I imagine quite a lot of us have entrepreneurial aspirations and startup being the golden dream of IIT Madras. Yet, so few of us truly consider it to be the preferred mode of making a living. The reasons for this are many, and by learning about Involve and their startup journey, I’ve come to realise that launching a successful startup could seem quite effortless in hindsight.
Involve was founded in 2017 by IITM Alumni Divanshu Kumar and Samyak Jain at the beginning of their fourth and third years’ in college respectively. Theirs is a story of passion, drive, determination and a goldmine in terms of talent and potential although I suspect they are too modest to acknowledge it.
In January 2016, the founders of Involve were a manager-mentor duo(with Divanshu as manager and Samyak as one of the student-mentors in his team) in Avanti fellows’ Pondicherry chapter. It was then they came up with the system of Peer Teaching to deal with the lack of available teachers for the Avanti students at the time.
What is Peer Teaching, you ask? Well in its simplest form peer teaching involved “teaching” Grade 12 students to teach the syllabus to their Grade 11 counterparts.
What was started as a simple system to deal with temporary unavailability of teachers would soon shock the founders with its effectiveness. That year 8 students from Avanti secured seats in IITs; a record high for that centre.
It wasn’t until they went on to win the Global Engagement Summit at Northwestern University in April 2017 that they realised the startup potential of their Peer Teaching System.
“It wasn’t easy at first” says Divanshu, “We had to come up with a proper structure to implement the system. We were confused about a lot of things, but thankfully we had good mentors from the very beginning”.
With encouragement and advice from trusted mentors- Santosh More and Khushboo from “Mantra4Change“*, they decided to go ahead and start Involve. And in a move that would forever push them beyond the point of no return, they invited their friend Awnish to leave a well-paying Job in Pune to come work with them as part of their team. With one more Chennaiite member Involve was started with four members and Jamuna 2002 as their head office. An amazing fact is that their first employee Ashwini, has continued to work with them even now! Undoubtedly, this is an exposition of how passionate the people at Involve are in what they do.
“When we lost a Major school as a client, that was a low point for us. We had to work in part-time jobs just to make ends meet”.
Like any startup journey, they had their own ups and downs, facing their own unique set of challenges as only the education sector can present and all the while they tell me that quitting was never an option.
They were incubated under the Edumentum incubation program (2017-18) and in March 2018, they were selected as top 16 young social entrepreneurs globally by Singapore International Foundation. They were recognised as a top 10 non-profit in India by N/Core in May 2018. They won the Chennai Pitch Fest by Department of State, USA via the US embassy in December 2018 and were selected as Top 30 fellows globally by The Gratitude Network, in Silicon Valley in Oct 2019, the last of which they consider to be the most beneficial and rewarding of their accolades. In 2019 they were enlisted in the CSF grant accelerator program and are currently a cohort in TFI (Teach for India) organisation.
With their growing clientele, several large scale private and public institutions already included, opportunities for hefty profits are certainly within reach, yet they remain firm in their decision to be a non-profit. Their current business model involves charging the private institutions for their services offered, the training module for the peer teaching system being the major hit, and funnelling the profits to aid their more egalitarian ventures.
They want to use these profits to cater to students from low-income families and want to see peer teaching in government schools across India to benefit millions of students. After all, peer teaching improves not only the academic acumen but also instils leadership qualities and a sense of social responsibility.
Fast-forward to present, despite Covid-19 and the current lockdowns, team Involve hasn’t lost its steam and was quick to transition all of its operations and services online. Their activities are not hampered by the transition with their teams coming up with creative ways to overcome the challenges faced. Their current efforts are focused on students’ well-being.
When asked for advice for young and upcoming entrepreneurs of Insti, Divanshu talks about fully exploiting the privileges of being an IITian and says the following,
“… it gives us the perfect safety net to fall back on in case things go wrong therefore now is the time to take risks and try your hand at what you truly want to do. Even if you don’t succeed, the amount of learning that you have from the experience is unmatched.”
and after this interview with them, I certainly tend to agree.
*Mantra4Change is an organisation working in quality education for 6 years now. It is their founders- Santosh More and Khushboo who are the mentors of Involve.
Startups of insti is a series where we cover the story of startups founded by insti alum to inspire and motivate the entrepreneurial junta among the current students. Comments and suggestions are always welcome, you can send them to us at [email protected]
Series by: S Vishal