The Essential Guide to Entrepreneurs in Indian Education

“The biggest disappointment when it comes to India is its education system” — Bill Gates (Founder, Microsoft and Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Bill Gates is not an outsider making an off-hand comment. Through his foundation, he has funded and been involved with several projects in education. But why does he feel so? Sample this:

  • 168: India’s rank out of 234 countries as per UNESCO with literacy rate of 72%
  • 145: India’s rank out of 191 countries as per United Nations on the Education Index
  • 102: India’s rank out of 149 countries on the Education Index as per Legatum Institute
  • 72: India’s rank out of 73 countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as per the OECD
  • 18%: Difference in literacy rate between men (81%) and women (63%) in India as per UNESCO

Now is the glass half-full or half-empty? Depends on who you ask. If you are a current entrepreneur or aspiring one, this data might point to an exciting opportunity for change.

Education Market in India

India has roughly 1.5 million schools, 38,000 colleges, and 760 universities as per MHRD. This translates into 1 school per 200 school-goers and 1 college per 3,700 college-goers.

A country’s education needs can only be met by the system for so long. Eventually, it needs innovation. That’s where the spirit of entrepreneurship comes in. India has an education industry that’s waiting for entrepreneurs to take advantage of its opportunities.

Valued at $100 billion in 2016, the market is expected to almost double by 2020 to $180 billion. This is due to increasing literacy and the increase in digital learning. E-learning by itself was estimated at $2 billion. The K-12 segment comprises 52% of this and offers the biggest opportunities for growth.

Education, and especially education technology (EdTech), has seen a rise in funding. From 2014–2016, 125 startups were funded, with a total investment of $256 million dollars. Deals and total funding have grown at 49% and 149% respectively. From 2014–16, this resulted in a jump in funding from around $20 million to a forecasted $181 million.

Source: Inc42

Investments in the education sector come in from both private and government sources. Startup India, for example, is a government scheme aimed at promoting bank financing for startups. The Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) is another program aimed at promoting entrepreneurship. Under this, Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) have been set up in schools and higher education institutes. They are DIY workspaces where students can give shape to their ideas. They have also started Udaan, an initiative in Jammu and Kashmir. It provides employment oriented training to young people from the state.

In the private sector, organizations like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) have teamed up with IIMs. This partnership has resulted in a $5 million contract to conduct the Combined Aptitude Test (CAT) in India. Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers’ Association (IEEMA) have joined hands with New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). This was done to promote collaboration on various initiatives that include skill development and training in the electrical and electronics sectors.

Problem Solving

As the education market grows, so do its problems. Several start ups are attempting to pinpoint and solve issues that plague the education industry.

A. Quality of Education

Lack of personalization

Education has stayed a ‘one size fits all’ model since the industrial revolution. With current progress and research, we know that it isn’t as effective. Everyone learns at different levels depending on their abilities, their background and their access to learning materials. Each student struggles in different subjects and even different areas of each subject. EdTech can aid teachers and students here, as shown by US based Khan Academy.

Lack of engagement

Technologies such as AV systems and video are equally important. While they may not bring people online, they are mediums that can make learning more interesting. Books and papers have become things of the past. Bringing new methods of learning into the classroom can encourage children to stay in school and learn further.

Lack of after-school support

When personalization or engagement is lacking in traditional set-ups, most students turn to after school support. While tuition classes have become dime a dozen, the growth has not resulted in an equal improvement in quality. While home tuitions are popular, the teachers may not be qualified or effective.

Lack of vocational training

Former president APJ Abdul Kalam said that “unemployability” of a majority of Indian youth, which was a result of skill deficit, was a bigger crisis than unemployment itself. Education in India is oriented towards gaining a degree. Unlike in the west where business degrees are meant for experienced professionals, Indians pride themselves on continuous education and salary comparisons. Little thought is given to actual skill building. This results in poorer career outcomes and underemployment.

B. Access to Education

Distance as barrier

India lacks schools and teachers in several districts, especially in government schools. According to some estimates, as many as one in six teaching posts is vacant. Enabling students to access distance learning, through online courses and assignments, helps solve this issue. IGNOU, the largest open university in the world, with over 4 million students across 67 centers is a rare and successful solution.

Technology as barrier

In classrooms around the world, children are used to digital tools at home and school. It is essential to bring these e-learning tools such as computers and mobiles into every classroom. Rural areas, especially, need these in a world where digital skills are more important than ever for a successful career.

Entrepreneurs in the Education Sector

There are many individuals who have contributed to the change so far. While we cannot list them all, we hope the below list provides an inspiration for many more.


Narendra Modi

The current Prime Minister of India has been working on educational reforms since taking on the role. He has put forward initiatives like a university for teacher training and evaluations of teachers by students. He has also recommended overhauling of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). The government think tank, Niti Aayog, has also begun to work on recommendations to the education system under his guidance.

Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy

In the early 1960s, experiencing the famine in Bihar inspired Roy to start the Social Work and Research Centre in Rajasthan. This eventually turned into the Barefoot College. He runs 714 night primary schools which teach 2,35,000 children in five states. He aims to turn people in rural areas into solar and water harvesting engineers, hand pump mechanics, blacksmiths and weavers. The eventual aim is to make the villagers self sustaining.

Dr. Achyuta Samanta

Starting with a capital of Rs. 5,000, Dr. Achyuta built the KIIT University in Odisha (Orissa). The university has 23 colleges of professional education. He also built The Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS). It is considered the world’s largest boarding school, and provides free K-12 education to 15,000 children from the backward tribal population. Dr. Samanta aims to copy the KISS model across Odisha and eastern India.

Azim Premji

The Chairman of Wipro runs the Azim Premji Foundation, whose object is to update the quality of primary education in India. In 2010, he gave INR 8.8 crore to the establishment and construction of Azim Premji University (APU). The objective of APU is to set new standards for teacher training and research for education.

Dr. Jagdish Gandhi

The founder of City Montessori School in Lucknow, Dr. Gandhi and his wife Bharti now manage over 20 campuses with 44,000 students. CMS emphasizes co-curricular activities, while most schools do not. The K-12 school hosts 32 international events annually and has an active student exchange program with schools overseas.

Dr. Mithu Alur

Dr. Alur is the founder-chairperson of Spastics Society of India (now ADAPT) and the National Resource Centre for Inclusion (NRCI), Mumbai. The two organizations provide education for 3,000 physically and mentally challenged children. She has also staged four global conferences on inclusive education (bringing children with special needs into mainstream education).

Dr. Swati Popat Vats

The President of the Podar Education Network, Dr. Vats is the director of Podar Jumbo Kids, a preschool chain. Regarded as one of the best in the country, it now has branches across India and internationally. She is also the President of the Early Childhood Association, a not for profit dedicated to helping early childhood educators discuss and improve the quality of education.

Lina Ashar

Coming back to India from Australia, Ms. Ashar set up the first Kangaroo Kids preschool in 1993. At this point the concept of a preschool was relative unknown in India. Her aim was to teach children with creativity and imagination. It has now grown into a chain with branches across India, West Asia and the Maldives. She has also founded a full fledged high school, Billabong International High School.

Swaroop Sampat Rawal

Although known as an actress, Ms. Rawal has a PhD in Education. She works as a trainer for teachers across the country. She was selected to conduct teacher training workshops in Gujarat with GCERT (Gujarat Council for Educational Research and Training). She has also been a lecturer and panelist at several respected institutions.

Prajodh Rajan

Mr. Rajan, a management graduate, founded the EuroKids preschool chain. He started with 2 preschools in Mumbai and has increased the chain to over 800 preschools. He is regarded as a pioneer in early childcare franchising.


Anant Agarwal

Educated at IIT-Madras and MIT, Agrawal is the founder of edX. This open source platform offers online courses and educational content across many subjects. The lecturers are often from leading universities, such as Harvard. Apart from online courses, it also conducts and publishes research on learning.

Beas Dev Ralhan

Next Education was founded by Ralhan in 2007 in Hyderabad. It offers learning solutions to K-12 students through teaching aids and self learning packages. The company currently offers 10,000 learning modules across several subjects. As of 2012, its annual revenue was about Rs. 100 crore. It is currently one of the biggest digital learning solutions companies in India.

Kaushik Basu

The former Chief Economist of the World Bank, Basu completed his undergraduate degree at St. Stephens in Delhi. He then went on to complete his M. Sc and PhD at London School of Economics. He created Arthapedia, a site for Indian citizens to understand the government’s economic policies.

Byju Raveendran

Raveendran started BYJU to help students prepare for competitive exams like the CAT, JEE, IAS, GRE and GMAT. The app uses videos and interactive activities for personalized tutoring. As of 2016, it crossed the 5 million download mark and raised USD 244 million in funding.

Pavan Chauhan

In 2009, Chauhan launched Meritnation, an online portal for school children. It has content aligned with the state boards, ICSE, and CBSE. Users have the option to learn live video lectures and interactive recorded videos. It also conducts tests and gives assignments to keep students prepared. The company has raised USD 11.4 million from InfoEdge.

Nishant Patni and Pranshu Bhandari

This husband and wife duo launched CultureAlley for people learning new languages. Its HelloEnglish app works offline and is a free course to learn the English language. It uses an informal learning process and has 5 lakh users all over the world.

Aditi Avasthi

Mr. Avasthi founded Embibe in 2012 with a team of entrepreneurs focusing on personalized education. An online portal for test preparation, it is specially designed for engineering entrance exams. It recently received $4 million in funding and claims to have over 15,000 web users.

Krishna Kumar

Simpililearn was launched by Mr. Kumar in 2009. An online education portal, it aims to simplify learning for working professionals. It offers more than 400 online courses in areas such as IT, digital marketing, programming, big data, analytics, etc. It also offers course certificates. It has raised about USD 28 million dollars and is reported to have over 5 lakh users.

Kushal Bhagia and Kartik Aneja

These alumni of BITS Pilani launched Nayi Disha in 2012. They engage preschoolers in different learning models. Games and educational apps are used by children to learn using motion sense technology. They have raised USD 320,000 in funding and claim to serve in 50 metros and tier 2 cities.

Ishan Gupta and Mayank Gupta

The founders launched EduKart in 2011 for providing courses such as MBA, BBA, MSc, MCA, BA, BCom and others. It is an online distance learning website providing several undergraduate and graduate courses with degrees and diplomas. It has tied up with over 90 course providers who promote their courses. It was acquired by PayTM in 2016.

Anand Prakash, Vamsi Krishna, Pulkit Jain, and Saurabh Saxena

Vedantu was founded by these four in 2011 to provide online tech based education to students in grades 6–12. It allows students to pick from the teachers available. Users can enjoy tools such as the whiteboard and AV technology. The startup has raised USD 5.5 million.

Akshay Chaturvedi and Rajiv Ganjoo

The two founded LeverageEdu in 2017 to help students apply to colleges. The software matches students to over 2,500 colleges using machine learning. Applications to higher education programs are done with the counsel of experts. It also helps them build a profile that includes writing research papers. The startup has raised seed funding of an undisclosed amount.

(Note: This list is not exhaustive. You can find more change makers here and here. More entrepreneurs in EdTech can be found here. If you think there is someone who should be on this list, please share their details in the comments section)


It is clear that India has gaps in the education sector. These cannot be solved by the system alone. Entrepreneurship in education is vital to bringing inclusivity, reducing knowledge inequality and ushering digital learning.

But maybe the answer to education will arise out of education itself? Outside of formal programs, it is necessary to encourage entrepreneurship in schools and colleges. The spirit of creativity has been lost in generations of rote learning. Only when teachers and the system alike encourage innovation, will we see more progress in the education industry.

Not all changes are equal. A change in education will determine the future of a nation. Isn’t that worth fighting for?

Further Reading

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