While on our six-city tour of the Tier 2 startup ecosystem with BIGShift, we discovered several promising startups. This series will cover some of the most innovative startups. This time, we look at Botclub which brings practical science kits or Scikits to school students for improved engagement and learning retention.
While India is taking giant strides in the edtech ecosystem with the rise of BYJU’s, and with aspiring entrepreneurs looking to overhaul the ageing education system in India, the future seems to be bright for India’s young students.
The need for India’s education system is to be ‘future-ready’, a sentiment expressed by many prominent names including Microsoft cofounder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, most recently.
But this change needs to come not only in curriculum and courses at colleges and universities but right at the school level. To bring the engineers of tomorrow on par with their Western counterparts, exposure to scientific inquiry and technological concepts is important. For Indian students, science is limited to learning by-rote through textbooks, but startups such as Botclub are looking to change that with hands-on experiences and learning-by-doing.
Visakhapatnam-based startup Botclub was founded by K Harsha Vardhan and Nithin S in 2016 to help students understand the concepts of science — physics, primarily — through proprietary demonstration kits called Scikits.
Botclub’s Scikits are based on school curricula and helps motivate kids into moving away from traditional and conventional ways of learning through textbooks. As they say, practice is worlds apart from theory, and the sooner children understand this in the context of science, the better their training, learning and development are likely to be.
“I have always loved physics and I believe that instead of feeding the students with just theory and bookish knowledge, they should learn it practically. This not only makes it more exciting and fun but also helps them understand and grasp the concepts better,” Botclub cofounder Vardhan told Inc42.
How Botclub Solved The Physics Problem
Even while working with a well-established firm in Chennai, Vardhan would often find himself wondering about doing something meaningful in the edtech space. He would get in touch with schools, meet principals and try to understand the gaps and problems that they were facing. What struck him most was the common statement he heard everywhere—students don’t understand science. A lover of physics, Vardhan decided to change this.
While still toying with the idea of bringing a practical approach to the concepts of science and particularly physics, Vardhan was introduced to Nithin through common friends. Vardhan shared his idea for a practical science learning with him and instantly brought him on board.
Vardhan and Nithin started visiting schools and meeting with more teachers and principals to convince them about backing the idea.
“We would personally go to schools and convince them that they need to make a place for themselves in the educational transformation that is happening in India. Scikits not only helps the students but teachers as well to help them conduct more impactful lessons,” Vardhan recalled.
Scikits take concepts of physics and puts them together in a puzzle format that’s more engaging than diagrams and text problems in textbooks.
“If we take the example of circuits and electricity, we have put the entire concept like a puzzle, where they will be provided with all the things such as an electric circuit, switches, conductors, insulators and more and they can create their circuits and understand the whole concept themselves.” – Botclub cofounder K Harsha Vardhan.
With these Scikits, Botclub instructors personally visited classrooms to deliver the practical learning experience through authorised educators.
“We do the entire production and manufacturing ourselves in Vizag and so right now reaching each and every school is a challenge for us. Currently, we are only targetting premium schools that can afford our products,” Vardhan told us.
Why Schools Need To Focus On Science
STEM or science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning is essential for all economies that are relying on tech startups and digital services in the future for growth. It’s no different from India.
One of the biggest problem areas in the Indian startup ecosystem is the skill gap in emerging tech and deeptech. Inculcating scientific inquiry in students is the best way to get them curious about solving problems. Botclub recognised this issue and developed 128 models for its Scikits, which cover a range of concepts and topics.
“The idea is that every model should be worked by a group of four to five students and thus we provide replicas of each model covering different concepts,” explained Vardhan.
The startup has created various plans according to the needs and requirements of schools and uses a modular approach with variations and replicas for each plan based on the curriculum being taught in the school.
After schools choose a plan for their students, Botclub takes care of Scikits deliveries and fixes dates for teacher training sessions. In one academic year, it conducts eight training sessions for teachers, the cofounder told Inc42.
Apart from its Scikits, Botclub also runs a community app called Botclub Community, which provides use cases for the Scikits products so that kids can experiment with these kits. It has videos and FAQs for all its plans, along with the option of letting students and teachers across various schools interact with each other. In the context of product education, the app also handles any queries related to assembling and repairing Scikits.
Can Practical Training Fend Off Edtech Rivals?
With a team of ten people, Botclub claims to have a revenue of INR 50 Lakh and this year it is confident that it will earn INR 2 Cr in revenue with its expansion efforts. Within India, it is planning to expand to Hyderabad and Bengaluru school and is also in the process of finalising contracts with 1K schools in South Africa.
With the boom in edtech, more and more startups are looking to disrupt the traditional learning systems with tech-led intervention. Botclub doesn’t seem to be bothered by the competition, even if the competition may involve BYJU’s, the world’s most valuable edtech startup.
Armed with over 40 3D printers to make its Scikits, Vardhan told Inc42 that Botclub’s differentiation comes in the form of design and the learning methodology, which will not be easy to replicate.
“While onboarding schools, we get an idea of their plan and curriculum and then we deliver our products according to that. Every design and every technique we follow is tested and worked on by our design and research teams before we finalise the product. This also makes us unique in what we are doing,” he added.