner of the country, it was initially difficult for the founder to connect with newer educational institutes and explain the model to them.
“In the last six months, we have broken much ice and are roaring to grow in the next fiscal year,” he says.
Invacations targets educational institutes for its clients. It acquired its first clients through word of mouth. In the last six months, the startup has engaged with more than 35 educational institutes across the country, and conducted trips in Sikkim, Gujarat, Kerala, Orissa, and West Bengal.
It provides customised itinerary development, end-to-end logistical and hospitality support, and customised games and activities. The price charged for each student varies from package to package, but the average cost is Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per student, for a five-day trip.
“We provide value-added services through experiential learning interventions to students from schools and colleges,” Dewaker says.
Invacations offers both “negotiable and non-negotiable activities” during the trips. Non-negotiable activities include cross-cultural sensitisation. Negotiable ones are cultural and learning activities.
During a recent trip to Orissa, students indulged in beach-cleaning activities. Similarly, on another trip, botany students from Assam were taken to Botany Research Centre in Sikkim for a learning intervention.
Since inception, Invacations has been able to break the Rs 50 lakh mark and aims to touch Rs 2.5 crore in the next one year.
According to Dewaker, operational profits are between 15 and 18 percent.
“Currently, we are pumping back all investments into the entity. In the next three years, we intend to scale and then go to the market for further expansions,” Dewaker says.
The travel market
The Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth among the service sector in India. According to World Economic Forum, India ranked 34th in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report.
IBEF says the direct contribution of tourism and hospitality to GDP is expected to rise from $ 76.65 billion in 2017 to $148.20 billion in 2027.
However, educational tourism is a relatively new concept in India.
Players like Varnaaz Technologies and TheModernClassroom specialise in educational travels and creating unique learning experiences for students. There are also plenty of tour operators based out of the Northeast, who focus on packages for clients.
However, what sets Invacations apart is its focus on educational institutes.
“We are single-mindedly focused on value-adding student exposure trips to the Northeast. We provide students with cultural exposure, heightening the experience,” Dewaker says.
“Most students who travel to Sikkim and the Northeast say that they did not know how beautiful this part of their country is and that there were so many myths that were busted. That’s the biggest kick for us. Even if we succeed 10 percent in this journey, we would have accomplished our mission,” Dewaker says.
Invacations is now in talks with state governments for a teacher engagement programme.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)