PARI Robotics is a company that sells automation products / services (i.e. industrial robots) to industry. They have robots for various different manufacturing applications, including automated welding, assembly, thermal cutting, automated storage and retrieval systems, surface coating, taking measurements, and a bunch of other uses. There a whole lot of interesting information on their website. Their customers include the who’s who of the automobile, home appliances, engineering goods and other manufacturing industries. Their success stories page also makes for interesting reading.
When Ranjit Date returned to India 20 years ago after earning a doctorate in robotics from an American university, he hoped to help automate factory assembly lines in his home country.
His company, Precision Automation and Robotics India, has done that. But more recently it has also begun selling robots to Western manufacturers like Caterpillar, Ford and Chrysler. This year, in fact, a third of Precision Automation’s sales will come from exports, up from almost nothing five years ago.
On how PARI got started:
Mr. Date started the business with a friend, Mangesh Kale, who, like him, grew up in Pune. After earning advanced degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., they returned to India in the early 1990s – just as policy makers were pushing through early economic changes.
At first many Indian manufacturers were unwilling to invest in robots, Mr. Date said, because labor in India was so cheap. But in the increasing global economy, Indian manufacturers had to improve productivity to meet rising demand and compete with foreign companies.
So, after all this, how are they doing now?
Mr. Date, the robotics entrepreneur, expects sales at his company to increase 20 percent this year, to $67 million. The company is building a second factory, a 150,000-square-foot plant on the outskirts of Pune, to keep up with demand for its robots and automated assembly lines. He said Precision Automation’s products were 10 to 50 percent less expensive than similar equipment made by Western suppliers.
Does not seem like something done in India, right?
And yet, it was created here in Pune.
The preview above is for a movie Delhi Safari, directed by famous Bollywood director Nikhil Advani (yes, the same guy who directed Kal Ho Na Ho). And the animation was done by Krayon Pictures, a Pune-based software animation company.
This Friday, you’ll get a chance to hear the founder of Krayon Pictures, Namrata Sharma, talk about their story, thanks to TiE Pune. The event, “TiE Pune’s My Story – with Namrata Sharma” is on Friday, 1st July, from 6pm to 8pm, at the Sumant Moolgaokar Auditorium at MCCIA Trade Towers, ICC, SB Road. This event is free for all to attend. Register here
AFTER EONS that it has spent on humans, bollywood is now expending some time and resources on animals and the environment via the animated feature film Delhi Safari. Directed by Bollywood director Nikhil Advani, the film owes its creation to pune-based Krayon Pictures.The company,therefore,seems to have taken India’s prowess in animation to a new high through the rich colours they have bestowed upon the film, thorough textures and realistic characters being the cherry on top.
Namrata Sharma, Co-founder and CEO of Krayon Pictures has over 14 years of experience in the Animation and Software Industry. Having traveled across Asia, she has worked with companies like Advedi Creations – Hong Kong, Disney – Hong Kong, Weta Digital – New Zealand, Maya Entertainment – Mumbai etc. She has worked in various roles right from hands on animation to assisting the management of full length animated feature films.
It was in 2006 that Sharma started Antariksh, a studio that developed video games. A year later, she got an opportunity to produce a full-fledged Bollywood animation film. And that’s how Krayon Pictures was born on 1st of April 2007 with a vision of creating a first of its kind 3D animation studio in India- based on the IP model. The studio’s first film, Delhi Safari, is due to release later this year.
Krayon was recently in news when the high profile investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala bought 30% stake in the company.
About TiE Pune My Story Sessions!
“My Story – Inspiring Journey of an Entrepreneur”
This program is created to celebrate entrepreneurship and bring stories from successful entrepreneurs in their own words. The invited speakers will share their entrepreneurial journeys and talk about lessons learned, mistakes they wish they avoided, and key decisions that helped make their venture successful.
Fees and Registration
This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Please register here
(The Pune User Group is one of Pune’s biggest tech user groups, and is a platform for all people interested in Microsoft Technologies in Pune. In this article, we try to give an overview of PUG, it’s structure, and activities. The answers have mostly been provided by Mahesh Mitkari, co-founder of PUG, with additional inputs from Vikram Pendse and Pradnya Naik.)
What is Pune User Group?
PUG is a group of technology enthusiasts who are dedicated to spreading knowledge about Microsoft Technologies. It consists of people from various educational background and different age groups – students as well as professionals. PUG is a not-for-profit organization, a user group supported by Microsoft Corporation, the International .NET Association (INETA), and GITCA (formerly Culmanis).
How did PUG get started?
PUG was formed in February 2003 through the combined efforts of a few volunteers, Microsoft and INET. It started as an online discussion group for .NET Developers of Pune. In December 2003 the first offline user group meet was held in Wadia College and after this PUG has never looked back back. It’s no more just a .NET user group, and now it became a group for all Microsoft technologies. Every year new sub-groups have been added to PUG and now PUG became a big family – including PUGStudent – Pune User Group for students, PuneITPro – Pune User Group for IT Professionals, where we generally talk about IT related topics like servers, clients, networking etc., PASS Pune Chapter, for SQL experts, and PUG-MED i.e. Pune User Group for Mobile and Embedded Devices, SharePoint, SIG etc.
How big is PUG now and what are its major activities?
PUG is almost 8 years old now. We have around 7 special interest groups, around 20+ campus clubs in various colleges, 2100+ online members, around 8000 mailing list subscribers and a Team of 40+ volunteers. PUG regularly hosts lots of online and offline activities for professionals as well as students. Activities include regular monthly User Group meetings, various Product launch events for Microsoft Products, workshops, boot camps, online webcasts and our very special annual events like DevCon (developers conference for professionals), AcadDevCon (developers conference for students) and SharePoint Day. At college level, we have a team of 20+ MSPs (Microsoft Student Partners) who actively run campus clubs in their colleges and regularly conduct seminars, and workshops.
What help are you getting from Microsoft to run PUG? Also, what other organizations are there that help PUG?
PUG is an independent not-for-profit organization. It relies on the support of its various sponsors. PUG is officially supported by Microsoft Corporation and also by various international Associations like INETA, GITCA, PASS, and Microsoft UGSS. Support comes in various forms, specially funding for events and speakers, pre-release product trainings to our speakers, and books, training material, beta products etc. Along with these there are many IT companies and educational institutes of Pune who always support us by sponsoring our event or providing their Infrastructure for our activities, best example of this I can say is Persistent Systems Ltd.
Has your involvement with PUG helped you personally or professionally? How?
Mahesh Mitkari writes:
Of course, yes! PUG has played a big role in my carrier development. I was part of PUG from its birth, as I was one of the founder-volunteers of PUG. Today I feel very proud of this. I meet many technology gurus at PUG and learn so many things from them which always helps me in my Professional life. I made many friends not only in Pune but many other cities of India. They are just a one click away from me – for professional or personal help. I’ve been awarded “Most Valuable professional (MVP)” award by Microsoft 5 times so far, and I don’t think it could have been possible without PUG and the biggest support of all my friends here.
Vikram Pendse writes:
I joined PUG online forums as regular “User” who logs in to check on the latest Microsoft Technologies at PUG. At that time I was a student doing my post graduation. I got inspired by various PUG enthusiasts and I started conducting PUG sessions in my college and also slowly started contributing to the online forums. PUG lead, Mahesh Mitkari, and other members recognized my contribution and encouraged me to attend PUG meetings and I became a volunteer of PUG. Due to this, I was able to get the Microsoft MVP Award in the Year 2008
It was because of PUG that I started Silverlight activities, and as a result was awarded the First South Asian Silverlight MVP. PUG has given me recognition in the Pune community as well as various other communities across India and outside India as well. PUG has helped me to enrich my technical skills and added much more to me to become good IT Professional. PUG is fun and learning, and it is a good friend and teacher for me, and will be with me for years to come.”
What other related user groups could be created in Pune, and how?
As mentioned earlier, from last 8 years we adding User Group for all Microsoft Technology, While thinking about Expanding PUG and starting other related user group, I think we still have big scope to expand PUG, we still don’t have a User Group for Office Users, Architects, Project Managers, Business owners, and one biggest community of Consumers – the regular users of Windows or MS Office – specially non-technical or semi-technical people.
What do you mean by INETA APAC, GITCA, PASS, MVP, MSP?
Well out of these INETA, GITCA and PASS are international associations who support User groups worldwide. MVP is the award given by Microsoft and MSP is educational program.
INETA APAC: The International .NET Association Asia Pacific (INETA APAC) provides structured, peer-based organizational, educational, and promotional support to the growing worldwide community of Microsoft .NET user group, INETA’s mission is to offer assistance and resources to community groups that promote and educate their membership in Microsoft’s .NET technologies. INETA welcomes user group or special interest groups from all facets of the .NET user community including developer, architects, project managers, and IT Professionals.
GITCA: The Global IT Community Association represents over 1000 member organizations and over 5 million IT professionals. GITCA is the world’s largest international not-for-profit independent organization powered by dedicated volunteers devoted to the development and growth of the IT community by providing services to support leaders and connect user groups, associations, and student IT organizations. GITCA stands committed to the free exchange of resources, ultimately elevating the status of the IT Professional both in their industry and in the community.
PASS: The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) is an independent, not-for-profit association, dedicated to supporting, educating, and promoting the Microsoft SQL Server community. From local user groups and special interest groups (Virtual Chapters) to webcasts and the annual PASS Community Summit – the largest gathering of SQL Server professionals in the world
MVP: Most Valuable Professional: The Microsoft MVP Award recognizes exceptional technical community leaders who foster the free and objective exchange of knowledge by actively sharing their real world expertise with users and Microsoft. Over 100 million people take part in technical communities every year. Microsoft awards around 4000 MVPs, in recognition of their exceptional community contributions, sharing of real world expertise with others. We have around 4000 MVPs in over 90 countries, speaking over 30 languages and awarded across nearly 90 technology areas. Over 65% of MVPs are outside the USA.
MSP: The Microsoft Student Partners is a worldwide educational program to sponsor students majoring in disciplines related to technology. The MSP program attempts to enhance students’ employability by offering training in skills not usually taught in academia, including knowledge in various Microsoft technologies.
Most PuneTech readers will be familiar with Persistent Systems as the global IT company with 6300 employees, working in four key technology areas: Cloud, Mobility, BI & Analytics and Collaboration, for over 300 customers spread across North America, Europe and Asia. For more than two decades, Persistent has partnered closely with innovative enterprises and some of the world’s largest technology brands.
What is not as well know, however, is that since 1995, Persistent Systems has been donating 1% of its net profit every year to NGOs in the field of health and education since 1995. To institutionalize the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative the company formed a public charitable trust, named Persistent Foundation in 2008. The Persistent Foundation is primarily involved in three key areas of Healthcare, Education and Community Development.
This fiscal year, Persistent Foundation contributed Rs.1cr towards social work and supported 44 NGOs through their Pune, Nagpur, Goa and Hyderabad offices. Some of the unique activities and programs the Foundation carried out and participated in were student and girls scholarship program, cyber genius competitions across schools, infrastructure development at schools and villages, exhibitions for promoting NGO activities, breast cancer screening initiative, blood donation camps, text books and uniform donation drives, teaching English and Math to students of govt. run schools, planting trees to preserve the ecology of the hills in and around Pune, providing computer education to under privileged school children and teachers etc.
One of the aims of pioneering the Persistent Foundation was to encourage employees to take part in social welfare activities. ‘We have received a great response from the employees who enthusiastically participate in various initiatives like Student Scholarship Program, Green Persistent Movement, Blood Donation Program, etc.’ Says Sonali Deshpande Chief Trustee of the Foundation. This year the Foundation has also launched an innovative ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ program for the employees of Persistent. ‘Under this program the employees will be given a unique opportunity to implement their ideas related to social welfare which will be supported by the Foundation.’ Says Ms. Deshpande.
The Persistent Foundation focuses on the improvement of its immediate neighbourhood and the overall betterment of society. ‘We firmly believe that it is our moral duty to give back to the society that lends us an identity.’ Says Ms. Deshpande. The areas of health, community development, and education require immediate attention and the Persistent Foundation has been very actively involved in upholding these causes since its very inception.
The Persistent Foundation is actively soliciting proposals from local NGOs who are doing work in these focus areas.
(The Harbinger Group is a Pune-based software company that has products in the e-Learning space (http://harbingerknowledge.com), and also provides software outsourcing services (http://harbinger-systems.com) to software product companies all over the world. As an example of a successful product company out of Pune, as an example of a company that managed to do both, products and services, and as an example of a company that uses latest technologies in a hot field (e-learning), we felt that PuneTech readers would find it interesting. This article is based on a conversation Navin Kabra and Amit Paranjape from PuneTech had with Vikas Joshi, CEO of Harbinger)
The Harbinger Story
Harbinger was started in 1990 as a software services company. Vikas had just returned after doing a Masters in Computer Science from Syracuse in the U.S. and was a visiting faculty at the University of Pune. He, along with Swati Ketkar (one of his students) were the cofounders of Harbinger.
They started “Intelligent Tutoring Systems” and Agrawal Classes was their first customer. The first 10 years, they grew very slowly, with customers mainly in Pune/Mumbai, and only a few in Bangalore/Delhi. By 2000, they had grown to 28 employees. This was a period when they learnt the basics of how to do business, slowly and painfully.
In these early years, they were mainly helping companies with building CAD automation, and other systems that help in the engineering lifecycle. A few of their projects involved the use of computers/multimedia in training. Around this time they created their own product, CBTPro (Computer Based Training), which, in 1998, won MCCIA’s prestigious Parkhe Award (given to companies with the most interesting new products and ideas). From this point onwards they really started growing fast, both on the services side as well as the products.
From the beginning, while Harbinger was focusing on domestic customers, the Indian IT industry had been heavily involved in “body-shopping” (i.e. sending Indian programmers to the US for outsourced (but on-site) work). Harbinger were very clear that they did not want to do this. By 1999-2000 internet in India had advanced to a stage where it became clear that it would be possible to take on outsourcing work from the US without the need for programmers be moved to the US. This is when, after 10 years of existence, Harbinger went international. From that point on they have grown their international business to a point where the Indian market is now an insignificant part of their revenues.
Their services business has 300+ employees, and their portfolio is in these major areas: e-learning, web development, testing, and mobile development. Microsoft is a major customer.
Harbinger’s products are described in more detail in the next section.
While services business was being built up, product business (CBTPro and e-learning) was going well in India. In 2002 they actively started exporting the products.
Their product business started based on a pattern they were seeing in their services business. They noticed that existing e-learning solutions were not interactive. In terms of technology, it was clear that adding Adobe Flash to e-learning products would easily give the required interactivity – but there was big gap in the industry between instructional designers and flash developers. Flash developers were engineers who were not good at designing instructional content, and instruction designers did not have enough programming skills to be able to create content in Flash.
This led Harbinger to their Raptivity product line. Basically, Raptivity is an interactivity building tool, which includes a huge library of ready-made interactions, which can be used by non-technical people to quickly add interactivity to e-learning content.
The main customers of Harbinger’s products fall in these segments: US High-tech companies, US Traditional Companies, US Educational/Non-Profit/Government organizations, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and India-MiddleEast-Africa.
Some interesting drivers of Harbinger’s success
One major decision that Raptivity took early on, was that they would make it work with other authoring tools (not just Harbinger’s authoring tool). This was a key decision, which reduced the barrier to entry for customers. As a result of this decision, they have to stay in close contact with various authoring tools (including new ones), and work with them to integrate Raptivity. In the process of interacting with the vendors of any authoring tool, they are very open about disclosing Harbinger’s own authoring tool.
Another important area is the sales channel. Harbinger has its own sales force, but also sells a lot through resellers and other channel sales. One major mistake many companies make when using channel sales, according to Vikas, is to think of the sales channel as an external entity. Much better results can be obtained if you think of them as a part of your team. What does this mean? Include them on road-trips, conferences, and education about your products. The channel employee assigned to you should be treated as your salesperson. Because he is your salesperson.
A third area that a products company needs to be aware of is that the value proposition for a sales channel, and the value proposition to the end customer are two different things. Sometimes they are aligned, but sometimes, they can conflict. So, both need to be managed separately.
This means that the various sales channels should be segmented carefully, and the company should create unique product offerings for each channel. For example, in case of Harbinger’s products, one channel is Training System Integrators, and these vendors are interested in building the most comprehensive and feature rich system possible. They are not as interested in margins as they are interested in the fact that your products should be cutting edge and should have all the important features. By contrast there are “box pushers” (hardware vendors) who are more interested in margins and volumes. A third category of resellers is companies who wish to be seen as thought leaders, influencers and visionaries. Their motivations on selling your products is very different from those of the previous two categories.
Thoughts on Future Trends in e-Learning
Vikas believes that the primary pain point that they were focusing on (i.e. allowing e-learning authors to easily incorporate interactivity in their systems) is now a solved problem. The next challenges will come from these areas:
Touch Tablets: Touch tablets are likely to have a profound impact on this industry. Not only does this give rise to a wide variety of screen sizes and hardware capabilities (which was rather limited in the PC/Desktop days), but also the fact that touch is a fundamentally different form of interaction.
For example, a customer recently rolled out 1500 iPads to their entire sales force and would like the desktop/laptop e-learning products “ported” to the iPad. However, iPad is a very different beast, with a different paradigm. A simplistic port will fail. It needs to be re-thought from the ground up and a completely new offering needs to be released for this market.
Harbinger believes it is well positioned to play in this space because of their research on interactivity (and a couple of patents they have in this area)
New forms of interactivity. With Kinect and other forms of interactivity becoming a reality now, very soon, there will be an opportunity to use them in e-learning/training systems
Testing the limits of what is possible. For example, one person used Harbinger’s products and created 250 courses over 5 years and trained 20,000 users. A huge impact possible by doing such things – as compared to traditional training. There is an opportunity for e-learning technology companies to provide more and more tools to make such things possible.
Using e-learning/interactivity concepts in other areas: Capabilities of human-computer-interface systems are the plumbing. Interesting products are possible if we use the latest plumbing and build the most interesting, compelling, and impactful interactive products on top of it. Examples:
Every student has a internet connected device
And can be used to enhance class participation
And the presentation changes based on participation
Richer business presentations
Using a Raptivity-like technique in presentations (PPT)
e.g. interactive graphs pack
Don’t show all information at once
Bring relevant information up via interactivity
Thoughts on the Indian Market
Right now, the Indian Market for technology products is very small. As mentioned earlier, it makes up for a small fraction of Harbinger’s revenues even though Harbinger started off as a purely domestic company. However, Vikas points out that the Indian Market is still extremely important. Without Indian market, Harbinger wouldn’t have gotten started, and the first trip to US was only possible due to the sales in the Indian market. Also, for the future, Vikas is extremely optimistic about the Indian Market. Things are changing so rapidly here, so while he is not sure of when exactly it will take off, but take off it will.
Advice to Young Entrepreneurs
Vikas writes a blog at http://teamharbinger.blogspot.com where he regularly gives advice based on his experiences. He points out though that his advice would be applicable only to people who are not more than 10 years younger than he is. Basically, someone who is very far ahead of you (and age is a very rough indicator of this), should no longer be considered a subject matter expert in the challenges you face, since they’ve forgotten what it was like to be in your position.
An important point Vikas makes is that the patterns of entrepreneur mistakes – haven’t changed in 20 years. The biggest one is that early entrepreneurs (especially the technology entrepreneurs who abound in Pune) tend to focus too much on the product itself and the features of the product. It takes quite a while for them to transition to the next stage of entrepreneurship – which is to be able to see their offerings not in terms of products and features, but in terms of benefits that customers get from using their products. During the sales process, the entrepreneur needs to clearly be able to articulate the benefits, and this is the most important thing for an fresh entrepreneur to learn.
The next step for an entrepreneur is to be able to transition from simply talking about the benefits of using their products, to creating or painting a vision of experiences for the customer. A 43-year old accountant wants to zip through downtown on a motorbike. Is there anything in your product that gives him a fraction of that experience. How do you give your customer that feeling? This is a very advanced art, and the ultimate goal for an entrepreneur.
FirstCry.com receives 10,000 daily visitors and has over 15400 fans on Facebook. It has initiated various contests for parents on Facebook. The firm, which delivers to 25,000 cities and towns in India, expects to do 1000 transactions per day in next three months.
Supam Maheshwari had earlier co-founded Brainvisa in Pune, which was sold to Indecomm Global Services in 2007. Amitava Saha was a Senior Vice President at Brainvisa and had been with the company from 2003.
(Pune-based Startup ShopSocially, whose launch was covered on PuneTech last year has recently been in the news again for their launch of SocialConnect, a product for online retailers to easily add social shopping features to their existing e-commerce site. Suneetha talked to Samir Palnitkar and Sunil Arora of ShopSocially, and this article starts with an overview of ShopSocially (again), and then goes on to their latest offerings, and future plans.)
Buying a camera or a laptop and looking for some advice? Referrals seem to be taking over shopping decisions now more than ever, and the web is a key player in this activity. It’s this concept that ShopSocially has leveraged successfully by integrating the concepts of online shopping and facebook. Samir Palnitkar and Sunil Arora talk about how ShopSocially has come on the online social shopping map. Samir Palnitkar, an alumnus of IIT-Kanpur, is the President of ShopSocially and Sunil Arora, an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur is a Founding Member who now looks after the technology aspects of the company.
Sam says it all started with a thought about harnessing social networking. Jai Rawat (CEO of ShopSocially) had spent several years in the ecommerce and online shopping space. As social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter were becoming popular, Jai realized that social recommendations via Facebook and Twitter would become a key traffic and revenue driver for e-commerce. These thoughts were the foundation behind ShopSocially. In the offline space, we tend to consult friends before making a buying decision. Why not do the same in the online space? That led to the idea behind ShopSocially set up in 2009.
You just need to register a free account with ShopSocially and shoot your shopping questions or declare your impressions on the platform. Why waste countless hours researching stuff and reading anonymous reviews? Of course, this works best when you have lots of ShopSocially Friends. Your Facebook friends automatically become your ShopSocially Friends when they join in. You can also earn badges or become ‘Shopping Gods’ depending on the intensity and frequency of your activity.
And how does it work for a retailer?
“Retailers can integrate with ShopSocially’s social commerce platform to harness the tremendous power of social recommendations. ShopSocially helps turn every purchase into a conversation and a social endorsement driving significant ‘friend referred’ traffic back to the retailer site. Retailers can get 2% to 6.5% incremental sales by integrating with the ShopSocially platform.”
ShopSocially has evolved quite a lot its model. It started off as an end-user site. Then they realized that the ShopSocially platform was highly attractive for retailers who wanted to socially enable their websites. So they launched Social Connect, to allow retailers to easily plug in to the ShopSocially platform. SocialConnect allows the retailer to add social features into the existing e-commerce platforms. Specifically, after a customer has purchased something, they are encouraged to share this purchase with their facebook friends (i.e. recommend this item to their other friends).
In addition, ShopSocially also automatically creates a new “Shoppers” tab on the company’s facebook fan page, where website where prospective customers can check whether any of their existing facebook friends have bought anything from this merchant, and if yes, what they’ve been buying, and what the reviews are.
ShopSocially started working with retailers in a fixed fee model but soon realized that it was easier for retailers to work with a performance-based or a subscription-based model; so quickly changed their pricing to meet the needs of retailers. Samir quotes an experience here. “We were thrilled when one of our retailers saw an increase of nearly $1 million in revenues per year by integrating with the ShopSocially solution.”
By now, I was getting convinced that it was all limited to the web user, but no, ShopSocially is already seeing beyond that parameter. Samir tells me that ShopSocially is as relevant for a customer outside the web precincts. “Yes. Social recommendation is how we buy most of our products, whether online or offline. In the near future, ShopSocially plans to bring product sharing to mobile devices. That will allow shoppers to share offline purchases with friends.”
So what about India specific plans? Sunil Arora says “In the next few months, we will be rolling out our solution in India. We expect retailers to embrace ShopSocially really quickly. Currently, ShopSocially is the only company in the world that offers a comprehensive social commerce suite for retailers. There are other competitors, but no company offers a suite that integrates with the most common user touch points, order confirmation page, Facebook FAN page and order confirmation email. Check this out here http://shopsocially.com/partners
So what is the future map?
“ShopSocially will continue to add other social components that benefit retailers. These components will increase sharing and drive incremental traffic to retailer sites. Another dimension is integration with popular shopping carts such as Magento, Shopify and osCommerce. ShopSocially will continue to make integration simpler by offering pre-integrated plug-ins for various shopping carts. We feel that ShopSocially has the opportunity to become a global billion dollar company. We do not need a large team (maybe < 100 people), but we will continue to handpick the brightest minds to work on the exciting problems that we are solving daily.”
Gandhiji once said India lives in her villages. The current times see a march towards converting the villages into industry land rather than sustaining the essence of villages with new technology. Pune based Pradeep Lokhande, who himself hails from Wai village (Satara), decided to dream big and reach out to the villages to realise his dreams. The result, Rural Relations, is an organisation that harnesses IT to develop villages.
Lokhande went about the basics alongs the lines of the Mahatma again:
“I embarked on a journey of discovery, to find out what constitutes the real India. Though I myself hail from a village, I knew that deep down there’s more to life than what I had seen or lived myself. I wanted to know the essence of the various traditions, cultures and soak in its thinking. It was a journey of 40,000 villages of which I have personally visited 4000, across the country. I tried to understand rural India’s administration methodologies, markets or the bazaar-haat systems and the process of the education system. In the process of my journey, I established direct contact with opinion makers in villages and started recording obscure details of the local economy. And in 1996, I made my first customers, Tata Tea and Parle to delve in the data that I had collected. Since then there has been no turning back.”
After that, Lokhande decided to take the computer revolution to the villages. The intention was not to make computer literates of people but at least to get them to touch, feel and try computers. So he began to install used computers in villages, particularly in secondary schools, where the interest and curiosity levels were very high. When he personally could not find the means and finance to provide infrastructure, he appealed to individuals, organizations and corporates to contribute used machines. Today he has been instrumental in installing 600 computers across 540 villages.
What I found most interesting in Lokhande’s philosophy was the concept of the Non-resident Villager, which he has turned into a movement to raise ideas, funds and hands for development. The idea is to get people from cities to adopt a village (typically a village that they have some past connection to), and use this network of NRVs to help the villages. “Each one of us is an NRV, for our roots do, in some way, come from the villages. So as an NRV, we can always reach out, support and contribute something to the development of rural India.” says Lokhande and it rings really true. This is a concept which is in tune with the concept of the NRI and offers a person a chance to lend a helping hand to what once gave him a life, if not in this generation, then to the generations before that. Roots matter, in India at least.
Lokhande has more active concepts in execution under Rural Relations. Take a look at his next concept, Village Developers, these are over 300 trained local village youths across 9 states and most of them are connected with mobile phones and emails to facilitate all ground activities.
Or the concept of rural marketing he employs called The Rural Barometer, which is ‘experience backed by cutting-edge technology’; live, dynamic, and regular information, by region and by state, which is subscription-based to help understand the villager like never before, gain valuable insights, learn about competition, distribution and empowers one to forecast trends. Large multinationals like Hindustan Lever, Reuters, and even Microsoft have used Rural Relations’ expertise in this area.
Then there is the library movement, the Gyan-Key, which makes a library in every rural secondary school a reality. It is a unique concept – a library of the students, for the students and by the students. The library will be run by one of the girls (Gyan-Key monitor) from that village studying in class VI. Each library to start with will have minimum 150-200 books in that local language covering various subjects. To instil a sense of ownership, students will be encouraged to donate books, (regardless of their value) for ‘their’ library on their birthday, creating a feeling of belonging. The Rural Talent division is a talent bank endeavour for the villages under the umbrella.
Lokhande himself is “from very humble background” he claims and has done his graduation B.Com externally and admits to have “taken a less travelled path”. His proportions for investment of time and money are as clear as his concepts for development, “After 2000, I have been investing 40% for business, 40% for professional social activity & 20% for teaching”
I had a curiosity to find what he considered the greatest achievement ever since Lokhande started Rural Relations? To be sure, he has a clear and ready answer to that too. “In professional achievement, it’s a case study on rural relations in Philip Kotler’s book and in personal & social achievement – I have more than 6,00,000 letters from villagers & the satisfaction I see in the eyes of the students from rural areas.”
He has a team in place to handle the essentials, 13 people in office staff & 31
associates as village developers.
So Lokhande, where do you see yourself five years down the lane?
“Our goal for the next 5 years is to reach to all feeder villages of India, create 5,000 videos of changing villages & minimum 10,000 Gyan-Key libraries”
Ambitious? Not at all, if there is a will, there is not just one way, but many.
(This month marks the 3rd anniversary of the creation of the POCC (Pune Open Coffee Club). A few days back, POCC membership crossed 4000. We decided to mark the occasion by writing an article about the history of PuneTech, how it got started, and the various milestones along the way. If you have any good story/anecdote about your association with PuneTech, and how it affected you, we’d love to hear about it.)
The Pune Open Coffee Club is a community of all those interested in the startup ecosystem in Pune. With 4000+ members as I write this, including founders, entrepreneurs, early employees, wannabes, investors, lawyers, accountants and freelancers who work with startups, it is a huge and very active community. POCC usually meets on the 1st Saturday of every month in Shivajinagar and in Koregaon Park. Attendance is open to everyone and admission is free, and you can actually network and grow under the umbrella of experience and fellow-feeling.
The Pune Open Coffee Club was started by several individuals in their own ways. The Open Coffee Club movement had become fairly popular abroad before it reached its pioneers in Pune.
Harshal Vaidya was the first of the lot who attempted to get the OCC off the ground by organizing the first meet up in February 2008. The first meet up helped send out the first few sparks in the community.
The real start spark came a month later, in March 2008, Anjali Gupta and Santosh Dawara created http://punestartups.ning.com, an online social network for the POCC on ning.com. (This was later moved to http://punestartups.org the current home of the POCC.) On April 5th, they put together another POCC event, and they worked hard to invite all the movers and shakers of the start-up community in Pune to the BookEazy office terrace for tea, coffee and networking. The idea of the POCC was seeded in their mind by Vijay Anand.
“This time around, the conditions were right and the word about the Pune Open Coffee Club spread out quickly. Our first meeting was very well attended by over 75 individuals including some very well-known names in the Pune circle such as Anand Deshpande (Persistent Systems), Chetan Shah (Synygy), Jaspreet Singh (Druvaa) and more.
On June 7th, 2008, Nick Karnik an early member of the POCC (who has since moved out of Pune), created the Pune Startups mailing list.
Although the second meetup was a great success, there was a problem. Santosh called the next meeting in the Barista on Law College Road, expecting “maybe 15” people to attend. 40+ people showed, and there was a significant amount of chaos.
After this, Navin Kabra got in touch with Prof. Harshad Gune at SICSR, Model Colony, for permission to hold POCC meetings in one of their classsrooms. The first POCC meeting at SICSR happened on 23rd August, 2008. SICSR then became the ‘regular’ place for POCC meetings. With that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. The next few set of events was a mix of exciting talks and discussions that resonated very well the start-up community in Pune and the movement began gathering momentum.
More recently POCC is attempting to go deeper into Pune by replicating the Open Coffee Club across Pune. This initiative is seeing a lot of initial success, with the creation of POCCs in Kothrud, PCMC, Aundh, Kalyani Nagar, Tilak Road, some of which have already announced their second meetings.
Santosh, who came up with the idea, says:
“I have my fingers crossed that these will be just as successful as the original, if not more so. They are all backed by a very impressive set of individuals who want it to succeed.”
“We also have a very “fun” side to the Open Coffee Club. In the past, we have had a group paintball competition, football games, dinners and movie nights where entrepreneurs and their families can relax, mingle and enjoy. Apart from this, we intend to meet regularly every month over the weekend.” POCC has been creating POCC subgroups in each region of Pune and Santosh says the team has high hopes about the new initiative.
“Anyone who has been an entrepreneur will tell you that entrepreneurship can be very rewarding and at the same time very unforgiving. For those who have quit their jobs to become entrepreneurs, the pressure to perform is fairly intense. Moreover, there is no going back to the same skill-based boxes as entrepreneurs are expected to excel at multiple roles.
By replicating the Open Coffee Club, we hope to encourage those who have been unable to participate actively due to distance to come forward and seed their own groups just as we have done so. In good time, we are certain that each of these groups will build their own camaraderie and dynamics locally and at the same time contribute to the overall development of start-ups in Pune.”
The Open Coffee Club was always intended to be a support group of entrepreneurs who get what each other are going through and can intervene to help each other out, share ideas and motivate each other. It looks like POCC is going in the right direction since day one.
Don’t all the books that matter to mankind advise just this?
What’s common to Stevie Wonder, Surdas, Helen Keller and Siddhant Chothe, Nitin Dhaware, Sandhya Murkute, Sanghapal Bhowate and Vikas Waghmare? All of them are achievers whose visual impairment did not spell an end to their world. The latter five people form the Team TechVision, ‘a software writing firm’ at the Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya in Pune.
Niwant is doing work in helping not just the visually impaired but society too in understanding their need for empathy and dignity. It is an organization that helps visually challenged students in pursuing higher education after the age of 18. Many of them are branded by their family and society as non-productive and useless. But in last fourteen years ‘Niwant’ has tried to change the picture by putting them back in the social fold. Many are now employed, have families and lead a mainstream life through Niwant efforts. More, they are now contributing back, through the alumni club, ‘So Can Eye’.
TechVision has just completed a paid project from the Silicon Valley, at BoardWalk Tech, a U.S. based company (whose founder, Sarang Kulkarni, recently moved to Pune) and they are raring for more. Sourabh Nolkha, Chief Strategic & Development Officer of Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya waxes eloquent about how it all started.
“14 years back Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya was established to help the visually challenged youth of India get a chance at holistic development in this fast growing new age world. When they did not have any education material, Niwant offered them the opportunity to gain knowledge initially through hand written Braille books and cassette recording for audio. This increased their zeal to study further which made Niwant look further into options of providing more knowledge at a faster rate. Niwant received a Braille Embosser, which opened a new eye for the Visually Challenged as they were able to compete with the sighted world.
The journey of making Visually Challenged students technologically savvy started with Niwant providing them with MP3 players, on which they could record the lessons. With this, Niwant understood the importance of the technology and computers. The students were also fascinated with the potentials it hold for them and the enhancement it could do to their learning process. But some of the students ventured even a step further and opted for Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Application (PGDCA). Then some more followed their footsteps and started early with Bachelor’s in Computer Applications.
Niwant had students capable of making a career in IT but there was a lack of trust by the main-stream IT industry. That is when Niwant, with the help of some friends and volunteers, decided to provide the prospective Techies, a launch-pad and started Tech Vision. We had our first break with BoardwalkTech Inc.”
So how do they learn software programming?
Sourabh says the team comprise of five visually impaired, all of whom have studied computers at their Bachelor degree level or have done special certification program in computer science from renowned Pune University. The curriculum consisted of computer basics, Operating Systems (Linux, Windows), MS Office, Tally and many program languages C, C++, Java, VB, ASP, SQL, HTML, Dot (.) Net.
“In addition to their regular classes at the college, we provided them with additional coaching classes at Niwant with the help of some volunteers and also sent them to specialized computer coaching institutions.”
Sourabh says initially, there was a resistance to the whole idea of visually challenged learning computers. Some of their students had to fight hard to get admission into the computer courses. But finally they could convince the colleges to accept them at par with other sighted students and the students proved their mettle quite frequently, raising their stock value and dissolving prejudices. For the subsequent batches, the going has been smoother.
But it has not been enough just to get the admissions. The course curriculum is not very accommodative of the visually challenged and requires drawings / diagrams, thus limiting the scores of the visually challenged. There was also trouble regarding finding suitable scribes. But in due time, the mindset has undergone a sea change resulting in increased co-operation. The teachers have now started accepting the assignments in electronic form and norms for scribes have also been re-defined.
So Niwant was able to achieve the ultimate? No, says Sourabh, there were yet more challenges waiting for them.
“The licensed version of the audio-aid software like Job Access With Speech (JAWS) was out of reach for most of the visually challenged due to its cost. In addition to this, some of the applications are not supported in totality or partially by the audio-aid software. This was not conducive for their studies. After they had completed their studies, the problem was to find suitable job opportunities which were hard to come by. That is when Tech Vision came as their saviour.”
So what are the software tools they use (specifically for the blind)? Sourabh provides a list.
Job Access with Speech (JAWS) – audio-aid software for windows operating system
Talks and Mobile Speak – audio-aid software for mobile
Abbey – scanning software for better OCR scanning
Win Braille – converts normal English script into Braille script
JAWS Sangeetha – converts normal English script into audio
Shri Patrika from Modular Infotech – converts regional languages into Braille script
The work have they done in one year is impressive too. Other than Boardwalk where they worked on Java Servlets for the BCP Demo Version and Boardwalk Collaboration Platform demonstration version where they still work on Visual Basic for Application for the API development project, they have done an HSBC Sample Accessibility Testing where they conducted a sample web accessibility test case on HSBC Private Bank home page.
The profile of the current staff of Tech Vision is also quite comparable to industry standards. While Siddhant Chothe has completed MCM and has 2 years of work- experience, Nitin Dhaware has completed PGDCA and has 2 years of work exposure. The others, Sandhya Murkute, Vikas Waghmare, and Sanghapal Bhowate are all in their 3rd year B.C.A and have 1 year of part-time work-experience. They also have a visually challenged volunteer Shrirang Shahastrabuddhi, from Infosys Technologies.
The currently capabilities include competence in Visual basic, Java, Oracle, C++, PHP, MySQL, Web Design, Accessibility testing of User Interface, Web Accessibility testing and solutions. (USA 508, WCAG2 guide lines). Niwant is looking for clientele, and any company interested in product development based on VBA, Java, MySQL, PHP etc. and getting their website tested for accessibility under Section 508 of US Rehabilitation Act, 1998 and WCAG2 guidelines, GIGW (Guidelines for Indian Government Websites, 2011) are welcome to tap their talent.