When most Economics Hons. graduates pursue finance, investment banking and other lucrative career options, Christ University Alumni, Sahiba Dhandania had something different in mind. After graduating, she went on to work D. E. Shaw, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. She remembers how she had the shock of her life when she realized that what she had learnt in the past three years had very little to do with her real work. This made her question the relevance of the academic curriculum, in general, in the country.
At the same time, Aditya Gandhi, an alumnus of IIT- Bombay, during his brief stint in the finance sector with Optiver Amsterdam, realized the importance of industrial visits as a multi-functional platform for better employee retention for organizations as well as a brilliant opportunity to gain first-hand industry exposure for students.
The industry always runs at a much faster pace than the academic world. Both Sahiba and Aditya understood that a majority of students are not ‘industry ready’. These students needed a real world exposure of the companies they dreamed of working for in the future.
‘Industrial Visit’ as a concept is not completely unheard of in India. In fact, AICTE in Maharashtra has also mandated that students should complete a minimum number of industrial visits as part of the curriculum. However, these are often treated as recreational activities. Both Sahiba and Aditya had met with several principals from different colleges and students. And their findings only confirmed their hypothesis.
After realizing their passion for building a future workforce in India, Sahiba and Aditya founded Purple Squirrel Eduventures. Sahiba’s finance background helped her to delve deeper into Resource Optimization and she took up responsibilities for Sales and Marketing. Aditya decided to look after Technology. Together, they formed a balanced co-founding team who complimented each other’s skills.
They started from scratch. After selecting a few courses from colleges in Mumbai, they figured out the companies which will be most relevant for the students. Then they went and met with the company representatives and pitched their concept. To their surprise, they were welcomed with open arms by the industry. Different companies had different perspectives though. While an industrial visit proved to be a good approach for Brand Recalling for FMCG companies, it served as a useful platform for Talent Acquisition for SMEs. Persistence is rewarding. A combination of cold calls, emails and personal meetings with the HR & Marketing heads from various companies resulted in fruitful associations.
However, the journey is not always easy. Sahiba recollects how difficult it was for her to explain the need for an experiential learning program to the faculties. Without demeaning the existing education system, she had to convince the professors how industrial visits are beneficial to students and their teachers. It was especially hard because both Aditya and her didn’t belong from the academic world and were still considered as freshers in the professional one. However, the fact that they themselves were students not too long ago worked in their favour. They convinced the authorities that there was indeed a gap between the campus and the corporate and a bridge had to be formed.
Finally, one Engineering college gave the green signal. It was only the first of many successful Industrial Visits that were to come. Slowly but steadily, other colleges in and outside Bombay and specializing in various streams opened their doors to Purple Squirrel Eduventures. Business began to grow.
From being the only Sales person, Sahiba now heads the Sales team, with 16 other people working under her. Her advice to budding entrepreneurs would be to learn how to let go. It is important to have trust in the people working with you. Sahiba never shies away from sharing her experiences with her team. Sometimes taking the side bench is not a bad idea but one should always keep their eyes open to whatever is happening around. With her team by her side, Sahiba is now more focused than ever to build a strong business.
Says Sahiba, “The industry has been kind to us. From robust seed funding via the prestigious India Quotient, support from the legacy IIT incubation centre of SINE to willing students and open-armed corporates, we’re very proud of the ecosystem we’re associated with.”
Purple Squirrel Eduventures(http://purplesq.com/) now has around 100 employees. Soon the company will move into a 10,000 sq. ft. workspace located in Supreme Business Park, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, Mumbai. Within a year of its inception, the Squirrels have delivered more than 10000 unique experiences and has tied up with 450 companies. The top 3% of the institutes in Maharashtra now trust Purple Squirrel for their Industrial Visit requirements. The company has also recently concluded a second round of funding (Series A) with Matrix partners.