Enabling Kids to DO through Kinesthetic Lab: The Story of Add-on-Gyan

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As a kid, have you ever wondered if the text books could disappear on their own – the bulky textbooks with things written all over and very few diagrams? I did. I bet you did too. Being one of the most creative species on earth, Kids are constantly tortured to ‘mug-up’ things and spit it in their exam hall. No wonder, we do not remember all the things that school taught us. The only things I remembered are my practical classes – where we actually DID things.  How about learning everything by DOING?

Priyadeep Sinha and Sonali Gupta want to bring kinesthetic learning to India through their startup Add-on-Gyan, by introducing LEARNING by DOING. Abhash Kumar is also a co-founder  but does not work full-time with the start-up owing to personal reasons. But, he  remains one of the biggest evangelists for the startup  and takes on roles as and when needed.  Priyadeep has completed B.E. in Mechanical and has a post graduate degree in Education Technology. He has earlier worked as a Research Scholar at Strathclyde University in Glasgow (UK).  Sonali is currently a final year student of Computer Science Engineering, and has International experience working with IAESTE in Vienna (Austria) and has also been Treasurer of the apex student body of MIT, Manipal.

We speak with Priyadeep Sinha, CEO ADD-on-GYAN to understand more about this startup which helps kids become doers. Read on!

What is the idea behind Add on Gyan? Take us through the story behind startup.

I believe the story started when I was in 11th Grade. My school education is not something I really enjoyed. It was all about rote-learning and remembering tones of stuff without focusing on understanding and enjoying the subjects. I had a terrible time trying to adapt to our system of schooling focused on marks and more marks. I could not. I used to spend a lot of time standing outside classrooms for challenging my teachers. Actually my mother was even told by a teacher that I was a fool to try and hit my head against a wall because the wall would never break, only the head would. Then college happened and it was an even worse story. My co-founders also had a similar take on this issue.

I knew we had to do something about this – about making learning fun and school to be something you actually look forward to than detesting. On a happiness meter, learning should stand equal to playing outdoors in the evening. This led us to Gyan Lab (Add on Gyan) in my final year of engineering studies in January 2011 (co-founders Abhash was in final year too and Sonali was a first year). It was that time of college life when everyone was talking about and busy with placements. I was not too inclined to get ‘a job’. So, I chose to start-up Gyan Lab as something that will change the status quo in school education.

What market research did you do, before launching Add on Gyan?

Actually none! We were just a bunch of college students. On top of that, Gyan Lab was the first ever student start-up in the history of Manipal University and we were absolute novices at that point of time. But, over time we have done considerable research on product and market for our product and services which makes us a strong player in this segment.

When is Add on Gyan launched, and what kind of traction has it seen so far? Tell us the cities and schools the lab has been launched.

We launched Add on Gyan in January 2011 in Manipal and were incubated at Manipal University Technology Business Incubator (MUTBI). We spent the entire 2011-12 academic year piloting Gyan Lab with 40 odd students of Madhava Kripa School in Manipal. The next year was a beta test of the entire product done with 500 students of five different schools in the Mangalore – Manipal region of coastal Karnataka. It was at this point of doing the beta test, we realized the need to be more centrally located to be able to cater to a larger geographical area.

We wanted to consolidate our position as a strong activity-based learning services company across South and West India. This led us to move to Bangalore in January 2013. Beginning academic year, Gyan Lab is working with schools, learning centres and play schools across Bangalore, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kota and Udupi-Kundapura having over 2500 students enrolled in our annual Gyan Lab programs. Our largest partner is Pearson Schools Group.

Apart from this, we have done numerous workshops across various cities and have recently launched a unique competition for innovative kids – Kidovators Challenge in partnership with State Bank of India and NPCI where over 26,000 students have enrolled across 100+ cities in India.

Gyan Lab HQ Team
Partial Team @ Gyan Lab
Tell us a bit about kinesthetic lab facility offered by your startup for the schools.

Gyan Lab is a hardware-based kinesthetic learning facility for school students of grades 3 – 9. We are India’s most comprehensive hands-on learning pedagogy for school kids with a focused curriculum that aims at giving kids a stress-free, self-styled and self-paced learning environment based on funducationTM (learning while having fun). The activities that are a part of Gyan Lab have been carefully put together based on five different global education curricula and standards including NCF 2005 & CCE (India) and National Curriculum of UK. What we have actually focused on is developing a curriculum that makes kids more intuitive in nature bringing real things in their surroundings as activities such as Building Vacuum Cleaners, Understanding Cloud Formation, Understanding Taxes, Vedic Mathematics, etc.

The question we asked ourselves while building the whole concept and the programs is – ‘What does a kid need to know by the time he/she is 22 and ready to be independent in this world?’. All equipments, tools and components for the activities are ordered from various vendors in India, Japan, China, Taiwan and USA while the assembly of the kits using these components happens at our facility in Bangalore. However, the real add-on at Gyan Lab is our student assessment and performance metric known as Gyan Meter that gauges the interest field of a child based on how a child performs at Gyan Lab and help choose a proper education and career path in subsequent years.

Based on your experience in setting up the startup so far, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for us in the past, at present and for the future is funds to run the start-up. For an hardware-based education start-up, there is hardly any fund available in the market given that such start-ups may take more time and capital than tech start-ups to grow and the performance of some of the past funding done in this segment have grown much slower than tech or e-commerce start-ups. So, our growth has been a little slower given that we have been in operation for three years. However, this growth has been very sustainable owing hugely to MUTBI, our advisors and family who have made funding through debt and equity at strategic times and kept the company running in an optimized manner.

We have been bootstrapping right from the beginning and ensuring that we keep growing in an optimized manner because it would be too bad to shut down just for the lack of external funding. We have been extremely frugal while running the start-up and it has helped us a lot.

What are the near future plans for Add on Gyan Lab?

The near future plans of Add on Gyan definitely include our absolute focus on constant innovation aimed at making the Gyan Lab experience an even better one for school kids. It also includes an inexpensive lab that can be used by NGOs and Charity Organizations in remote areas and kids living in slums in urban settlements. Our long term goal, although, is setting up alternate schools where there is no education but only funducation.

 Are you looking for funding right now?

We are definitely looking for funds but wish to build a company for the customers rather than investors as we see quite often in the Indian start-up eco-system.

How easy / difficult is it to convince Schools to set up a kinesthetic lab and charge for it? 

It is very difficult to explain schools about setting up a kinesthetic lab within their premises. Some of the schools tend to see products such as ours a way of telling them that they are not teaching properly and we are going to replace the traditional way of teaching in their schools. That is the first thing we address when we start dialogue with a school that Gyan Lab is there to complement their classroom teaching and focuses on the co-curricular skills of a child while the academic end is managed by teachers in regular classrooms. Actually, the fees is never a problem for us since our price point is fair and lower than other companies providing hands-on learning pedagogies.

What would be your suggestions to fellow edupreneurs?

This is a tough market to survive and scale in. Enter only if you are truly passionate about making a change for the better for the future generation of rockstars. Do not enter if you are only focused on making good money quickly.

 TTP’s take on Add on Gyan

Add on Gyan is helping India solve one of its biggest problems – converting kids into doers. The founders have been very smart in having experienced mentors on board, and participating in various competitions  to build their credibility and validating their idea.

The team is exceptionally good, and by the way they have carried on things so far, it’s very well evident that provided with the right amount of funds – this team will go places. This is one startup in Education Sector to watch out in the coming years!