When education met entrepreneurship: Teach For India steps into startup ecosystem to empower early-stage edtech firms

Over the past decade, there has been much innovation in education, especially at the grassroot level. And Teach For India (TFI) is leading the way by harnessing young talent to bring change in the education sector.

After working with over 320 schools across Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Delhi, the organisation, in 2016, decided to move beyond classrooms. With an aim to incubate and empower “promising early-stage entrepreneurs”, TFI founded InnovatED.

Shaheen Mistri, CEO and Founder of Teach for India, told SocialStory,

“Looking at the level of investment of our Fellows and alumni in innovation and entrepreneurship, we realised that there was a compelling case for providing foundational support to promising early-stage entrepreneurs coming out of the Teach For India Fellowship. It was through this realisation that InnovatED was conceptualised.”

InnovatED was designed to be a decentralised incubation platform, instead of a physical incubator, or a co-working space. It reaches entrepreneurs in all seven TFI cities, operating on a hybrid model that combines in-person or physical support (through entrepreneur convening), virtual support (through peer-to-peer learning, and masterclasses) and digital support (through its in-house learning platform, and curated micro-learning videos).

In less than two years, InnovatED has enabled 15 early-stage education entrepreneurs to build organisations that are working across the spectrum of education — from public schools and parent leadership, to scientific thinking and student voice.

Ed-tech entrepreneurs and former TFI fellows interact with each other.

The need

“India needs an infusion of new and innovative organisations in the education ecosystem to address the challenges of the present, and shape the future of education and our children.”

The organisation’s flagship fellowship programme enables students and young professionals to serve as full-time teachers to children from low-income communities in some of India’s most under-resourced schools. Here, the Fellows work directly at the grassroot level, interacting with students, principals, and parents.

An in-depth classroom engagement spanning across two years also provides them with awindow to get acquainted with the realities of India’s education system— 76 percent of students do not make it to a higher education system; 52 percent of Class V students cannot read a Class II textbook; and 52 percent, approximately nine lakh teacher vacancies, exist across primary and upper primary schools.

Since they are now well-versed with the education landscape in India, TFI engages with them on the entrepreneurial level.

Shaheen adds,

“The entrepreneurs we incubate come with a strong experience of having worked on the ground, as full-time teachers in under-resourced classrooms. This experience, before starting an organisation, is unique in the ecosystem, and ensures that the solutions are rooted in the most real and pressing problems that our students, classrooms, and schools face today.”

Shaheen Mistri interacts with the entrepreneurs at the InnovatED summit held in Bengaluru.

The InnovatED model

While Bengaluru-based Edumentum is another incubator that focuses solely on education startups, InnovatED is the only organisation that focuses on early-stage, education-focused platforms with social impact as its core philosophy. The incubator offers funding, access to a dedicated coach, a series of entrepreneur convening, a peer community of support, access to the ecosystem, and a knowledge framework on organisation-building.

Samarthya, an organisation that works to strengthen school management committees, is one such early-stage venture incubated by InnovatED. Says Sahil Babbar, a 2015 TFI alumni and Co-founder of Samarthya,

“InnovatED acted as a catalyst and a connector for my organisation. A catalyst because the energy and work of our Fellow entrepreneurs showed us what’s possible. A connector because we learnt from and were put in touch with experts in the social sector.”

The organisation claims that InnovatED’s support has enabled their inaugural cohort of entrepreneurs to collectively achieve a two-fold increase in the number of children impacted,a 70 percent increase in team strength, and a 150 percent increase in fundraising capacity.  

The startups

TFI works with Fellows who eventually become entrepreneurs to strategically tackle important problems that persist in education, and collectively change the narrative for education in the country. Adds Shaheen,

“Our entrepreneurs are really advancing the vision we have of reaching all children one day – because their organisations are serving children in locations Teach For India may not be reaching currently.”

A few of the startups incubated by InnovatED from the 2018-19 cohort include:

InnovatED’s second cohort

  • Slam Out Loud- Arts in Education: Founded by Jigyasa Labroo, Slam Out Loud believes that art can create a space for expression and give children a platform for discourse for change in their communities by equipping them with 21st century skills.
  • Saturday Art Class- Arts in Education: Founded by Manasi Mehan, Saturday Art Class delivers a complementary-to-academics curriculum based on values and life-skills – for children in government and low-income aided schools, through the medium of art.
  • Pi Jam Foundation- Tech in Education: Founded by Shoaib Dar, Pi Jam aims to provide access to technology, and build essential skills like problem solving, programming, and design thinking in students through a hands-on approach to learning.
  • Prayogshala- Tech in Education: Founded by Shasanka Mishra, Prayogshala creates innovators by providing students with facility, faculty, and opportunities in science.
  • Key Education Foundation- Early childhood education and development: Founded by Swetha Guhan, Key Education Foundation works to ensure quality early childhood education for children from low-income communities in urban India – by enabling schools, teachers, and parents.
  • Umoya Sports- Inclusive Education for students with disabilities: Founded by Aditya KV, Umoya Sports provides holistic development opportunities for students with disabilities, and builds an inclusive culture in schools through the medium of sports.
  • Loop Education Foundation- School Leadership: Founded by Ashish Navalakha, Loop Education Foundation develops high performing ecosystems of schools – one cluster at a time, by leveraging technology, and resource-sharing.

Plans ahead

Teach For India is part of the global Teach For All network spread over 49 countries. The education entrepreneurs who are supported by InnovatED are part of a global network of over 600 social entrepreneurs working across the length and breadth of the global education ecosystem.

The incubator has supported eight startups in 2017. Recently, in March, the organisation launched their second cohort at IIM Bengaluru, where seven entrepreneurs were exposed to bootcamp sessions facilitated by experts, while entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to potential investors.

Shaheen says,

“I believe that the biggest thing we need to do is infuse high quality talent into the system. We do have new technology and developments, but it is people who make the change. We need to inspire more people to come and work for our children, and then reform curriculum.”


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