Why this scion of the Birla family chose to launch an edtech startup
For more than 150 years, the Birlas have been part of India’s industrial and business history. Generations of the family have grown the family legacy and helped the group scale into a massive conglomerate.
But one of the younger Birlas has a different agenda in mind: changing the way education and pedagogy are viewed.
“I remember finding the textbooks and curriculum rather monotonous when I was in school. The sad part is that it’s the same in many schools for many students,” says Nirvaan, the son of Yash Birla. This thought process and the consequent ideation led him to start Mumbai-based edtech platform Birla Brainiacs.
Birla Brainiacs, which began operations in April 2020, is a collaborative learning app for math, science, and English for Classes 1 to 12. The focus of the platform is not limited to the school curriculum; it also offers courses on software coding, mental ability, vedic math, competitive exam preparations (IIT/medical), etc.
On why he felt the need to start Birla Brainiacs, Nirvaan says that the current school system doesn’t allow for “stronger or deeper learning”.
“Classroom teaching styles and the prevalent rote learning do not groom students to become life-long learners. In fact, I had my own method of understanding and recalling a concept. I used to create stories to remember a concept. It proved to become a good memory technique that I applied to almost all subjects,” he says.
Bringing fun to learning
Nirvaan has been a part of setting up of Shloka - A Birla school, due to which he has visited several schools. During a school visit, he saw a teacher teaching science using a creative story.
“The entire class participated in the discussion and I could see that they had truly learnt and accepted the concept for life. This is when the idea for a holistic e-learning platform started taking shape in my head. I immediately got to the drawing board to work on an app focused on story-based learning.”
He also realised that most young children are aware of how they want to learn, and many don’t respond well to traditional classroom teaching.
“We want to mould today’s learners into life-long learners, and, for that, we have to make the content and the platform engaging.”
The biggest challenge was to ensure that a students doesn’t feel that they are studying, but to make them feel that they were participating in learning.
The platform offers one hour of daily live sessions, including Flip Tales developed by international scriptwriters who came up with creative stories for otherwise complex and boring (for many) topics.
The power of collaboration
The pedagogy involves collaborative learning. “We noticed that the student didn’t get any help from mentors once the session time was over. We have a feature called ‘Query Box’ where the student can post a query, and students or teachers provide an answer,” Nirvaan says.
The team also believes that students learn best when grouped with students with similar learning styles. On the platform, every student takes a psychometric test to know this learning style. Each group consists of a maximum of 10 students. Live sessions are scheduled with expert trainers to help students gain a deeper understanding of the topic.
“Our research shows that the student flourishes when there is peer-to-peer learning. So, our platform encourages collaborative learning where students from across the globe get to work on problems together.
"Our Flip Tales teach the concept in a story format so that the student has a quick content recall. The characters used in the story are familiar and the storylines are engaging,” Nirvaan says.
Assessments are done continuously on Birla Brainiacs and play a vital role in providing appropriate intervention. The Query Box feature helps students submit doubts even after the class is over
“All these features, and many more, help us to devise an action plan for the student so that learning takes place at a deep level, rather than at a superficial one,” Nirvaan says.
The core team comprises Shwetank B Upadhyaya, CEO, Birla Brainiacs, who comes with experience of 20 years in the field of education; Pushpita Chattopadhyay, Academic Director, Birla Brainiacs, who has 21 years of experience in the field of education; Nikhil Jain, who has extensive experience in corporate finance, accounts, legal, and overall business operations. The team also includes CA Yogesh Chaddha; Yatharth Gautam, CMO, who brings in over a decade of diverse global experience; and Hina Desai, an active contributor in the field of education for 23 years.
It took the team nearly two years to release the first version of the app - on April 6, 2020. Nirvaan says they have invested roughly $500,000 so far.
The sector and differentiator
The pandemic has led to a boom in edtech. Funding grew from $522 million in 2019 to $2.2 billion in 2020, as per the Indian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (IVCA), and a plethora of edtech startups have mushroomed to cater to the emerging needs of the ‘new normal’.
The startups in the space include BYJU’S, eduTinker, Yellow Class, FrontRow, Unacademy, CampK12, and several others. However, Nirvaan says they are "different" as the pedagogy involves a fun-based learning approach.
“We have many key differentiators such as unique learning features in the app, physical infrastructure to support lab work for our online users, and trained teachers. We do not believe in hiring contract teachers on a revenue-sharing model as we believe that unlike a cab business that can have a successful aggregator model, education requires a bond of trust between the educator and the parent. The Birlas have never seen education as a business, but always as a service to the nation,” Nirvaan says.
Numbers and future
Since April 2020, Birla Brainiacs has crossed over 50,000 downloads, has 10,000 DAUs, and offers 25 courses, including English, math, science, coding, vedic math, and abacus.
“Adoption is encouraging, particularly from remote areas and lower economy category families. This encourages me a lot as my vision is to make global standard education available to each family in India,” Nirvaan says.
Subscriptions start from Rs 649 per month and go up to Rs 2,200 per month for premium learning.
Speaking of future plans, Nirvaan says, “We are experimenting with AI technology to gamify learning. It will make learning more engaging and less burdensome. Our focus is to increase engagement and give a personalised learning experience to each student.”
Edited by Teja Lele