The story of Gunvant Jain, an IIT-ian who borrowed money from his father to launch an educational start-up, as told by Indrani Roy / Rediff.com
As a youngster, Gunvant Jain had a dream career.
Having completed his BTech from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in 2010, Gunvant could have taken up any well paying job in a reputed firm.
But he chose to take the road less travelled.
During his time at the IIT, Gunvant saw that educational institutes, parents and even society often put tremendous pressure on the children to perform well and students, reeling from this constant stress, feel suffocated, demoralised and tired.
Can I do something to ease the state of the students’ lives? Can I design a coaching module so that learning can be fun for youngsters?” he asked himself.
Months of brainstorming and introspection followed before he could design Shikshalaya, an active learning centre based in Mumbai.
Prior to this Gunvant did join an education start-up in Mumbai in his "desperate bid to have an exposure".
"My decision shocked my peers and my well-wishers but I had to follow my dream," Gunvant told Rediff.com.
"I refused to be buried under a profession that would kill my soul."
What motivated him to be an entrepreneur
“While I was in the final year of engineering, I was in regular touch with my seniors,” he told Rediff.com.
“I was having conversations with them on jobs, earnings and opportunities.
“During each conversation, I observed a common trend -- a sense of dissatisfaction and a yearning for change.”
Some of them felt their talent was not fully utilised while others were unhappy with their job profiles, Gunvant said.
“What kind of job should I opt for, I kept asking myself.”
Jagriti Yatra taught him important lessons
“In my search for an answer, I left for Jagriti Yatra,” Gunvant said.
And for that, he did not hesitate to leave placement season in the middle.
Jagriti Yatra is a train journey that takes hundreds of India's highly motivated youth, especially those who are from small towns and villages of India, on a 15-day, 8,000-km national odyssey to meet the role models -- social and business entrepreneurs -- of the country.
The vision of Jagriti is 'building India through enterprise'.
It aims to inculcate the spirit of social-entrepreneurship among youths.
“I was one among the 400 selected youths who got a chance to visit places which stand out for being homes to finest examples for social-entrepreneurship in India,” Gunvant said.
“That 15-day trip completely changed my thinking.
“At the end of the journey, I decided to take a break so that I could try and figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” he told Rediff.com.
Teach for India
Meanwhile Gunvant had already applied for Teach for India. As he returned from JY, he got a confirmation mail from TFI.
“I decided to join TFI as a fellow. It would clear my ideas about education further I thought."
While at TFI, Gunvant was trained in a systematic approach to teaching and got an opportunity to work with people from esteemed colleges like Harvard, Princeton and corporates like McKinsey.
Along with a co-teacher of TFI, Gunvant got the responsibility to teach 64 Class 3 children of Pune Municipal school.
It was a wonderful experience -- it was just the kind of engagement I was looking for," Gunvant told Rediff.com.
In the second year, he took part in Be the Change project.
Gunvant also got involved in training teachers.
"At times, we participated in school functions and helped the school authorities learn how to utilise government funds properly," he said.
For Gunvant, a part of the TFI project also comprised training sessions that helped enhance community engagement and community empowerment.
He turned down job offers; he wanted to set up a unit of his own
Soon after the TFI fellowship, Gunvant kept getting job offers but he did not accept any.
“After TFI, I was bubbling with energy. Now that I was in the field of education, I wanted to empower the young blood of India with a passion for learning,” he said.
“And for this, I needed to have an organisation of my own,” Gunvant told rediff.com.
However, setting up a firm needed a lot of money.
Gunvant had no capital.
He was desperate to raise funds for his project.
A timely assistance came from his father, who gave Gunvant a loan of Rs 700,000.
With that money, he founded Shikshalaya in Mumbai in 2012.
What is Shikshalaya, what does it do?
Shikshalaya is an active learning centre which caters to after-school academic needs of teenagers as well as those of their parents.
The company’s flagship programme includes full-time coaching to secondary section (Class 8, 9 and 10).
Other programmes involve academic support to higher primary section (Class 6, 7 and 8).
Shikshalaya helps children hone their skills through theoritical as well as practical sessions so that they can have bright academic careers.
Shikshalaya also trains and empowers the parents so that they can understand the needs of their children at various stages of life.
Shikshalaya’s researched model includes active learning methodology, content delivery, group learning etc.
Shikshalaya believes that active parental support is needed for children's high performance and hence its model helps parents to become active partners in the educational programmes.
It keeps parents in the loop by updating them about the day-to-day progress of their children throughout the year.
“With a small team of 10 people, including eight faculty members, we plan to change the education system of the country,” Gunvant said.
Shikshalaya has two centres at present in Mumbai.
Students, mostly from high profile private schools, are selected on the basis of their performances in schools.
At Shikshalaya, students need to pay a nominal fee of Rs 30,000-40,000 annually.
Job satisfaction is immense'
“With the vision that Shikshalaya has set for itself, every day we see ourselves taking baby steps towards our goal,” Gunvant told Rediff.com.
“We hope to launch more schools in Mumbai in future and if the budget permits, we have plans to launch branches in other Indian states as well,” he added.
Gunvant has no regrets about refusing good job offers.
"At Shikshalaya, I listen to my mind, I chase my dream. The job satisfaction that I get here is immense. No other job in no other firm would have felt this good," he told Rediff.com.
"Besides, which other job would have given me the chance of building the career of youngsters -- the future of India?"
Eye to the future
In its third year, Gunvant is hopeful that Shikshalaya will break even soon.
“The Shikshalaya team isn’t greedy for profit,” the young IIT-ian told Rediff.com.
“We know that we are dealing in education, we are after merit, not money,” he added.
All photographs: Kind courtesy, Gunvant Jain
For more information on Shikshalaya, log on to its website