Meet Subhe, a startup empowering India’s non-English users with job skills

At least 70 percent of India’s citizens do not have access to skilling and educational content in their vernacular language. E-skilling startup, Subhe wants to change this and empower non-English-speaking e-learners with job-oriented technical skills.
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India is the second-largest English-speaking country in the world after the United States. Estimates suggest that anywhere between 12 to 30 percent of India’s population speaks English to some extent.

However, this also points to the fact that at least 70 percent of India’s citizens do not have access to skilling and educational content in their vernacular language as such content is, more often than not, available only in English.

Let’s take the representational example of Deepak, a student from Jaipur currently pursuing his Bachelors’ in Arts. His skills include drawing and painting, and he aspires to be a web User Experience (UX) designer. To become a UX designer, he needs to learn digital design tools like Adobe Photoshop, Figma and others. However, these skills are not part of his college curriculum, so he needs to take these courses on an extracurricular basis. Secondly, most of the local training institutes lack quality trainers, especially for courses related to new-age skills. While reputed institutions do offer such courses, they are often expensive and available only in select cities.

Online learning has the potential to meet the needs of students like Deepak. However, most global skilling providers offer such courses in English. They also mostly have foreign authors with accents not familiar to people like Deepak, because, like more than 80 percent of Indian youth, Deepak is not comfortable in English. After all, it's not his mother tongue.

As a result there is a high chance that Deepak will remain unskilled and eventually join irrelevant low paying jobs. He is educated, a graduate, but unskilled and employed.

Vivek Rathore & Jagrit Gupta, Subhe

“Like Deepak, there are 400 million youth in India, who are in the age group of 16 to 28 years. More than 80 percent of these youth are non-English speakers and have internet access. I feel the internet can open up the pool of opportunities to our youth. They are smart and intelligent, but due to language barriers, they are still struggling to learn the new-age skills to get their first job. Which is why we started Subhe,” says Vivek Rathore, Co-founder of Subhe, an online learning platform teaching in-demand technical and freelancing skills in Indian languages.

Through Subhe, Vivek wants to empower non-English-speaking e-learners by closing the huge gap of language barrier in online learning.

Only 17 percent of children in India go to English-medium schools, while 49 percent of India’s students study in Hindi-medium schools - a statistic that is much higher In states like Bihar, where only three percent of its students attend English-medium schools.

A recent report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), revealed that nine out of 10 new internet users in India consume content in Indian languages. With India’s online education market set to grow to $1.96 billion and around 9.6 million users by 2021, according to a recent report by KPMG and Google, this marks a significant opportunity for the flourishing of the non-English, e-learning space.

More recently, the nationwide lockdown made even traditional educational and skilling providers migrate to digital platforms. For students whose mode of instruction is not English, an additional hurdle is to assess quality content in their regional languages digitally. There are about 400 million people in India, or roughly a third of the country’s population, who are confronting a fundamental challenge: Not being able to speak English, and lacking other skills that could prove crucial when applying for a job. English is the primary language of teaching for popular e-learning products, and many potential students are left out of this learning revolution, as a result.

“We create localised content (videos, case studies, assignments etc.) with the help of industry experts, and offer it in the form of free and paid courses to help develop job-oriented technical skills among Indian youth,” adds Jagrit Gupta

A product of serial entrepreneurs

Vivek and Jagrit met while they were pursuing an MBA at Ahmedabad. They also happen to be serial entrepreneurs. “After working in the corporate sector for 1.5 years, our common passion for adventure sports led us to quit our jobs and start our first venture into adventure tourism by the name of 78mm adventures, which wasn’t as much of a success as we’d hoped it would be,” says Vivek

“Our fight for survival gave birth to our next venture, Eyebridge, a digital agency, which proved to be much more successful. One of the key challenges that we faced while growing Eyebridge was the lack of a digitally skilled workforce. To counter this recurring problem, we started a classroom based training institute called eSAC in New Delhi in 2016. While running this training institute, the magnitude of the skilling problem in India became a lot more apparent to us - especially the struggle that students go through when they are qualified academically, but professionally unskilled.” adds Jagrit.

In 2018, the duo transformed eSAC into a wholly online learning platform and launched it as Subhe, which met with phenomenal success.

An-award winning idea

“The very same year we were selected at Techstars, which is a leading accelerator programme, and got our pre-seed funding. We were in their Berlin cohort where 10 startups were selected from the pool of 800 applicants. We were also the only one to be selected from India,” says Vivek.

Subhe also went on to win the Dell Startup Challenge organised by YourStory - beating over 500 startups to the top prize. The startup was also awarded by the Governor of Punjab for being the most innovative startup in the Chandigarh Capital Region.

Subhe’s approach to teaching

Content and technology form two central aspects of Subhe’s pedagogy. Subhe creates localised content specially designed for Indian students, and focuses on practical aspects of the learning process. All of their courses are created with the help of industry experts who share their knowledge and experience to help students get job-ready.

Their AI-powered platform provides a guided learning experience to its students. This algorithm is especially developed based on the user behaviour of Indian students. Students are also assisted by tools like a virtual programme manager that makes recommendations based on user performance and helps them complete the course on time.

Peer-to-peer interaction

One of the most unique benefits that students get with Subhe is live peer-to-peer interactions.

“India is a social country where students like to go to college, tuition etc. in groups. As a result, some of our biggest learnings are from our friends and peers. So at Subhe, once in every 15 days, every student gets a chance to join a live group session with a pool of six other students from the same course. It's like a group video call where students can interact with each other and do networking. Our students love this feature,” says Jagrit.

“We have taken inspiration to create this unique feature from Y Combinator’s online Startup School. Our students also get access to our Q&A community, where they can ask their doubts in their mother tongue and our experts resolve their queries within 24 hours. Other students can also give and vote answers in our fast growing community,” adds Vivek.

Business Model

Subhe currently offers three types of courses on its platform: Free introductory courses that introduce students to a domain and platform; short term Micro courses where students can learn a specific tool, like photoshop or facebook marketing etc.; and six-month to one-year Learning tracks that help students get ready for a specific job profile. After completing their learning track, every student gets an assured internship to kick-start their career.

Future plans

With over 20 million freelancers, India ranks as the second largest freelance workforce globally. A report by ASSOCHAM puts the annual growth rate of the gig economy at 17 percent and predicts that it will touch $455 billion by 2023. To cater to this growing demand, Subhe aims to acquire three million registered users over the next two years while also adding 100 learning tacks, 500 micro courses and more languages on the platform.

“Our future ideas include offering B2B subscription plans, a fully AI-based guided learning experience and a dedicated job board to our users, so that they can get work right from our platform. Our vision is to empower the youth of our country to earn a better livelihood by learning the skills of their interest,” says Vivek, signing off.

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