Taking baby steps in child-care

N. Ramakrishnan | Updated on March 12, 2018

Sridevi Raghavan, CEO, Amelio Child Care Pvt Ltd, and Raghavan Jawahar, Director. — N. Ramakrishnan

“We were aiming to ameliorate the situation of working mothers in India.”

It is a husband and wife team. Their roles, they say, are clearly demarcated. This not only ensures greater accountability, but the staff too know whom they have to report to and for what. This arrangement has worked well for over four years since they started their business and the two are confident that it will help them as they grow their business.

Meet Sridevi Raghavan, CEO, and Raghavan Jawahar, Director, Amelio Child Care Pvt Ltd, a Chennai-based start-up that not just looks after children but also keeps them engaged while their parents are at work.

Amelio now has seven centres in Chennai – two stand-alone ones and the others in either office complexes or residential townships – and has plans to open 15 centres this year.

How did the idea originate? Sitting in their office cubicle, in a typically residential neighbourhood in south Chennai, Sridevi says during her stint in Chennai and Bangalore in the advertising industry, she saw her senior colleagues either quit work or struggle with work-life issues “because it would be 7 o’clock and they would have a meeting with a client still going on and they have a child care crisis at home.”

At some point, says Sridevi, women would quit or they would sacrifice their home life as a result of work excess. It was an unhappy situation, when it seemed to be the most practical solution to have a child care feature at office.

She submitted the idea of having child care centres for a business plan contest at Harvard Business School in the second year of her MBA programme. Her plans were to finish her management programme, find a job and join Raghavan in Hong Kong, where he was running a business. But, as it happened, things did not quite pan out the way she thought they would. Neither of them is complaining, though.

“We enrolled in the business plan contest in my second year, in February-March 2008. We presented the idea and one of the judges in the panel ran a PE fund. He was interested in funding the idea,” says Sridevi.

“Before we knew it, this idea became a reality because of the funding and we both moved back to start Amelio,” she adds. Amelio got seed funding from Equity Management Associates, a Boston-based fund. Sridevi declines to provide details of the funding and the stake Equity Management Associates picked up in Amelio.

What’s in the name Amelio? Amelio, says Sridevi, is partly from “ameliorate”. “We were aiming to ameliorate the situation of working mothers in India,” she adds. They were also inspired by a curriculum method called Reggio Emilia, which is an Italian method that involves the participation of families and community to create a vibrant early childhood care and education system.

Amelio Child Care came into being in August 2008, immediately after Sridevi, 34, completed her MBA from Harvard. She has a bachelor’s degree in commerce and a Master’s in Economics from Madras University and was an advertising professional before working with a couple of non-governmental organisations. Raghavan, 35, is an economics graduate and has a Master’s in Econometrics, also from Madras University. He was into advertisement sales in the media and then got into leather trading, before heading to Hong Kong.

Partnership model

Amelio, according to Sridevi, follows the partnership model. It has tied up with a number of information technology companies to open child care centres in their premises. Some of these companies offer Amelio a subsidy, in terms of either rent-free accommodation or a lower rent, which, Sridevi says, they pass on to the parents.

Amelio now has about 450 children and takes care of kids in the six months to eight years age group. “We have three categories and four age groups,” says Raghavan. The programmes are for pre-school, day care, after-school, while the age groups are infants, young toddlers, older toddlers and after-school children.

According to Sridevi, Amelio follows a well-researched and documented curriculum method called the World of Discovery. “We spent close to a year with experts on early childhood care, child psychologists, special educators, paediatricians and neo-natalogists trying to map out this curriculum,” she adds. The activities are age-specific and cover rhymes, story telling, craft and motor skills. “It is different for different age groups and tries to accommodate their abilities and milestones,” says Sridevi.

Amelio, according to Raghavan, has about 110 employees on its rolls now. The teachers are either graduates or post-graduates and Amelio trains them rigorously in working with children. Amelio feels its biggest challenge is in hiring and retaining good people. It is less of a challenge to keep the people because they are bought into the Amelio way. But to get good people who believe in the way Amelio operates is definitely a tough task.

Apart from opening 15 centres this year, Amelio is looking to spread beyond Chennai – one new city every year. It will need more money to take care of this expansion and is in talks with venture capital firms to raise the next round of funds.

“Substantial, to help us put up the next 150 centres over a phased manner,” is all that Raghavan would say when asked how much they are looking to raise.

Demand for such facilities exists. “Every company is looking to grow, looking to retain their good female employees. They are looking to do whatever it takes,” says Sridevi, on the growth prospects.

Pouring enquiries

“We are encouraged by the number of enquiries we have got from non-IT companies,” she adds. When they started off, they thought the demand would be mainly from companies in the services sector – IT, banking, insurance.

“There is a tipping point after which every company is going to do (have a centre) because that has become the hiring norm,” says Sridevi. Child care centres will become yet another facility such as a bus service or cafeteria that almost all the companies have. Who knows, women employees may even evaluate the companies based on whether they have child care facilities, before taking up job offers.

The issue for Amelio is on hiring good people, training them and maintaining quality. It plans to have its own managerial training centres, so that its employees can look at lateral career moves as it expands outside Chennai.

Published on January 20, 2013

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