Villgro has invested in education startup, Vahan, (Read more) which is working to improve English speaking for adults from low-income backgrounds so that they can target better employment. Here, founder Madhav Krishna, talks about his education startup and more:
What does your company do? What is the service?
We’re building a mobile application for making learning English affordable and accessible to India's massive low-income adult population.
India adds 12 million people to the workforce every year. However, according to an Aspiring Minds report, it is estimated that around 50% of those people are unemployable due to a lack of English language and cognitive skills. By helping people in the workforce learn better English more effectively, we will help them find employment in high growth sectors such as retail, hospitality, beauty and wellness etc. where English proficiency is important.
Why did you create it? How did it come about?
A couple of years ago, while visiting my home in Delhi from New York, I joined my parents in handing out food to passers-by outside our home. Midway through the service, a kid in ragged clothes came up to us and I served him some simple daal and rice. He gave me the brightest smile and then hugged me! In a moment of epiphany, I teared up. That kid had not been fortunate like me to be born in a middle-class family and was probably going to live his life entrenched in poverty. I asked myself how I could change that.
After some deep introspection in the days that followed, I decided I was going to make it my life’s mission to help make education more effective and accessible for low-income populations. I’m a firm believer in the power of education and its important role in poverty alleviation.
Serendipitously, I was introduced to Umesh Malhotra of Hippocampus Learning Centers (HLC) around the time that I was going through this process of introspection. Umesh mentioned that at HLC, they’ve found it challenging to train their teachers in English. After conducting research with people from low-income communities looking to learn English, we found that the lack of resources for practising was one of the biggest reasons why they weren’t able to learn the language effectively. That’s when the idea for Vahan was born – our goal is to mimic language immersion for low-income English language learners through our app.
Why are you excited about this space?
The scale and nature of the problem that we’re solving – educating people so that they can find better employment, more easily.
What is innovative about your service?
Our application is designed to work on basic, feature phones (75% of all cellphones in India) as well as smartphones. We’re creating the country’s first ‘intelligent instructional agent’, essentially like a Siri for learning English. Our platform also supports full content customization/contextualization, which is incredibly important in a diverse country like India.
What is the impact you want to have?
We want to help solve the skills gap problem in India. Our goal is to reach 15 million learners by 2020.
What successes and challenges have you seen till now and what is next?
Reaching our end users is a challenge since they are not heavy consumers of digital media, hence we’re adopting a B2B2C approach by selling to vocational training institutes and English language training programs. Reaching these programs is not very difficult, however, the biggest challenge in selling to these programs seems to lie in conveying the value of education technology since they have very little prior experience with it.
In terms of successes, we’ve been able to convince two marquee organizations in the development space – Magic Bus and LabourNet – to run pilots with us, which are proceeding very well. We’ve gained a lot of insights about our users and have also been able to make improvements that have amplified the product’s engagement and effectiveness.
What keeps you motivated?
The fact that our product has the potential to impact millions of lives in an incredibly profound way.
How do you think Villgro will help?
We’re primarily looking for access to Villgro’s network of mentors and advisors which will be invaluable given that we’re a young organization with a focus on creating social impact at scale. They will also be able to help us form partnerships with relevant organizations in the education space. Cash is the lifeblood of a startup so funding support would be great as well!