With a strong industry focus, TalentSprint hopes to bridge the widening gap between the demand for talent and the abundance of unemployable graduates. Having successfully trained 4500 people, it hopes to continue scaling that number as it targets revenue of Rs. 100 crore in the next three years
MAHATHI R. ARJUN
Dr. Santanu Paul firmly feels that though India is considered to have a talent advantage on the global platform, it’s sadly not the case in reality. As the co-founder, MD and CEO of TalentSprint Education Services (TalentSprint), he shares an anecdote that reflects the sorry state of higher education in India. As one of the instructors in its leadership courses taught by TalentSprint leaders, his class comprised of fresh B. Tech graduates. “I had asked them the kind of reading material they covered under the English subject during engineering. After a prolonged silence, one student stood up and mentioned, ‘Question bank for learning English’. I was shocked to realise that everything we know was reduced to a question bank,” shares Paul.
TalentSprint imparts vocational education and skill development for graduates, who’ve been made redundant by theory based and rote learning that is quite rampant in colleges across the country. And that figure is very high, according to Paul. About 75 – 80 per cent of engineering graduates and 85 – 90 per cent graduates of general degrees are unemployable due to poor training – a finding that is often backed by studies conducted by NASSCOM, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) etc. “India is no longer a country of unemployment but of unemployability. There are a large number of people entering the workforce without any training and companies end up spending lot of money to train them,” he adds. On an average, a company spends Rs. 2.5 lakh or US $5000 per trainee for a training period that lasts up to six months, which makes it uncompetitive while, according to Paul, the company can save 50 – 75 per cent by outsourcing its training. He realised this was an excellent business problem to solve by making it easier for companies to recruit talent with lesser investment and also provide an avenue for graduates, who don’t have access to jobs, that can use TalentSprint to certify and get placed.
India is no longer a country of unemployment but of unemployability. There is a huge supply of people entering the workforce without any training and companies end up spending lot of money to train them.
The Hyderabad-based company was setup in 2009 by Paul, J.A. Chowdary (executive chairman) and Madhu Murty Ronanki (president). In April this year, it obtained investment from Nexus Venture Partners for Rs. 20 crore, which was used for its technology development, marketing, branding and centre expansion. TalentSprint has three urban centres in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru that are called as advanced learning centres (ALC). It also has four professional learning centres (PLC) in college campuses and is in talks with several other colleges, which it hopes will help increase the tally to 25 by this September end. By using one of the colleges’ existing computer labs, PLCs can become operational within three weeks. Its third model includes having remote learning centres (RLC), like the one in Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh, by tying up with local foundations in Tier III and IV areas. To facilitate this, it relies on its very own iPearl (interactive platform for employability and remote learning that is a combination of integrated open source technology and off-the-shelf hardware and software components) technology that helps build a virtual classroom based on video conferencing, which allows it to centralise instructors but decentralise students.
TALENTSPIRINT EDUCATION SERVICES
Founders: Dr. Santanu Paul, J.A. Chowdary and Madhu Murty Ronanki
Strengths: Strong industry focus for content, placement and trainers, technology-based delivery solutions and vocational loans for students
Target: Rs. 100 crore in revenue in three years
TalentSprint’s typical customers are not from the top 20 per cent of the student ecosystem but those that fall into the 40 – 80 percentile in academics, who are trainable but not able to find jobs. “Those above 80 percentile are highly employable while below 40 percentile are not even trainable. We choose to work in the middle of the pyramid,” says Paul. It currently has training and certification programmes mainly for IT and banking sectors, and also financial services. About 80 per cent of its revenues come from training fresh graduates, who pay from Rs. 7000 – 40,000 for a course, and 20 per cent from companies it ties up with to train its entry level employees. By partnering with 110 corporate companies like Virtusa, AppLabs, Axis Bank, Syntel etc., TalentSprint ensures 75 – 80 per cent placement success on an average. It has trained over 4500 graduates so far and hopes to take this number to five lakh graduates by 2020. According to Paul, the company is seeing 300 per cent growth annually.
Sowing the seeds
An IIT – Madras graduate, Paul completed his Ph.D. in computer science from University of Michigan, U.S. and went onto work in the research and development arm of IBM for five years. In 1999 in Boston, he co-founded Viveca, a B2B e-commerce firm that was later acquired by Open Pages (which was then acquired by IBM) and Paul worked as its chief technology officer for two years. He returned to India in 2003 end to head the Indian operations of Virtusa. Paul helped grow the company from a team of 400 to 5000 in five years and became the chief delivery officer when the company got listed on NASDAQ in 2007. It was during his tenure in Virtusa that Paul realised the acute talent shortage the Indian industry was facing and the trio decided to launch TalentSprint by bootstrapping.
One of the main challenges Paul encountered was to ensure strong industry linkages to place its students. For this, the promoter-team initially tapped into their network and brought on board companies like Virtusa and AppLabs. Getting high quality trainers was the other challenge but instead of hiring academic faculty, the company chose to appoint trainers from the industry itself. Now, 60 per cent of its team of 100 are trainers. Along the way, the company raised investment from angel investors in 2010 for close to Rs. 5 crore and received a grant of Rs. 10 crore from NSDC, all used for scaling up. The two angel investors, NSDC and Nexus along with the promoters are the company’s stakeholders.
Getting a strong industry-focused curriculum has also been crucial. Looking at curriculum followed by companies formed a basic outline, from which it synthesised programmes for specific skillsets. The company also tied up with international bodies such as U.K.’s International Software Testing and Quality Board to provide certifications. Candidates could be placed only after passing these certification courses. With 70 per cent of its curriculum based on hard skills and the remaining on soft skills, TalentSprint ensures that it follows an experiential model where its classrooms are like computer labs and largely assignment-driven work. And its iPearl technology ensures that students in remote areas are not disadvantaged. The company has put in close Rs. 5 crore on it that forms a cost-effective platform as colleges can be fully instrumented to become TalentSprint centres for less than Rs. 5 lakh. And it plans to scale the platform with further investment.
Understanding the market
Paul believes TalentSprint’s strong industry focus in terms of its faculty, placements and content, technology-based delivery systems and the vocational loans it provides its students by tying up with banks have been the company’s differentiators. The majority of its expenditure (55 – 60 per cent) is spent on acquiring talent. “The perception in the market is that training is easy but many companies fail due to poor industry linkage or bad content; or have quality but can’t scale due to technology restrictions. The problem of unemployability is so large that the market is that much bigger. By 2020, if 80 per cent of one crore graduates are unemployable then there is room for more players,” says Paul of competition.
TalentSprint’s marketing strategy is three-pronged – targeting graduates, building a strong corporate alliance and focusing on more college centres (PLC). To do this, the company concentrates on holding programmes and forums that invite company heads for panel discussions like the event with NASSCOM on unconventional talent acquisition practices. It also awards its partner colleges in implementing iPearl. The company has a three-year arrangement to have a training centre within IIIT-Bangalore campus, having already established one in IIIT-Hyderabad. And it’s working with the Karnataka government to build a global talent academy that would help scale its model at the national level that the company will decide to launch after a year or two.
In the future, Paul hopes to train students much sooner than to wait for them to graduate. “Colleges have become commercial businesses for many so the quality is very poor. We would like to set up centres in colleges where students can be trained in their second or third year. This would be the right long term solution but even the colleges need to come on board,” he says. And with the population getting younger and more joining the workforce, Paul is seeing a legitimate space opening up for companies like his. The banking sector is also seeing a major impetus with close to 7.5 lakh new jobs being created in the next seven years, which will create a huge demand for technical skills. Banks coming out with new products like vocational loans for marginalised students is also a factor. The risk, Paul believes, lies internally in good execution – ensuring both quality and scale. Hence, iPearl will ensure delivery is not franchised and thus, not comprised on quality.
Education is the other vertical that TalentSprint might enter in the future due to the dearth of teachers and professors. These are early days for the company but it has set its sight on covering ground soon. Paul hopes to sign up 100 colleges as partners in the next two years and tie-up with 500 companies by 2015. It is also building broadband-based remote delivery solutions for low-cost tablets. From a revenue target of Rs. 20 crore this FY, it hopes to become Rs.100 crore company in the next three years. With talent shortage becoming a global problem, TalentSprint hopes to venture into global territories and make a strong footprint in both emerging nations and developed ones.
Concept in brief
TalentSprint, a vocational education and skill development organisation, hopes that its strong industry focus on delivering content, placements and trainers, and its iPearl technology that allows remote delivery will ensure the company stays ahead of the race. Having trained over 4500 students so far with 80 per cent placement success, TalentSprint hopes to take that number to five lakh students by 2020. With 50 per cent of the population being under the age of 25 and more of them joining the workforce while many colleges are still ill equipped to handle them, the opportunity for TalentSprint is tremendous. To tap this, its answer lies in execution – building scale while sustaining quality.