A startup that takes education to grassroots

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Goan startup Bodhami, an online education platform, founded by Damodar Pai Patnekar and Ashutosh Shankar, makes waves after winning the National Startup Award 2020, reports Shoma Patnaik

In October last month, Bodhami a newcomer company in Margao, came in the spotlight for being the first startup from the state to win the National Startup Award 2020, in the rural impact category. 

Since the prestigious honour the company continues to be on the roll in gathering citations. Chat with the company founders Damodar Pai Patnekar and Ashutosh Shankar, reveals that, the company is among five startups across the pan-Indian startup community selected by the government to participate in the India-Sweden Innovation Day on November 27. 

Hosted by the embassies of the two countries, CII and Startup India, the focus of the India-Sweden Innovation Day this year is on change makers in various sectors. For participants the event offers an opportunity to get noticed by international investors, large companies, unicorn founders, etc.

That’s not all. Bodhami is also chosen as one of the 15 startups to be part of the startup forum of the Shanghai Corporation Organisation (SCO) on November 30.  The forum will bring together startups from eight countries. “It is going to be an occasion for exchange of ideas and thoughts,” say Patnekar and Shankar.

The two co-founders add that, currently their hands are full preparing presentations for Swedish companies for the approaching event on Friday and undergoing a one-year mentorship programme under the department of promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT), New Delhi.

“The mentorship is part of the winner’s package of the National Startup Award and it is rigorous,” they explain. 

Patnekar who has his feet firmly on the ground, adds that, fame is temporary and it should not distract from the larger vision of scaling up Bodhami for the future.

“We have already looked at next set of things to do. I strongly believe that the award is a confirmation of us doing things right. It actually puts lot more of responsibility on our shoulders that we have to grow bigger, reach to lot more people and ensure quality services,” he says.

Bodhami is an online education platform powered by artificial intelligence. The platform is for students, job-seekers and employers. It offers career counseling, skilling besides other products such as certification programme for counselors, a recruitment portal, etc.

The company started in 2018. To develop the online platform it took the two co-founders more than a year after which it actually went live only in August 2019. The unit is registered with the Goa IT Startup Promotion Cell (SPC) and is one of the startups in the state supported by the IT department by way of seed grant, etc.

The company is also gender equal as it has a woman driving the technology. “Aarthy Vasan is the chief technology officer of the company and she is an equal contributor to the company’s growth, say the two co-founders.

Bodhami has its head office in Malbhat, Margao and another office in Bangalore. The company has 10 employees. 

“The education system in India generally follows one size-fit all approach. Bodhami follows a unique approach and uses the advance AI algorithms to find out the complete persona, skill and the interest profile of an individual, recommends the best suited career options and then provides the learning interventions to fill in the specific gaps to reach to the aspired career,” says Shankar.

Presently the platform operates in 75 cities and has roughly over 600 trained career counselors to give guidance to students. The co-founders ambition is 25 lakh students getting counseling on their platform by 2025. They are also looking at generating employment of 50,000 jobs by 2025.

Patnekar and Shankar were colleagues at Wipro Technologies, Bangalore, for four years where they forged a strong friendship. The duo decided to take the plunge and startup their own venture after some thought.  They have yet to draw their first salaries and hope to recover the founder’s cost by next year. While Patnekar is the chief executive officer, Shankar is the chief operating officer.

“Giving up our job was a daunting but I believe that, one had to add value to oneself every single day and it can be only done with hardship,” says Patnekar. “Keep challenging yourself, put yourself in uncomfortable position to learn new things.”  

There are totally around 45,000registered startups in India under the DPIIT, of which 36 were winners of the national startup competition 2020. Bodhami got selected under a special category of rural impact.

“The category is for startups which have brought about a change in rural places so that all those people who are at the bottom of the pyramid can be uplifted in a way that the whole country develops. It feels special to win in the rural impact category,” says Patnekar and Shankar. 

They believe that, winning the National Startup Award 2020, offers their company the forum to connect not only to different  government departments but also connect internationally through embassies.

“Bodhami is simply about bringing about a change in the grass root level through education,” say the co-founder buddies.