This article appeared in YourStory.

https://yourstory.com/2020/12/edtech-startup-educational-initiatives-mindspark

Back in 1997, Sunil Handa, Sridhar Rajagopalan, Venkat Krishnan and Sudhir Ghodke founded the Eklavya School in Ahmedabad. While running the school, they observed the problem of rote learning in both private and public schools. “Students who performed well were scoring marks without having a fundamental understanding of the topic and subject,” Sridhar tells YourStory. He further explains that students were able to answer from textbooks, without necessarily understanding the topics.   The school thus started focusing on achieving holistic development of every student across the academic, social, and extracurricular fronts. “It however became clear that a single school wouldn’t make a far-reaching impact,” Sridhar says.

This led to the starting of Educational Initiatives (EI) Pvt Ltd in 2001. Registered and headquartered in Ahmedabad, EI kicked off operations in Bengaluru in 2008. 

EI was founded with the aim to create a world where K-12 children learn while understanding the basic concepts. It provides diagnostic assessments and personalised learning solutions to schools.

Sridhar Rajagopalan, Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Educational Initiatives

Meet the team

Co-founder and CEO Srini comes with a professional experience of more than 30-plus years across cultures and geographies, building a strong track record as a technology strategist. Prior to EI, he served as the Senior Vice President and Managing Director in Bally Technologies. He has worked with companies like PepsiCo, HCL, and Manhattan Associates, among others.

Srini is also a member of NCERT’s National Group for Assessment in School Education (NEGASE).

Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer Sridhar earlier worked in IBM India before co-founding Ekalavya School. He is a member of various central and state government committees related to education, including the committee for devising model rules for the Right to Education Act in Gujarat. He is a member of NCERT’s National Expert Group on Assessment in Elementary Education (NEGAEE).

Sridhar and Srini aligned to work on a common goal of revolutionising the education system in India.

A couple of years back, Venkat and Sudhir moved on from EI to pursue other interests.

Sridhar Rajagopalan, Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer; Srini Raghavan, Co-founder and CEO; and Anand Dani, Chief Business Officer at Educational Initiatives (L-R)

EI has up to 400 employees (including educators) working across the country today. The company also has a dedicated pedagogical research team that works at the grassroot level to understand how children learn and improve their learning.

The founders invested Rs 2.5 lakh each along with investments from friends and family, leading to a total of Rs 30 lakhs. The company also recently raised funds of $25 million (approx. Rs. 171 crore) from GAJA Capital.

Measuring conceptual understanding 

EI offers educational research and technology-based solutions, with a focus on revolutionising how children are engaged while learning. Its services include:

Core learning solutions through assessment and learning: Under this, EI offers ASSET — a skill-based test that measures students’ conceptual understanding. It benchmarks the school’s performance at international, national, and regional levels, with actionable insights through easy-to-understand reports.

“Detailed assessment is an option for schools and parents, which assists to deep dive into subjects and improve topic specific learning outcomes,” Sridhar says. 

Usually schools or parents pay for ASSET in India. However, “In the US and Dubai, the government has taken the responsibility to ensure that such programs are a part of regular school curriculum and no additional cost is incurred by parents,” Sridhar adds.

Secondly, it offers AI-powered engine Mindspark, which offers personalised Math and English learning. Mindspark adapts to each student’s individual learning pace in sync with school curriculum and provides instant feedback that clears incorrect understanding.

– Enabling Solutions: Teacher Impact Programmes (TIPs), which is designed to help teachers bridge the gap between teaching and learning. As an assessment programme, TIPs help teachers to identify their strengths and weaknesses and provide insights to help improve on those.

– Blended Learning Solutions: EI hosts live classes to assist students for learning maths and clearing their doubts. “These live classes provide students with classroom experience that clears misconceptions, and are loaded with individual attention, without any peer pressure,” Sridhar explains.

– Solutions for gifted students: ASSET Digital Learning Programme (ADLP), which offers courses that prepare students of classes 5 to 9 for a life beyond the classroom. ADLP aims at creating independent learners, encouraging students to take charge of their own learning, and helping them create habits to achieve excellence.

ASSET Mentorship Programme (AMP) is an online mentorship programme for students that focuses on building skill sets, with the support of personal mentors. The programme is crafted to guide aspiring students through the crucial years of academic development and help them make informed decisions about their higher education.

ASSET Talent Search (ATS) is a talent identification programme that identifies, acknowledges, and supports academically talented students. According to Sridhar, it is Asia’s largest skill-based diagnostic and benchmarking test. 

The products are all competitively priced and customised as per learning and assessment requirements. EI’s B2B products range between Rs 500 and Rs 6,000, and its B2C offerings are priced between Rs 6,000 and Rs 12,000.


Journey so far

In the formative years, Eklavya School served as the launchpad for what EI is today. The founders conducted teachers’ training, assessments were conceptualised and conducted across schools in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. ASSET was then devised and the product was later scaled up.  “There were challenges keeping in view that this was a paid solution and the uniqueness relative to conventional methods was not something easy to pitch about. Despite this, a lot of top-notch schools were onboarded and are associated with EI right since 2001,” Sridhar says.

Through word of mouth, ASSET was implemented across government schools in Mumbai. “We later worked with state governments, World Bank, Google, and other bigwigs, which further strengthened our brand value,” Sridhar adds. 

Since then, EI has reported 100 percent year-on-year growth with lower range hovering no less than 15 percent. The company has been profitable since its first year of operations. Some of the marquee school partners are South Point in Kolkata, The Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai, Shiv Nadar School in Delhi NCR, and Mallya Aditi International School in Bengaluru, among others.

Success stories 

EI’s offerings are reviewed by the Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and J-Pal.

It is present in 19 countries and EI has partnered with more than 10,000 schools, conducting 10 million assessments. According to the founders, EI has assisted more than 5,000 teachers for classroom remediation with detailed assessment, and has conducted 300 plus large scale projects.

One of EI’s assessments, conducted in 2010, was funded by Google. Celebrity children Sara Ali Khan and Arjun Tendulkar have attended the ASSET test, when it was conducted in Dhirubhai Ambani International School.

Market overview

The edtech sector is booming like never before. Favourable tailwinds provided by the pandemic is expected to increase paid users in the K-12 segment from 45 million in 2019, to 90 million this year.  While BYJU’s touched the $12 billion valuation mark, Unacademy entered the unicorn club this year. Players like Vedantu and Toppr have also gained traction amidst the pandemic. However, Sridhar believes what separates a two-decade old company like EI from the edtech startups is its method of incorporating research into learning.

“EI’s solutions can be compared to Google Maps, a solution that ascertains where you are, where you want to go, and gives you the optimal path and tools to get there,” he explains.

Going ahead, EI plans to expand its product portfolio, and build diagnostic assessment portfolio for schools to address the COVID-19 situation. It also plans to launch the Mindspark app for students, parents and educators.