TalentSprint is among the first edtech start-ups in the country which visualised a strong demand for courses delivered over digital platforms. Santanu Paul, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the company, which was recently acquired by the NSE group, spoke to BusinessLine. on the turmoil in the edtech space, the scope for niche edtech players in deeptech space and scope for expansion. Excerpts.


Edtech industry, which has seen a huge spurt in the last few years, seems to have hit a bumpy road in the last few months, with a good number of start-ups showing strains. How does the edtech landscape look like now?

Just like we had a fintech revolution, there was an edtech revolution, which is still on. If you talk about edtech, it is not a monolithic domain. There are many levels. There is K-12, there are large, funded mega brands that are all focusing on a student’s supplementary learning. And those companies went through a massive expansion during the pandemic. 

Then the second category where we are operating is in the category of college students and working professionals. Now, if you look at what has happened to the edtech industry in the last six months, the K12 industry has taken a big beating, because of too much competition and too much discounting. Too much money is also involved.


 What was the trigger for the turmoil?

After the pandemic, schools have reopened. With classes starting to reopen, parents didn’t like the idea of kids sitting at home all day looking at the screens. And that is pushing back the K 12 online supplemental learning. The other issue is, there’s also been a lot of concerns about mis-selling – that parents are being preyed upon especially middle-class and lower middle-class parents and in tier-two, tier-three cities, who have great hopes and aspirations for their children. And it’s easy to kind of prey upon their insecurities, to tell them that if you don’t take care of your kid now, by paying us this much money for this program that we’re selling you, then you are going to be responsible for squandering your kids’ future.  This logic is a very powerful psychological tool.

That caused some degree of consumer backlash. Tied to that is the third problem, which is the NBFCs which have been giving loans. Since a lot of these programmes are sold on the basis of loans taken, a lot of these loans are mis-sold as subscriptions.

And then when people stopped paying, the bank started reporting them to credit agencies, and suddenly people found themselves getting negative credit rating against their names.


What’s the situation with regard to deeptech education?

The momentum in the professional education space is still very high. The view that working professionals and young professionals need to upskill is only getting stronger because technology is changing fast. So what used to be like a trickle has become a strong stream. The top 20-30 per cent of the workforce is now learning new technologies in general and deep technologies in particular. So deep tech executive education is now very big. And the potential for it continues to grow simply because the workforce is aware and the college students are aware that without this skill set, they are not going to be able to get the best jobs. 


What’s the road ahead for deeptech education start-ups considering the present upheaval?

Deep-tech education is going into a higher momentum simply because industry is rewarding the skillset but not paying the workforce to acquire it, and therefore people paying for themselves is becoming more and more popular. Realising the huge potential for deeptech courses, several top institutes like IISc Bangalore and IITs have started expanding their reach by launching online courses in niche areas. Tech schools are offering executive education the way business schools offer executive programmes for working professionals.

I don’t see this changing the next three to five years. You get stronger in the immediate short term. Medium to long term, there is a very strong tailwinds for the business model that we are in.


What’s changed after your acquisition by NSE?

When NSE India wanted to enter edtech space, they took a majority stake in our company. The transaction helped us accelerate our ability to partner with top-tier academic institutions. Earlier, all big institutions were afraid of start-ups, at some level, as they felt they were unpredictable. They thought they may not survive. Post the transaction, it’s becoming easier for us to sign bigger and bigger deals with better and better partners. Also, getting talent out of top-tier tech brand or financial service brands and top banks has become simpler. 


Which are the other geographies that you are looking at?

Now, we are looking at US, the Middle East and South-East Asia. I’m thinking of starting conversations to do something similar in Africa, because that’s another continent where there is assumption that talent is there, but we can’t find them for the big companies. We are also planning to replicate the programme Women Engineers to Asia and other countries.

We also signed with Carnegie Mellon (the US) to offer programmes with the School of Computer Science Executive Education. We are looking at offering three-six programmes with Carnegie Mellon to the markets of India, South-East Asia and Middle East. We are currently in discussions with a few top schools in the US, hopefully those will come through in the next few months. 


How many people do you have there (in the US)? 

It’s early days. We have about 10 team members there. They work very closely with our India technical instruction team because the content that we are using (there) is largely what we’ve been using in India.


So the faculty, the content, everything, it will be sourced from the Indian parent company?

Our Chief Learning Officer is Ashokan Pichai. He is the Dean of the US Program also. But he is managing it remotely from India.