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The Ups, The Downs and Everything In Between – Abhisarika Das

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Entrepreneurship according to me, is not for the faint hearted. It takes resilience, persistence and perseverance to take one’s idea to fruition. Even if you do everything right, there is a strong chance that the world won’t accept it. Not because you are wrong but because they don’t see the value - maybe not just yet. One has to be strong enough to take failure in the stride and then learn, pick up the pieces and run again. KLoc’s story is no different.

The Early Years

I am obviously indebted to my father for his foresight and progressive thinking. In an era where women’s education especially in STEM fields was not that prevalent and in a place like Orissa where people were still quite conservative, he chose something for me that was unconventional. He has taught me some of life’s best lessons - one is to be financially independent always and second is to be committed to one’s belief and aspire to be in the top 5% in whatever one decides to do. So, here’s the next pearl of wisdom for entrepreneurs, albeit borrowed from my dad - being good is just not good enough. You need to have the passion to be the best in the business. Look at Google, Facebook, Amazon - they never settle. My brush with IT was fortuitous.

When I finished my PU (+2), I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and like any other clueless teenager, I relied on my father to guide me through career options. I can’t thank him enough because although he was a doctor, he was astute enough to realise the potential of technology in the future and picked a new program called Information Systems for me at BITS, Pilani. Most of my peers didn’t want to gamble and stuck to safe choices like engineering, pure sciences or management in the same college. Information Systems had a small class size of 20 when I joined but just a few years later it became one of the most coveted disciplines in BITS, Pilani. So, I learned this very early on and still believe that if one wants to be an entrepreneur, their risk appetite needs to be very high.

I am not sure I could stick to the top 5% all my life, but I did reasonably well to land myself a campus job at Tata IBM. I was one of the first to get a job on campus, but at that time I was passionate about doing Masters in the US. However, I didn’t want my parents to share the financial burden of funding my Masters. I did fairly well in GRE and managed to get at least 3 admits, but unfortunately did not qualify for financial aid so I had to drop my plans and join Tata Information Systems Ltd (TISL - a JV between Tata and IBM that later evolved into IBM Global Services India Ltd)

Owing to what I call divine intervention, within a few months of my joining TISL,  I was selected for an on-site assignment in US. Though it may sound a bit metaphysical, I really think, if you truly work hard towards something, the Universe gives it to you in some form or the other. To draw a parallel with entrepreneurship, you have to believe in yourself and keep going and the rewards will follow.

Part Deux

Confident in my space : At Stanford Ignite Event

My stint in US was an enlightening experience to the core. The first thing I realized was how little I knew about anything. The exposure both at the professional and personal level was overwhelming. This is not the case now but in those days, the exposure at the high school or even the undergraduate level was minimal to say the least. I learnt everything on the go - technology skills, people skills, life skills. The only thing I had going for me was my intrepid temperament. 

One such example was driving. I had never driven before and I flunked the rather stringent driving test 5 times but I didn’t give up and eventually not only passed the test but could drive on the crazy roads of Washington DC to Los Angeles without flinching. This fearless temperament is what veered me towards Entrepreneurship.

I tried to incorporate a small company when I was in the US with an offshoring model in mind but it never really took off. However, I wrote a business plan, made a brochure and did all the groundwork. Then I helped set up a company called Convergent Technologies in NCR with a friend. I helped my friend bootstrap it with funds and equipment. Although I had nothing to do with the company at a professional level, I earned his friendship and goodwill for life. These half baked ventures paved the way for the next phase in life and taught me how to learn from my mistakes, reboot and start over. Resilience is the second nature of entrepreneurship.

Return to India

In 2005, we decided to come back to India as we wanted to raise our kids here. I had a little one who was 8 months old and an older one who was 3. I was trying to settle down in Bangalore so I decided to take a break. However, that didn’t last long. The entrepreneurship bug came back to bite me and in 2007, I decided to float a small company called KLoc Technologies [www.kloctechologies.com]along with a friend who agreed to fund it.

Our idea was to bring Open Source like PHP to India. This was again a bold experiment. . We saw the promise way back then like nobody else. But the timing seemed to be wrong. We struggled to find work. We bootstrapped our startup with our own savings, did not take any salary and tried to tweak our business plan also. Then, I landed a staff augmentation contract through my professional network and that helped us keep afloat. In the meantime, I hired a business development head to help me kick off the services business. He has been one of the cornerstones of KLoc’s success and is still part of the KLoc family. As an entrepreneur, it is extremely important to choose the right people who can stick with you when the going gets tough. However, never forget to reward and incentivize them. 

Stint with E-commerce

We tried our luck on an online portal called “Elance”. After some initial hiccups, this move paid off. Slowly, but steadily we started to get work from different parts of the world. It was really the first project which was the hardest but once you show you have the ability, you will find takers. It was one such Elance project that changed the fortunes of KLoc. It was an Ecommerce project way back in 1999 and although we didn’t quite know what it entailed we took up the project and learnt on the job. We haven’t looked back since. From our humble beginnings, we managed to build a reputation for ourselves in the E-Commerce sector.

Owing to our hard work and passion for customer delight, we become one of the top 3 Amazon Webstore partners in India and amongst the top 20 in the world. This niche skill kept us going till 2015 till Amazon decided to sunset this product but since our core competency was strong, we bounced back and made a foray into other platforms.

After struggling briefly we quickly made a mark for ourselves in the Shopify ecosystem. We are now one of the four exclusive partners chosen by Shopify to be 'Enterprise level experts in India'. We have worked with over 1000+ Ecommerce merchants/entrepreneurs  from all over the world over the years and helping them succeed keeps us motivated. However, the important lesson for KLoc from this series of events was not to put all the eggs in the same basket and keep up with the evolving technology landscape. As an entrepreneur,  one should never stop learning - may it be your peers, competitors or customers.

 

At an E-Commerce Event - Key Speaker

The Future, as we see it

KLoc needs to grow from a value driven company into a system and process driven company. So, our next goal is to drive excellence by incorporating efficient processes, nurturing talent and building products that we feel will benefit the ecommerce community. We also want to keep up with the changing technology trends in the industry and adopt new technologies. Like they say, even if you are on the right track, if you don’t evolve, you will get run over. There will be challenges along the way like finding the right people, learning new technologies, acquiring customers and many more but you have to invent new ways of tackling these challenges.

Postlude

The mantra for entrepreneurship is appetite of failure and a tremendous amount of patience. What I have also learnt from our own experience is, don’t start with an idea that you think the world wants.. start with something for which there is a glaring need. Founder’s block can be self destructive. Let people critique your idea and give feedback. Identify something that people want and are willing to pay for. It needs to be a business that has a reasonably high entry barrier.

Don’t be afraid to seek help from your own network - professional or personal. People are ready to help so don’t hesitate to ask. Today there are incubators, accelerators, startup communities and professional networking services that will help you connect with the right people and take your startup to the next level.  Leverage these resources and become a part of active startup groups. This is where a lot of entrepreneurs have gotten their early breaks. A special thought for all those women entrepreneurs out there - the time to step up your game is now! There is great deal of support from private and public sources to help women entrepreneurs. The time and environment has never been better for women to start new ventures or take their businesses to a new level. Go seize the day!

Contact Abhisaika Das @ 9880874702  abhisarika.das@kloctechnologies.com www.kloctechologies.com

Dheeraj Tiwari: A Philanthropist Nurturing Technology in Schools through Robotics

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Dheeraj Tiwari: A Philanthropist Nurturing Technology in Schools through Robotics

I am Dheeraj Tiwari (23), currently pursuing B.Sc (Physics) from IGNOU, been in Bangalore for more than 3 years now. The many successes of my robotics curriculum in government school pushed me to make a business out of it. The original motive had been to do philanthropic work for government schools and learn something along the way in the fascinating field of robotics.

Along the way, Vinod Kumar (20) and Vasanth Solomon Suresh (24) joined hands with me. Vinod did his schooling in Agara government school and is currently pursuing his BE (Electrical) from Oxford College. Vasanth is pursuing Post Graduation in Ireland.

Vasanth and Vinod with Vinod's Prize Winning Project

The Beginning of a Dream

I knew an industrialist and technocrat, Mr Ashwin Naidu, whose niece Ananya Rajagopal, schooling in US, had a patent of process under which she distributed phased out Lego Mindstorm Robotic sets to the underprivileged schools. We got inspired by that and wanted to do something similar in India. But there were a few limitations of Lego, the first being the cost factor which would be a major roadblock when going for widespread reach and secondly, limited variations of robots one can make using a single kit.

We wanted to keep the material cost low so we opted for locally and readily available electronics and hardware. And we found it to be better suited than Lego or other kits already available in the market as it offered us flexibility for customization on it. We selected an open source platform, Arduino Micro-controller with its SDK (software development kit). Micro-controller is the brain of a robot and controls all the parts through electric signals.

Then we took the initiative of preparing our own curriculum tailor made to suit local requirements. So we got to curating and writing the part 1 (titled-‘Introduction to Robotics’) of our curriculum, which took us around 4-5 months. We named our new venture NxG. [www.projectnxg.com]

 

 

 

 

Robotics projects made by students

Moving to the Markets

As the logical next step, we started approaching schools. Since Vinod has seen the government school's working up close, his experience came to good use while approaching the schools and coordinating with the authorities.

We targeted government high schools in our vicinity that were keen on coordinating with us in providing a few computers and were good with letting the students stay back a couple of hours after school for the robotic classes. We started with Vinod’s alma mater, Agara Government High School in Dec 2016. By next month, we approached and started the program in three more such schools. The total course duration was of 40 to 45 hours. We took one class of 1.5 - 2 hrs per school per week. Initially, we had students from 8th and 9th grades and this naturally graduated to inclusion of 10th grade as well. Each batch strength ranged from 6 to 15.

More about NxG

The idea behind NxG is to expose the children to the technology of future by availing the equipment and training classes, something which is not easily available to the underprivileged kids.

We focus on being an enabler and facilitator for a broader vision and better understanding of technology and we do so by our streamlined process of teaching robotics with consistency. We want to give time to students to actually absorb and understand the electronic concepts and various components, its nuances and where and how it can be used. It costs around 35K to 40K INR to run the part 1 course for 40 students, excluding trainer’s fees and other expenditure like travel.

 

 

 

 

The proud Robotics Geniuses

The Many nuances of Robotics

For children, Robotics may seem unattainable and daunting initially, but once it is broken down to basics, it becomes a fun way to learn many things. If a child has a basic understanding of physics and some aptitude for programming, they can easily build robots.

I don’t think other than robotics any other stream of learning encompasses the entire concept of STEM education so well. There are a lot of physics concepts in the form of electronics and motion dynamics. Then the programming we use is purely in C-Language, which is usually covered in schools as a part of curriculum and is easy to learn. Students crafting and designing their own chassis for the Remote Controlled car could be a good example of basic engineering.

In this way our robotics curriculum complements the existing science subjects as an add-on practical. We have actual feedback from the school teachers that the students are doing well and coping better with studies with the exposure to Physics through Robotics. Students also get a chance to learn social skills, teamwork, communication and project management, the joy they feel in doing this being the cherry on the cake.

Not without its share of Challenges

A few of the many challenges that we faced initially were retaining female students. Due to preconceived notion that technology and engineering is better suited for males, the girls were discouraged from participating even though they were equally good. Then again, the girls used to drop out due to post school hours sessions, which they were not comfortable with. Hence, to increase the participation of female students and to retain them, we focused on getting female volunteers, convincing the parents and tweaking class timings so as to avoid staying back post school hours.

Another challenge was to keep the class interesting for the students especially during the first few theory sessions. We tackled this by focusing on hands-on learning approach. For example, if we taught about an electronic component, we would let them tinker with it and later use it in circuits. We don’t teach theory for more than 15 mins at a stretch, as it can become monotonous. We always add some practical activity in between the topics.

Hard at work

The Road Ahead...

We are not only looking to expand it to a few more government schools from next academic year, but also continue with the students who have completed part 1 and are ready to move to part 2 (sensors and automation). We are looking at launching this robotics model and curriculum in private schools as well and make it financially sustainable for the trainers involved.

I have always believed in integrity in whatever I do, and I have applied the same ideals to my business model also. To have a sustainable model that will provide an educational medium for kids to learn robotics in best way possible. And with the accumulated knowledge base and other resources to diversify into R&D and for this, I take up freelance automation projects.

Every citizen must try to give something back to society in one form or another. Only when more and more people come together for a collective good of present then only you can have a foundation stone for better civilized tomorrow.

Contact Dheeraj Tiwari@ 7405541720 dheeraj@projectnxg.com www.projectnxg.com

Bangalore Based Startup Brings Ease Of Doing Business For Entrepreneurs:Founder’s Insight

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Mohit’s first venture was a failed startup with two of his office colleagues which hardly lasted for 6 months. After doing some interesting consultancy assignment for Infosys's flagship product Finacle, and other startups for some time, Mohit founded EQTribe in August 2015 in partnership with his elder sister Rachna Shukla. They together conceptualised two inter-related product ideas and EQ RunMyOffice was one of them.

They started EQTribe with the high level concept of a product that would bring smiles for hard working community of small entrepreneurs which is the backbone of the economy. Once he formed his company and started taking baby steps, two of his childhood friends - Vineet Jain and Hanumanth Rao - provided him with initial seed funds. With that there was no looking back.

Today EQ RunMyOffice [www.eqtribe.com] is being used by several small entrepreneurs to reach out to their partners, team, clients, leads, vendors, association members and so on. EQ RunMyOffice is a mobile platform that enables app to app business transactions related to money, sales, leads, work and so on.

A few insights into Mohit’s perspective and vision of EQTribe, the way he says it!

With what motive and goal did you start EQtribe?
For modern, educated, ambitious small entrepreneur in India, I want to create easy to use and affordable technology solutions. It should make running business easy like how large companies run.

I was working at SAP - the world’s most revered business software provider for large companies worldwide. I saw that that modern small entrepreneurs (like EQTribe itself) do not have technology enabled tools that are ubiquitous in large companies. There is a clear divide between businesses that are technology-haves and technology-have-nots (not just in India, but globally).

It is interesting that many modern urban-educated entrepreneurs, like startups, modern boutiques, professionals, etc use a lot of technology in their personal and social lives. But when it comes to activities of business, barring the odd accounting software, they are left with paper registers, logbooks, whatsapp, Gmail and excel. There are not too many choices of real business software. They can’t even setup an online store of their own easily. This led me to think of the tremendous gap in that particular tech space and what a humongous opportunity can be there for companies like EQTribe.

What opportunity did you see and build on?
The market of small businesses is almost infinite. There are around 4 crore small businesses in India alone. Small businesses operate on a tight budget. They cannot have custom made technology solutions (software + other technologies) since that is very expensive. Even getting a small business mobile app done can cost anywhere between Rs 5 lacs to Rs 20 lacs. So, the only solution we could very well see is productization of solutions. World over, product companies - like Microsoft, Adobe, SAP, Oracle - have tried, tested and succeeded with this model. There are many more modern product companies that have targeted this segment of small businesses and created tremendous value for customers & investors in recent years. Some such extremely successful examples are Atlassian, Salesforce, Intuit Quickbooks, google, myob, Tally and many others.

I could clearly see the market gap and a huge opportunity to make our niche in the small businesses and startup segments. Other companies like Intuit, Sales Force, Atlassian have done it. Same market segment but different products and different countries. Once we clear the initial start-up and marketing glitches , there is no stopping us.

How are u looking at the implementation of the idea?
The idea will be implemented in multiple steps:

Step 1 . Build a very smart mobile app called EQ RunMyOffice customized for small businesses/offices/startups, with teams of upto 30 people. The app is designed to give bird’s eye view of their business - right on their mobile - helping them to know what’s going on in his business, from any place, any time. It covers their money daybook, customer list, vendors list, leads, staff, work, etc.

The RunMyOffice itself runs on a proprietary software cloud platform called EQ Maya invented by EQTribe. The Maya network interconnects all the users of the app and all the businesses into an infinite interconnected network so that businesses can use RunMyOffice for App-to-App transactions and interactions with their customers, vendors and associations.

Step 2: Enable connections and networking between business that have a common interest (eg with customers, vendors, partners, sales channels, etc)

Step 3: Allow businesses to find customers and vendors on this network so that they grow their business further

In the long run, we will provides upcoming cutting edge technologies like IOT, Big Data, digital currency etc to these small businesses on our EQ Maya platform.

The first step is already executed and out for all to see. EQ RunMyOffice is out in the market, has made it across the pilot phase and now being carried over to real time users. Step 2 is in progress and step 3 is in pipeline.


What is your vision of EQTribe?
To build India's greatest product company (and possibly one of the world's greatest company) and become a provider of latest technologies via this platform. We are looking for a very high company valuation in 8 to 10 years

Do you ever regret quitting your secure and high-flying corporate job for the mind-numbing slog that running a start-up offers?
No, in fact, it’s quite the contrary. I always feel that the daily challenges and dynamics that comes with operating a start-up is very refreshing and rejuvenating and it keeps me on my toes. The kind of energy that I find everyday to make this happen and the hope to make it big is beyond compare. I feel this was the best decision of my career.

Do you ever think of a back-up plan in place?
No. There is no plan B.

Once the initial hiccups are resolved, EQTribe will grow very fast. We have figured out many pieces of the puzzle by now and I agree there will be many more that are yet to fall in place. But this is where it gets interesting and inspiring all at the same time. But we know that once the EQTribe finds its footing in the market, sky is the limit for Maya platform.

As networks like facebook, linkedin, whatsapp, have become all pervasive in personal technology usage space, so will EQ Maya in business space.

What are you driving at with EQTribe?
Create the Google of small businesses.

What according to you is EQtribe’s strength?
EQTribe’s strength is its innovative team. The team has a very strong gender diversity. Being in Bangalore also gives us great talent. There is a great team of mentors who guide us and help us.

Who and what do you look up to for inspiration?
As a company, my inspiration is Atlassian - inventor of Jira software. Their business model, their vision, their elegance, their futuristic thought, their boldness is what I draw a lot of inspiration from. What atlassian has done for software development industry, we will do for small entrepreneurs.

Contact Mohit Shukla@ 9896642722  mohit.shukla@eqtribe.com www.eqtribe.com

From a well-paid Corporate job to the dusty roads of Entrepreneurship: Abhiney Singh shares excerpts of his Journey

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A bit about Me

My LinkedIn Profile will tell you that I am an engineer and a communication specialist by education. It won’t however tell you about my passion and the drive to do something different.

And that’s what led to the entrepreneurial bug biting me, 8 years back. I quit my job in Mumbai and toyed with multiple ideas initially. However, the one that stuck was something I can trace back my routes to. My father has been involved with schools and colleges since the last two decades, and I decided to carry forward the legacy. And I thought of opening a school in my hometown, Raipur, Chattisgarh.

The beginning of the Journey

Our journey began in 2010 and we encountered some quality competition in Raipur. For reasons unknown, between 2009 – 2012 a slew of schools started and most of them were franchise of renowned brands.

Thankfully, the competition strengthened Brighton International School which is now a renowned CBSE affiliated school in Raipur with a strength of more than 600 students. Our decision to position ourselves bang in the middle of a bevy of already existing schools of popular brands and race beside the giants did pay off. From a modest beginning of 120 students, intense competition and constant comparisons, we have been able to hold on to our own and have been able to carve a distinct identity for ourselves among the parents and teachers. Our efforts have enabled us to sustain and survive, with enough revenue coming in for us to sustain our expenses and survive our operations.

The learning – To Summarize it Brief and Precise

Keep it simple and economical – I have learnt to imbibe the core philosophy of US Army early in my life. And we did incorporate the same in our venture. There can be numerous facilities and amenities to be provided. What matters however is, the value each one will add to the students, the cost that will load our balance sheets and how important it is to bring students to our gates.

Optimize where you can – Amidst a plethora of new learning opportunities to be provided, with specialized vendors for everything under the sun; computer education, sports, music, e-learning et al, it is essential that every facility is utilized to the optimum. It is easy to cough up money by schools on each student, or so many would like to believe. The justification, however, is best left as a prerogative of the school management.

My Work, My Bliss – What keeps me going day after day is the fact that I am working for myself. I like doing what I am doing, I like improving on it every day, I like to share and discuss ideas, I like to meet new people, I like improvisation. It is good to meet people when they are at their best behavior and I can safely say all of this happens with me on a daily basis. To top it all, I do believe I am making sincere efforts and contributions towards helping the society in more ways than one.

Achievements

Brighton International School [www.brightoninternational.com] was awarded with the ‘Best Co-Ed Residential school award’ for 2017-18 by Education world of Indian School Ranking (EWISR).

The school was also bestowed the ‘Best School in Chhattisgarh’ at the Brain Feed School Excellenc, the award ceremony was held at The Westin in Koregaon Park, Pune organized by the Brain feed Magazine.

Questions I’d Rather Avoid

“What is your experience in this line of work?”

“Do you think I will be able to run my school?”

“I reside in City ville / Town ward. Do you think there is scope for a new school?”

“I am already committed to my job/business. Do you think I will be able to invest time in building up a school?”

“Once we are through the runway, how long before I can breathe easy?”

“What are the challenges I might face?”

And the perennial:

“What if … ?”

My belief is that if you believe in your purpose, analyze with logic and rationale, figure out how you can add value to your customer and the reason why people come to you, you will be able to create the difference you seek. Whilst I do not proclaim my school to be the best, I definitely do believe that our ideology is always predisposed towards improvement, learning and inspiration. Exactly the values that we strive to impart to our students and alumni.

Contact Abhiney Singh@ 8109804141 abhiney@brightoninternational.in www.brightoninternational.com

Success is Elusive, Failure is Inevitable – Vinay Yadav: The Social Entrepreneur

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Success is Elusive, Failure is Inevitable – Vinay Yadav: The Social Entrepreneur

Man Of Failures

Today when I look at myself, I see myself as a “man of failures”. These failures have helped me develop an attitude, that is ready to fail but wants to try. Calculate not in money but degree of change it opts for, in a positive direction.

Budhni in District Sehore of Madhya Pradesh, India is a small place with a population of 17,000, where my mother started a school just to teach me and others like me well. Only a mother could do this.

So in real sense my mother is the first entrepreneur in my family. She couldn't grow this school beyond class 5. So I had to go to a government school after class 5.

Battle Hardening Begins At Early Stage

Opportunity to join Sainik School through a state wide entrance exam was the only gateway for me to get out of Budhni. Thankfully, I was able to crack this state level exam which is for young boys of 11 years of age. I was selected into the prestigious Sainik School located in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. Sainik School is a boarding school, run by Indian Ministry of Defence since 1963, with the aim of preparing the children to join the Indian Armed Forces.

As a young boy of 11 years studying in class 6 of Sainik School, the army like khaki school uniform was a life’s charm. It gave me the dream of joining the Indian Armed Forces. I chased this dream consistently for about 11 years by giving entrance exams for National Defence Academy, Combined Defence Services Examination, CPO and even Indian Police Services (the glamour-less stepbrother of armed forces), but without success. I still believe I was capable but was just not meant to perform that way.

Then for several years I tried getting into Indian Administrative Services with no success. After the repeated UPSC failures too, the biggest question of my life was “What shall I do now?”. While I could not clear the entrance exam for the Indian Administrative Services, there was abundant knowledge that I gained while preparing for all these entrance exams over the years. Geography & Psychology were my favored subjects and I wanted to use that knowledge in the work I did or the career I chose. Well, as it was to happen, one led me to the field of education and the other to agriculture in the later years.

Opening a New School

Bharti Vidya Mandir was the name of the school that my mother had started and handled originally. I decided to expand this school by implementing modern facilities and also build a new one with the name Bharti Vidya Mandir International School in Nasrullaganj, another small town in Madhya Pradesh, India with a population of 26,000.

My mother's vision and venture: Bharti Vidya Mandir in Budhni, Madhya Pradesh
The school at Nasrullaganj as it is now: An extension of my mother's vision and my grit and determination

Support from my family, proper guidance in the field, my hunger to perform by hard work and a lot of luck by God’s grace helped me start & complete the project of building the school within a short period of time. I used to stand with the contractors and laborers during the construction process. The excitement and fervour was akin to that of building your first house.

Bharti Vidya Mandir International School started with 424 students in 2009 has now reached a strength of 1040 and is a well known name in Nasrullaganj for quality education in the region.

Young Performers of Bhartiya Vidya Mandir International School at Nasrullaganj

From A School to Chain of Schools

Bharti Vidya Mandir has its third branch now in Rehti, Madhya Pradesh. Rehti is a City Municipality in Sehore, Madhya Pradesh with population of less than 12,000. The three schools are now run with a centralized system with local operative authorities. Fee structure varies depending upon the socio-economic status of the locals, but quality in imparting education to the young minds is same in all the three schools.

The little sunshines of Bhartiya Vidya Mandir at Rehti, Madhya Pradesh

These schools are a huge medium for 'positive social change' in these rural areas today where people at times have money but no facilities. I believe these schools have a much greater social impact through education for girls especially in educationally backward castes of rural Madhya Pradesh. I have plans to reach out to 4 new places in the next 5 years with same objective - Change.

Narmada Samagra

Schools provide me with my bread & butter. But it’s the agriculture venture that has made me a social entrepreneur that I am today.

My journey with Narmada Samagra under the able guidance of late Shri Anil Dave, began with cleaning of banks of river Narmada. I soon realized that incessant use of pesticides & fertilizers in agriculture is a real harm to the riverine ecosystem. This appeared as an opportunity for me to work in the field of agriculture sector with twin objective of 'Save Agriculture, Save Environment'.

Working with Farmers

A group of 13 young farmers was formed and trained and they resolved to work under the name of Varda Farmers Club, later converted into a Farmer Producer Organisation. The resolution was to provide alternative means to the existing high cost, poisonous & burdensome agricultural practices, with best possible solutions right from farms till the produce goes to market. Environment was the focus here. Awareness is an issue with farmers. They have very less knowledge about “why they are doing what they are doing”. This has created a problem of high input costs.

We work with the farmers on various fronts, such as

  • Reducing the cost of production: We do almost zero budget farming using Cow Urine, dung & few cultures. This resulted in lowering the cost of production
  • Training: We increase awareness of farmers by training them
  • Collection & Marketing: We take back their produce & directly provide them market access by bypassing middlemen, helping them to get good returns for their produce
  • Healthy & Reasonable food: We sell organic vegetables & grains at a reasonable cost (15% upwards of regular non-organic produce)

Our model is A to Z solution for farmers from inputs, training, collection and marketing. Post 3 months, we try to ensure an income of Rs 250- Rs 400 per day to our farmers. A farmer requires 2 acres of land, 0.25 decimal shade-net (a lightweight knitted polyethylene fabric that provides plants and people with protection from the sun, used to create agro greenhouses) and one traditional indigenous breed of Indian cow. We even help these farmers put together the shadenet.

Secondly, our entire produce is organic and we sell it ourselves. This makes our model unique.

Currently, there is a huge market for our produce, so much so that demand for the produce is higher than the supply we can meet. Production and supply are the bottlenecks in our model. We deliver vegetables to around 180-190 families, twice a week. This amounts to a sale of around Rs 20,000 per week. We supply grains as well. Very soon milk will be added to the basket. This model has enough space for expansion. Currently, we serve only in Bhopal. But there already are requests and demands we receive from Indore.

This complete model has two parts

Farmer Producer Organisation or FPO - Production-to-Collection. A group of 13 farmers started with Rs. 560,000 as paid capital. Operation cost is Rs 15,000 per month as salaries and rent. It earns 10% from input supply and training and 10% from sales to market.
A Marketing Company - Two farmers from the group maintain it. It started with Rs 15,000 as seed capital. This saves 30% margin from sale. Almost Rs 20,000 is operational expense as salary & conveyance.

The future - The way I see It

I am steadily increasing the number of students I admit to my schools each year, by increasing the capacity and infrastructure of the schools and by opening up new schools. I am also increasing my involvement with farmers. I am finding out and bringing new and modern farming techniques that are cost effective and at the same time organic and hygienic. And hereby, my journey continues!

From Homemaker to an Aspiring Entrepreneur: Krishna Vasani’s telltale journey

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A Bit about Me

Forty is when I decided to begin a career, and I never felt I was more ready or more excited to begin a new chapter in my life.

Born in a small village of Gujarat in a traditional middle-class family, I was practically raised to be a good home-maker. And in those days, that was the key objective of my life too. I completed my graduation in commerce without actually having a precise purpose.

Everything in my life was as per the traditional Indian norms – marriage in early 20s and motherhood in mid twenties. My husband was working for a large corporate and we moved few cities because of his postings before finally settling in Mumbai. Everything in life was in its place. Or so I thought.

Never too late to Begin what you Believe
By the year 2010, my son had grown up considerably so as to substantially reduce his dependency on me. It was like I had moved to another stage of life. I was left with lot of time at hand and my mind started to think of things I could do to fill up the spare time and keep myself sufficiently occupied. I deliberated with my husband and came to a conclusion that I wanted to do something to which I was naturally inclined.

From the few options we had at hand, I decided to pursue studies in the field of graphics and animation as I always was good at drawing and painting. I pursued some crash courses from local institutes for a year and half. It didn’t add up to much as the faculty was not very great here, but I discovered my intrigue towards this field and decided to build a career with this.

I took admission in MAAC (Maya Academy of Advance Cinematic) at the age of 35. It was a three year course encompassing all the aspects of advance graphics & animation. The initial days were pretty embarrassing. All the students were in their teens and well conversant with the latest technologies whereas I had never operated a computer in my life. A complete odd-woman out situation.

Gradually, I started to pick up the nuances. I had to work doubly hard as both the Computer and English languages were new to me. Also, juggling home, family, kids and IT level education was a challenging task. Several times, I had to attend to family on priority and that would result in me lagging behind other students in studies. I had to play the catch up game and somehow get back to the level. And I must admit that the faculties at the institute always supported me and appreciated my zeal to learn a new subject.

I completed my course in four years instead of three. But I did complete it. I was now employable. Many job offers started coming in. But I was not keen on any employment as that was not the objective of pursuing the subject. I decided to do something of my own.

The Lure of being an Entrepreneur
With couple of other students, we started a partnership firm in the name of B18 Mediaworks on 13th Jan, 2013. I took the name B18 from Shreemad Bhagwat Geeta, B from Bhagwat and 18 for the 18 chapters. We listed our services on various platforms such as JustDial, Sulekha etc. and started getting enquiries. We used to do all kinds of sundry things such as wedding photography, shooting, editing etc. The boys used to take care of the client side wherein I primarily looked after the backend technicalities. The business was picking up but it was not very satisfying for me as a creative person.

Around this time, my son was in 9th standard and I decided to devote all my time and energies towards him for his 10th performance. I separated from that partnership firm in October 2014. But I did taste the flavour of profit.

Venturing into a second beginning
By 2016, my son had cleared his 10th. I started to weave and revive my business plan once again. I reactivated all the old contacts and connections, borrowed some capital from friends and families and re-initiated the venture with a new name B18 ANIMATION STUDIO on 1st February 2017. We hired a small but expensive office, that is quintessential of Mumbai and hired one an employee.

Small but significant breakthrough

After about 3 months, I got a reference from one of my friends, to create a whiteboard animation for one of the Jain community trusts. It was a story of one of their great saints. We were thrilled. We poured our heart and soul into it and voila! The work was well received and appreciated. We earned enough to cover our expenses for the month and saved something on top of it.

We rolled out our work on whatsapp and YouTube and listed ourselves on Google. Enquiries started coming in at a steady pace now and we started making small profits with a couple of big and some more smaller projects every month. Till now, we have completed close to nine projects.

It is little over six months now and we have decided to move to a slightly bigger office than the one we had and also hired two more employees. Our hands are full for next couple of months and we have just received an enquiry from the iconic Rajshri Productions! This one is going to be one very big feather in our cap.

Krishna Vasani is the Creative Head & Founder of B18 Animations Studio[www.b18animationstudio.com],Mumbai. You can reach her at krishna@b18animationstudio.com

Anita Menon: Crafting A Business From Passion To Be Creative

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Anita Menon is a first-generation entrepreneur in Bahrain who started her company to convert her ‘passion to be creative’ into a business. She is the founder and Managing Director of The Butterfly Effect – a brand under Anumita Digital Services W.L.L.

After being a Supply Chain Specialist and Management Consultant for more than a decade with Fortune 500 companies,she decided to become a Social Media strategist. Her choice of business was bold and that took her on a journey which has helped her learn and grow with her business.

Her quest to deliver the best for her clients has lead her on path of innovation and thinking out of the box.She has leveraged her problem- solving skills to arrive at Marketing Solutions which are cost effective and create an impact in the crowded marketplace of today.

She has faced the entrepreneurial challenges which are a given in any entrepreneur’s growth cycle and has overcome them with sheer determination and commitment to excel.

Anita’ entrepreneurial journey started with setting up a partnership firm in the social media landscape of Mumbai, India. Her journey started with a client that approached her within hours of company formation. Her learning curve was steep yet satisfying managing clients from India and the US. Then she decided to address the gap of quality social media management in the Bahrain market by opening her company on the island.

Setting up her company in Bahrain was made easy with the hugely supportive SME eco-system and streamlined processes at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and other government agencies.

From there, she built her network from scratch and nurtured her business relationships with her clients. Thereby making The Butterfly Effect, the digital marketing agency of choice for them. She faced the usual challenges being a first- time entrepreneur such as funding, hiring the right team of bi-lingual and creatives. But her hard work and perseverance paid -off. The Butterfly Effect caters to more than 80+ clients across industry verticals since the last 2.5 years.

Today she has established herself as one of the leading digital agencies in Bahrain. And has ambitious growth plans for herself and her business with her sights set on the rest of GCC. Sharing some interesting glimpses into her journey as one of the leading woman entrepreneur in Bahrain…..

Tell us a bit about you, your likes and your aspirations.
I am the founder and Managing Director of The Butterfly Effect, a digital marketing firm based in Bahrain.

I have always enjoyed dabbling in all kinds of creative projects and collaborating with people over projects and after a 10 -year stint in business consulting. And I decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship. I aspire for The Butterfly Effect to be the agency of choice among brands in the middle east.

What made you step into the world of entrepreneurship ?
Working in consulting was wonderful considering the industry-wise exposure I got as a supply chain consultant. But I always felt restricted for time when it came to pursuing my interests in writing. Also, being a business consultant, I was able to spot a gap in the market for a digital agency that catered to the small and the medium enterprises in Bahrain.

How did you get your idea and concept for the business you are in ?
I fell into digital marketing because I was a blogger and one of the first on the island Kingdom. Very quickly my blog was one of top sites to visit for everything food- related. I learnt how to market my blog on social media and that is how I dabbled into the world of Digital Marketing. And took the lessons to the Digital Enterprise that I later built.

Tell us about your first experience in entrepreneurship. How and where did it all start ?
My first experience of being an entrepreneur was when I started a company in the digital marketing in Mumbai with a partner. We did rather well targeting the small and medium enterprises in India. Soon after, we had many projects out of the US.However, the logistics made me weary and I had to give up my partnership.

The experience of conducting business in India made me confident about starting The Butterfly Effect on my own in Bahrain. From a team of two, we are a team of eight people in the last two years.

What challenges did you face in starting Butterfly Effect ?
Challenges were many and mostly fell into two categories – funding and hiring the right talent. Scaling up on operations was a cautious process considering both the challenges were very real. We had to let go off projects because we did not have the right skill set on board. Slowly but steadily, we managed to strike the balance between hiring the right talent for the team and managed the costs versus revenue. The Butterfly Effect [www.thebutterflyeffect.co] was going through a classic start-up problem but we managed to scale up and progress beyond our issues and today, we are well-known agency in the country that hires a lot of young Bahraini talent; all girls so far.

The Butterfly Team
What are your plans for the future ?
I am looking to diversify and we are taking up mobile app projects for various brands in the country. Apart from this, I am also keen to invest in various other non-digital ventures. Lately, I have opened a beauty salon since the beauty business is one of the most sought ventures in the middle east.

Her salon Gatsby won best new salon in Bahrain in recent spa and wellness awards by ohlal

Contact Anita Menon@ +97339054585  anitamenon@butterflyeffect.com www.thebutterflyeffect.co

The M&A Integrator For Streamlining Value Creation

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The M &A Integrator
“Everyday worldwide there are 30 M&A deals happening led by companies as well as private equity firms”

There is never a happy ending in many marriages – whether it’s between two people or two companies. Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) though still work great for many other business as they fuel inorganic growth from point A to B but Dharmendra Singh, part of global M&A team of energy management giant Schneider Electric, noticed that pattern of love lost between two businesses over integration process. So he turned into the relationship manager for every acquirer to smooth out the integration with the acquired company for everlasting courtship through his software-as-a-service platform for deal discovery, due diligence and post M&A integration – MergerWare.

Singh launched MergerWare in October 2015. He was already 42 by then, late by at least 12 years when most technology startups today are launched by under-30 geeks. But he doesn’t have an iota of qualm on his face instead he backs it with a pretty strong reason. “The product and the market which I am into, I don’t think a 30-year old guy can do this. It requires at least 10 years of understanding of M&As particularly large deals.”

Singh had financial back-up for following two years to bet on his idea. So either he had to invest his savings to bootstrap MergerWare or seek investment from outside. He had already discussed about the idea with his colleagues at Schneider Electric before he left the company. And he got lucky to find a backer among them without preparing investment pitches. Philippe Bouchet, former Vice President at Schneider Electric has now backed MergerWare twice, investing around $100,000 in April this year.

“Bouchet was the first person to fund me. I told him I don’t have money, whatever I have is a back up for two years. So he gave me $100,000,” remembers Singh. MergerWare changed its name from Intgrea Partners in October 2016 after Singh started getting flooded with at least 50 investment pitches from entrepreneurs globally every week since it used last name as partners. “People always misunderstood us a VC firm,” says Singh. Ware in MergerWare signifies it is a software platform.

It sell minimum of 10 licenses for $250 per user and per month basis, and goes up to 500 licenses, renewed annually. Also, it partners with M&A advisory firms to offer solution for deployment of their consulting services.

“Everyday worldwide there are 30 M&A deals happening led by companies as well as private equity firms. At Schneider Electric, I noticed that there was no value creation for businesses from acquisitions in terms of growth,” claims Singh. This does not happen because of multiple factors including the strategic intent for the deal, people involved, their vision etc.

Streamlining Value Creation

Globally M&A teams are lean having just four-five people and often members don’t have required experience in working on large M&A deals. As a result they miss out on critical checks and lose information required. Also since M&A integration cycle is quite long, at least six months to up to two years, the team members often changes which mean that critical information also keep changing hands and gets lost in the process. More than that, having all the information in one place remains the biggest challenge for large companies which have multiple offices and so information is also distributed.

Through MergerWare, businesses that don’t even have an M&A team, can use the platform for all the checks and balances. “We have automated that process and the information is secured in the encrypted form to avoid any compromise,” claims Singh. Besides that, if the business wants to see how much synergy has been achieved post deal over the time, it can simply log in and check.

“There is transparency and it saves time as you know what’s happening on real time basis and corrective action can be taken,” he asserts. MergerWare currently has six customers globally and will dedicate the new funding towards global expansion. The customer on-board will be slow for the company as it targets deals worth $100 million and above.

(This article was first published in the May issue of Entrepreneur Magazine)

About Dharmendra Singh
Dharmendra Singh is Chief Executive officer and founder of MergerWare .He is also chairman of board of directors of MergerWare. Prior to this he was part of Global Corporate Development team at Schneider Electric where he led Post-merger integration practices globally. His 20 +years of extensive global experience was mainly focused on corporate development, M&A and software product development.

Contact Dharmendra Singh@ 9880796065  dharmendra.singh@mergerware.com www.mergerware.com

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