Emerging Entrepreneurs

Helping under-served children crack competitive exams

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on December 10, 2019

Krishna Ramkumar, Co-founder and CEO, Avanti Learning Centres   -  N Ramakrishnan

Avanti Learning trains them in maths and science so that they get into best colleges

Krishna Ramkumar, Co-founder and CEO, Avanti Learning Centres, swears by the work done by Eric Mazur, Dean for Applied Physics, Harvard University, and who has done extensive research on education. Mazur, says Krishna, found that motivated children learnt better from their peers than from teachers. Mazur created this model of peer-to-peer learning, where children would discuss subjects and topics with each other and debate with each other.

And, when Krishna and his friend Akshay Saxena, Co-founder and Director, Avanti, decided that they wanted to start something that will help under-privileged bright children have a crack at joining colleges like the IITs, they adopted Mazur’s pedagogy method after tweaking it a bit.

It was in 2010 that the two teamed up together to create Avanti Learning Centres, as a non-profit organisation, to help children in government schools try and get into the IITs and other top engineering and medical colleges. There was a vacuum in secondary schooling, says Krishna. “The first phase of our journey was from 2010-13 as a non-profit helping gifted kids from government schools get into the best colleges,” says Krishna. They started off with the Navodaya Vidyalayas, with which they created a self-study programme. Avanti put the kids in a classroom, gave them textbooks, videos, assessments. They monitored the progress regularly. “The self-study model seemed to work very well for the motivated government child, at really low cost. That is the first version of Avanti,” says Krishna. Nearly 90 per cent of the children got into top engineering colleges and over 40 per cent of them got into IITs.

In 2013, the two decided to pivot their business model and become a for-profit company only because they realised that as a non-profit they would have only a limited impact, whereas as a commercial venture, they would be able to impact a larger number of children in tier-2 and tier-3 towns.



“We realised,” says Krishna, “that in tier-2 and tier-3 towns, there is a significant willingness to pay for education. There is a large lower middle class population that has no organised form of education.” Krishna says they decided to go after this large under-served population in tier-2 and tier-3 towns to create a viable business, which at the same time created impact, the original aim with which they set up Avanti.

Partnering schools & colleges

The idea, according to Krishna, is to partner with schools or junior colleges or tutorial centres that are serving the lower middle class population. These would be charging fees of ₹30,000-40,000 a year.

“We partner with some of these schools and say we will run your 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th classes as a school management company. We will provide you curriculum, workbooks, teacher lesson plans, personal learning app for the kids to do homework,” says Krishna. So, Avanti provides the curriculum to the schools and the technology for the children, runs the admission process for them, and help the schools recruit and train teachers. “We run the entire operations for them. We have a strong tech backbone to ensure consistency in what we do.” At present, this is done only for mathematics and science subjects. “The promise we give the children is that we will ensure you do well in the board exams and we will ensure that you get a serious shot at competing at the national level entrance exams through our programme. We will run both the boards and also intense exam coaching for you in 11th and 12th,” says Krishna.

Though the pivot to a for-profit happened in 2013, Avanti went commercial in earnest in 2016. It operates in 25 locations, works with 40 schools and 40 tutorial colleges and has around 10,000 children. It is mainly present in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan, It gets its revenues from the students. The company has a central team of teachers for the live classes on the YouTube channel, which has four lakh subscribers. The digital piece in this is a direct learning app for children, where they can access videos, take practise tests and have their doubts solved.

Expansion plan

According to Krishna, their goal in the short-term is to deepen their presence in the existing States and then expand to Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Gujarat. It will adopt the franchisee model to grow its business. The company will also partner with content providers. Krishna and Akshay have stepped down from the board of the non-profit venture, which still works with government schools and which supports about 45,000 students. The for-profit Avanti licenses out its technology and products to the non-profit for a small fee. The non-profit raises money from large donors to run the programme in schools. There are about 250 schools under the Haryana government that Avanti is now working with the non-profit side.

According to Krishna, the for-profit venture is targeting a 50-60 per cent growth rate year-on-year, something that is healthy, manageable, sustainable and possible, given the huge demand for quality education. “The market is an all-India market. In education, you have to have some patience,” he says.


Published on December 09, 2019

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