This serial entrepreneur joined edtech major Avishkaar to help build a global brand for robotics and coding for K-12
In 2009, Tarun Bhalla started, an edtech company by launching the Robotronics Series, a robotics DIY kit, in an effort to ignite interest in children in the field.
Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds and is continuing its mission: to create an army of young innovators who are not just consumers but creators of technology in the field of robotics, AI, IoT, and drones.
In 2020, Pooja Goyal, a serial entrepreneur, joined Tarun to build Avishkaar into a global brand for robotics and coding education for K-12 sector.
“I went to IIT-Delhi for chemical engineering. Very early on, I realised that I did not want to build a career in engineering, but my years at IIT were life-changing. I made lifelong friendships, problem-solved alongside some of the most brilliant people I’ve met - both students and teachers - and developed the confidence to experiment and take risks,” she recalls.
Always raring to start up
Pooja moved to Bay Area a few years after completing her undergraduate degree where she built her first startup, raised funding, and got an initial set of customers.
But then the downturn of 2001 hit. Unfortunately, she had to shut down operations, and says like many good engineers “decided to do my MBA” at INSEAD France. The lessons from this startup stayed, and while Pooja decided to join Adobe, she was raring to start up again.
She moved back to India in 2007 with Adobe but soon quit to start her second startup, Intellitots. Her co-founder, a batch mate from IIT-Delhi, and she bootstrapped the company over 10 years when it was acquired by KLAY.
Avishkaar came calling and Pooja was on to her third startup, creating solutions in the edtech sector.
“Both schools and parents are aware that next-generation technologies like robotics, AI, coding, IoT, and drones are going to play a pivotal role in the world of tomorrow. However, no one is clear on how to go about introducing or teaching them to children,” she says.
“Parents and policy makers across the world are accepting the fact that comfort with technology is critical and children have to be innovators, tinkerers, and builders if they and their nation has to succeed. Governments across the world are introducing some form of computing curriculum from kindergarten. Over 30 countries have introduced a mandatory computer science curriculum for grades KG -12. India has just introduced NEP 2020 where coding will be a mandatory subject from Class 6,” she adds.
The Avishkaar team
Avishkaar has developed a combination of hardware, software, curriculum, and communities to provide curated experiences to schools and children alike.
Pooja says the company has developed an ecosystem approach to this problem where it offers not only products but also a curriculum and community to enable children to develop skills in a joyful, and meaningful manner.
The Avishkaar platform includes award-winning robotics kits E Series, Tweak, and Maker Board for 5 -15-year-olds, personalised learning with live online courses led by expert teachers, an active and engaged online community of children who love to code, build and innovate, and the Avishkaar League - an international championship for coding and robotics.
The company sold more than 100,000+ products and has worked with over 1,500 schools, becoming a leading player in this domain. Currently selling in India, the company plans to go global soon. The Avishkaar Jr Robotics product Tweak will be used in all primary classes in government schools in Delhi, Sikkim, and Andhra Pradesh.
While deciding to join the team, one of Pooja’s big dilemmas was that the company was based in New Delhi and she was based in Bengaluru. She didn’t have to ponder on this dilemma for too long.
“I joined Avishkaar in March of 2020; 15 days in, the world changed, travel stopped, and everything moved online. Believe it or not, I met the Avishkaar core team face to face only once. The last 10 months have been a flurry of Google Meet and Zoom calls and WhatsApp messages. These meetings end up being extremely agenda-driven with no scope for small talk. The bright side is that if we have been able to work seamlessly in these tough circumstances, it can only get better from here,” she says.
Bouncing back amid COVID-19
Avishkaar founder Tarun Bhalla
Pooja says Avishkaar’s competitors are a few small players in the space in India while internationally there are companies such as Vex Robotics, Lego, Make Wonder, and Wonder Workshop, and Osmo.
The company raised funding from Auxano in 2018 and has been supported by angel investors like Ritesh Malik of Innov8. It is also a part of the cohort at AIC Banasthali Vidyapith, which helps them with connections and general guidance.
The startup’s revenue comes from direct sales to families and setting up innovation labs in schools.
Avishkaar was massively impacted by COVID-19, given that its primary business was setting up robotics labs in schools and running programmes for school children. With schools closed for more than a year, Pooja says revenues took a big hit.
“But this disruption also opened a huge opportunity gateway to direct-to-consumer sales. We were able to rapidly pivot, launch new lower priced products like robotics and IoT starter kits and microdegrees, and saw steep growth in this segment,” she says.
Pooja believes starting and running a business is tough, whether by a man or a woman.
“My advice is don’t be afraid of hearing ‘no’. Reach out to as many people as you can to speak about your business, seek advice, and request connections. Let other people say ‘no’ to you before you say no to yourself. Most people are willing to support you if you are credible and approach in the right manner,” Pooja says.