This mobile planetarium and science lab is going places with its immersive learning for students
Nalini Aparanji, Co-founder of Taare Zameen Par, an innovative tech startup that features immersive and experiential learning sessions via a mobile planetarium, has ventured into more states and is looking to reach students in the remotest areas of the country.
Thursday January 12, 2023,
6 min Read
From the plains of Karnataka and Maharashtra to the remote hilly regions of Jammu & Kashmir, Leh and Ladakh, and the Northeast, children from several schools are aiming for the stars, literally.
–from Bengaluru-based Varnaaz Technologies, a startup that offers a mobile planetarium and science lab for an immersive learning experience, caught the attention of the education and scientific community when it was started in 2018.
The brainchild of the husband-wife team, Dinesh Badagandi and Nalini Aparanji, Taare Zameen Par (TZP) provides students in rural areas with a fully immersive experience of outer space. Its aim is to ignite love and curiosity for learning among students and make them aware of the boundless opportunities in applied sciences.
With a planetarium in their classrooms, students are introduced to the wonders of the cosmos–stars, comets, asteroids, black holes, and more through short films. But, that’s not all. Taare Zameen Par also features a Lab on Wheels that takes students through the basics of astronomy, and the demonstration of applied science through experiments in refraction, reflection, solar energy and other applications.
Founded in 2018, and, despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, with schools being shut down for almost two years, Taare Zameen Par has managed to reach 6,500 schools and more than 12 lakh children.
The TiE Global Summit held in Hyderabad in December last year featured pitches from women from all over the world as part of a Global Women’s Pitch Competition. Nalini Aparanji was the only Indian woman entrepreneur to reach the finals where she pitched Taare Zameen Par and won a grant of Rs 30 lakh.
On their foray into Jammu & Kashmir, Leh and Ladakh, Nalini says, “Our team delivered three mobile science labs, our new product, to the Ladakh education department. We visited remote areas like Baramulla, Uri, and Pulwama Panun, Palhalan, Hirri Trehgm, Tattoo Ground Srinagar, and Srinagar Army Campus. Indian Army supported us very much with the security they ensured our safety,” she says.
Dinesh refers to an article featuring Taare Zameen Par in 2018, which gave them a lot of traction and new accounts, but unfortunately, the pandemic threw their plans out of gear.
The pandemic, and after
However, the couple hit upon an idea that pivoted their company in different directions, while keeping its focus on imparting science education intact.
“We started organising webinars and online workshops and were funded by the Karnataka State Science and Technology Promotion Society and various CSR agencies.
It also introduced science kits and started a programme, ‘Spark of Curiosity’. These kits are custom-made according to the curriculum from Grades V to X.
“These were complemented with online classes, and once schools started opening, we organised quizzes, other learning sessions, and also arranged talks from scientists from ISRO, BARC,” she says.
Before the pandemic, Taare Zameen Par had sold six planetariums, and when the pandemic slowly started abating, it forged partnerships with companies like Synopsys and L&T as its clients.
The reaction has been overwhelming, to say the least.
Nalini points out that the excitement of being inside a mobile planetarium is palpable. “They want more and give their honest feedback. We are working on introducing more concepts,” she says.
At the time of our conversation with the founders, Taare Zameen Par was also participating in the International Cultural Jamboree where over 55,000 scouts, guides, rovers, and rangers from across the country and abroad assembled at the Alvas College campus in Moodabidri in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka.
The company set up three mobile planetariums during the event and attracted thousands of visitors every day.
“After this, we have been getting calls from Jharkhand, Punjab, and others states enquiring about the product,” she says.
Nalini explains that Taare Zameen Par offers 20 content shows for different age groups. For instance, ‘Earth, moon, and sun” talks about the solar system, the motion of planets, how day and night happen, eclipses, how far planets are from earth, and more. “Life Style of Star” shows how stars are born, different types of stars, how they die, the black hole, etc.
“We teach more than just astronomy and science. We also focus on human anatomy, heritage, and culture, and have shows related to STEM showing the periodic table, and we are in discussion with the pollution control board to create content related to the importance of controlling pollution, and creating awareness about climate change,” she elaborates. The shows are presented in English, Hindi, and Kannada, and also in sign language for the hearing-speech impaired.
Dinesh believes that the combination of experiential and immersive learning makes the entire experience enriching, educative, and fun.
“The students are sitting inside a dome and viewing a screen, where for example, the moon landing is being played. They feel like they are travelling through the stars and space as if on a spaceship,” she says.
Taare Zameen Par generates revenue and profits through the sale of mobile planetariums, mobile science labs, science exhibits, science kits, and aligned products like telescopes and anatomy kits. We manufacture them and sell them. It provides a planetarium on a rental model charging Rs 35,000 per day to private schools. Private schools in turn charge Rs 150 per student.
“In a day we cover around 400 -450 students. For CSRs, we run a year-long activity programme called “Spark of Curiosity” with schools through CSR Funds.”
“We are also working on a franchise model where we will identify women entrepreneurs, who can invest up to Rs 50 lakh for all the gadgets and run post-school science classes for students from Standard 2 to 9 experiential learning along with the planetarium experience. We will provide technical, marketing, and content support and charge a commission of 20% on her revenue,” he adds.
The couple agrees the capital investment is quite high, given the nature of the product. A fully loaded planetarium costs Rs 1 crore and a lot of the money invested into the venture has come from the couple’s exit from an earlier startup, Vision Art Solutions and their combined savings. Nalini says Taare Zameen Par has been profitable from day one. They had earlier won a grant of Rs 30 lakh from Karnataka IT Department’s ELEVATE 100 programme. They are now looking for external funding.
“We are also looking at a model where we can rent out the planetariums to state governments for a period of five years, while we take complete charge of operations,” Nalini says.
Edited by Megha Reddy