[Startup Bharat] This edtech startup is using virtual reality-based content to have real-life impact on students

Gujarat-based fotonVR is developing virtual reality content for science subjects between classes five and ten. It has so far on-boarded six schools, and has more than 2,000 students.

3rd Jun 2020
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Today, educational institutes are increasingly using technology to make learning more interactive, fun, and exciting. In the era of digital devices, technology gives us an opportunity to enable better learning for students, and enabling Virtual Reality (VR) in education seems to be the next step in this direction.


Even when it comes to science subjects, teaching should not be limited to textbooks and visits to the labs. It is important to enable students to not only read books, but also interact with it.


To eliminate mugging up and help children understand the fundamental concepts better, four friends - Vijay Thakkar, Mayur Patel, Mehul Patel, and Dhaval Sonpal started fotonVR, an edtech startup, in December 2017.


Based out of the incubation centre of Ganpat University in Mehsana district of Gujarat, fotonVR facilitates practical experiments in the virtual world.


The VR in education startup explains science activities in 3D, in a 360-degree environment. It not just increases student’s interest in the subjects, but also adds on to their creativity and engagement in learning. 

The startup recently won an award at the National Conference in e-Governance of India, and has been awarded the Best Startup of Gujarat Award by the CM of the state in 2018. 


fotonVR

The founding team at fotonVR



The story so far 

“Ganpat University has more than 12,000 students and 400 teachers. Being around them helps us get a better understanding of what the product should look like. Additionally, we can get reviews or conduct surveys almost immediately,” says Vijay, Co-founder and VP of Business. 


Vijay is an Instrumentation Engineer, and previously co-founded Kachhua, an edtech startup. His brother, Dhaval, is a commerce graduate. With strong skills in finance and cost management, he joined fotonVR as the Co-founder and VP of Finance. 


Vijay’s friend Mayur and his brother Mehul were both Aircraft maintenance engineers. Mayur started his career with Kachhua, and currently serves as the Co-founder and VP of Operations at fotonVR. Mehul is the VP of Technology. He manages all technical development of fotonVR. 


Besides the co-founders, fotonVR has a team of 50-plus members. The startup has a combination of subject matter experts, technical experts, animators, 3D object designers, programmers, and market research experts with a business development team.


fotonVR

The fotonVR team



How does it work? 

The startup provides VR classrooms and labs, and also makes individual kits for students.


The content designers in fotonVR’s team draft the story for science activities, the tech team then designs virtual worlds and objects for the story. The 3D designer team creates animations and makes them ready for the testing team. Once tested, the content is ready for use. fotonVR provides content for science subjects for classes five to ten, and for schools that follow ICSE and NCERT/CBSE syllabus. 


For schools, fotonVR provides a turn-key solution that includes the hardware, setting up the classroom, software, content, and training to the teachers. The cost of setting up a classroom, along with the content, kits, and training to teachers range between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 15 lakh per classroom. Once the setup is done, fotonVR charges between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh as an annual subscription charge.


Similarly, for a single student, parents can place an order for the VR device along with the content on its website. For individual kits, the pricing starts from Rs 50,000 – Rs 30,000 for the device, and Rs 20,000 for the content.


The startup said it launched the individual kit last month, and already has a couple of users on-board.


fotonVR

Students inside a fotonVR classroom



Number game 

Currently, fotonVR has on-boarded six schools – four in Gujarat and two in Karnataka, with more than 2,000 students. According to Vijay, government and self-financed schools are taking interest in its product.


“We have created more than 500 activities, simplifying complex science topics,” Vijay adds. 

fotonVR generated around Rs 1 crore in revenue last year, and is targeting Rs 36 crore, by reaching out to more schools and investing more in marketing. The startup has received seed funding of Rs 1 crore from Ganpat Biznovation, and plans to raise pre-Series A round soon. 


“We once visited a deaf-and-dumb school to give them an opportunity to learn through virtual reality. The students tried touching the objects and enjoying the concepts. A teacher later told us that due to safety concerns, these students cannot be taken for industrial visits. It was then that we realised that we have not just created a product, but we have created values,” Vijay says. 


fotonVR

A student learning to use fotonVR



The edtech market 

‘Online Education in India: 2021’, a study by KPMG in India and Google suggests that the country’s online education market is set to grow to $1,96 billion and around 9,6 million users by 2021. In fact, primary and secondary supplemental education will be the largest category by 2021 and at $773 million, growing at a CAGR of 60 percent.

Players like classVR, MEL Chemistry, and Google Expeditions provide content aligned with school syllabus, covering science activities for students between the ages of eight and 15. However, according to the startup, what differentiates it from its competitors is its 360-degree images and video content.


“We provide 3D, animated walk-through interactive activities which give a feeling of an actual environment,” Vijay says. 

As fotonVR’s clients are physical schools, they are facing challenges since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, with schools being shut and not wanting to investing right now. However, the demand for individual kits have gone up, and the startups expects to make sales in that stream. Additionally, fotonVR plans to expand its services to 40 countries. It has already tied up with educational companies in Thailand.

(Edited by Megha Reddy)

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