Sports can be a scalable business proposition too

Swetha Kannan | Updated on May 08, 2011

Leapstart runs sports and fitness programmes in schools for children in the 5-16 age group.

Mr Dev Roy

Sports teaches you what you don't learn in school. It teaches you how to deal with life, and take victory and defeat at the same time. Mr Dev Roy, Founder of Leapstart

Sports can be a profitable and scalable business proposition, emphasises Mr Dev Roy, founder of the Bangalore-based Leapstart, which runs fitness and sports programmes in schools across the country. And as you raise your eyebrows, Mr Roy assures: “Leapstart is just a year old, but has already broken even… and I have not cut corners anywhere.”

Well, money is just one aspect.

Mr Roy's tale is a classic case of a bored investment banker in the US and the UK later giving it all up to pursue something that would create a “positive social impact.” Sounds clichéd, but his passion for sports and commitment for India's future does strike you.

Health woes

Sports, 37-year-old Mr Roy says, is the only answer to health woes and neglecting physical education isn't a wise thing. “When I was doing my MBA in the US, I put on 20 kilos because I didn't get to do enough sports.”

“If India doesn't want to become a demographic time-bomb, people have to be healthy. But if we do not make a change in our children's lifestyle, in 30 years we are going to have an extremely unhealthy nation. The burden of it is not something India can afford. There has to be some change.” And Leapstart, Mr Roy hopes, will spark that change.

After spending 15 years away from home, Mr Roy returned to India in 2010 looking for things to do and ventures to jump into. A quick scan of the neighbourhood as he looked for places for his 3-year-old son to play led to the birth of Leapstart.


Leapstart's genesis is actually two-fold: Apart from lack of adequate spaces, the low importance given to physical education in Indian schools really bothered Mr Roy. “The last bastion for physical activity is in schools, which only want to produce academic toppers. But sports teaches you what you don't learn in school. It teaches you how to deal with life, and take victory and defeat at the same time,” he says.

Leapstart, which runs sports and fitness programmes in schools for children in the 5-16 age group, is modelled on the lines SPARK — a 30-year-old programme funded by the US Government to tackle the problem of obesity in the country. (Leapstart has 100 instructors who have been trained by SPARK.)

“Schools are outsourcing their entire sports curriculum to us. Sports is not their core competence. But increasingly parents want their kids to have a rounded education. Every subject in school has standards except physical education. Physical education teachers just say: Throw ball, play and we will get a sports team going. There is no curriculum, assessment or reporting to tell parents how their children are doing and what they are good at. These were the things lacking in our system.” Leapstart, whose curriculum follows the NAPSE (National Association for Sports and Physical Education) standards, addresses all these issues, says Mr Roy.

The fundamental philosophy of the programme is to ensure inclusive participation. “I was a good sportsman. I was in the cricket, football and hockey teams at Bishop Cotton, Bangalore. But not everybody got to participate as a few of us would hog the ball. This wasn't the best scenario… it made a few super stars, but didn't give everybody the opportunity to participate, enjoy sports and make it something that they can do life-long,” rues Mr Roy.

The programme

Under the Leapstart programme, young children (age 5 onwards) are taught fine locomotor skills such as jumping, skipping and how to tumble when you fall; primary school children are introduced to the basic elements of various sports, while at the middle and senior school level, the drill is in sport specialities such as golf, basketball, football, tennis and flying disc. The programme also looks at aspects such as social interaction, coordination, cooperation in a team setting and spatial awareness.

Leapstart has touched around 25,000 children in 35 private schools across Delhi, Bangalore, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Munnar, Hyderabad and Chennai. “Schools that are most compelling for us are those whose fee is in the Rs 30,000-80,000 region. They are progressive enough to understand the requirements of the modern child, but they are not like the expensive international schools.” The programme costs Rs 150-200 for a child a month. “This is not an elitist thing. Yes, we are a private limited company and want to be profitable. But there is a social motivation to it.”

The response from principals and teachers has been good, says Mr Roy. “Schools are seeing the value and benefits coming out of the programme. We have principals calling other principals on our behalf.”

Mr Roy wants to take this concept to the Government schools, too.

“We run the programme at the Tata Tea School in Munnar where 80 per cent of the students are the children of tea pluckers. We are also working with the Rotary to take the programme to a school outside Bangalore. If there is any compelling school, we are willing to do the programme free of cost.”

Angel investor

Mr Roy has put in his personal money into the venture. He is an angel investor who has also invested in an outpatient dialysis centre. He is not looking for external funding even as Leapstart leaps to the next level. “Leapstart was set up in January 2010, but we are a cash-flow positive profitable company in just about a year. We gave a value proposition to the schools and they accepted it. And I didn't cut corners on quality. I spent good money on training the staff.”

He has big dreams to nurture sports in the country. “My vision is like a pyramid. Leapstart is at the bottom. Then we have specialty and elite programmes in schools providing higher level training and coaching. I now have plans to start an elite academy for sports.”

The elite academy will come up on 7.5 acres in Bangalore. Mr Roy has roped in Leander Paes' coach Mr Ted Murray and his partner Mr Randy Scott to train tennis aspirants.

It is expected to be ready in six months. The academy plans to train 20 children (14-16 year olds) from across India.

“As a banker, the net social impact I had was zero. I made money for myself and the bank. I won't grudge that. But I am going to give it back to society. People will enjoy sport and be healthy for the rest of their lives. I am touching the tip of the ice-berg. But I hope other private citizens will look at sports as a profitable business avenue and give back to society in the long run,” signs off Mr Roy.

Published on May 08, 2011

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