Office visit before choosing a career

Mumbai-based start-up Purple Squirrel Eduventures is helping students decide on their careers through industrial visits
M Saraswathy  June 1, 2015 Last Updated at 00:44 IST

A session for students conducted by Purple Squirrel Eduventures

The first day at work can be intimidating, or even traumatic, for most new graduates, making the difficult transitions from the academic cocoon of Indian institutions to the choppy waters of professional life.

"The methods of teaching in colleges and universities are very different from the way organisations actually work," said Aditya Gandhi, co-founder of Purple Squirrel Eduventures. The Mumbai-based start-up tries to bridge this gap by taking students on a visit to organisations and helping them choose professions they are best suited for.

Gandhi and co-founder Sahiba Dhandhania were both financial services sector professionals in India. Dissatisfied with their professions, they quit their jobs. Having working in Europe, Gandhi had observed the common industrial visits - where students planning to join an industry or profession visit the offices or sites of an organisation in the sector. In most Indian institutes, there is no such provision of an industrial visit.

So, Dhandhania and he started working on a venture that would help students learn about corporate workplaces by visiting these, and not only from textbooks.

The educational tours conducted by Purple Squirrel are designed according to courses. Their durations vary from half a day to four days.

First steps

Founded in 2013, Purple Squirrel became operational in 2014.

The first challenge was putting together educational content and supplementing it with other material.

"It is very difficult for a student to decide which company to intern for, based on the course they are pursuing. Unless they visit the company and see how it functions across different departments such as marketing, administration and human resource, they will not be able to understand as to what is expected of them," Gandhi said.

At first, Purple Squirrel catered to students of humanities, media studies, science and engineering courses. Now, it has added commerce and management courses.

Till now, Purple Squirrel has organised visits for 8,000 students and partnered with 300 companies. An early-stage investor in the company, who did not want to be named, said the business was scalable and was an attractive proposition. "There are no competitors. For them, it is only growth from here." It has grown with personnel as well. Incubated at the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Purple Squirrel began with a 15-member team. Now, it has 100 employees.

The start-up got a round of seed investment from India Quotient.

Clockwork structure

A student who wants to take a tour can go to the Purple Squirrel website and select the visit. Alternatively, an institute can book a visit for its students.

Then, Purple Squirrel prepares an itinerary, including a visit to the plant, corporate office or any specific department of a big company. Often, senior executives interact with the students.

It also works with institutes to tailor packages specific to students of a particular course. Studies have shown there is a significant difference between the skills of a fresh graduate and those required by organisations. "This is the gap we wish to address," said Gandhi.

The costs for the trips have been decided, keeping in mind that these are affordable for all. For instance, a three-day industrial trip to Bengaluru costs Rs 5,500, including tickets. Students can choose from 15 cities and one-day or multiple-day trips. At present, prospective employers are not charged.

Investors galore

Recently, Matrix Partners India invested an undisclosed amount in Purple Squirrel. Gandhi said this fund will be used mostly for product and operation expansions.

Matrix Partners Vice-President Gourav Bhattacharya said Purple Squirrel has a unique business model and targets a large, unexplored market. Betting big on technology, it is light on assets. "Colleges are making industrial visits a part of the curriculum. With 30,000 colleges in India, it wouldn't take time for the company to scale up," said an investor.

The key, however, claim sector experts would be to quickly add on other niche courses, where it is difficult for the institution to organise an industrial visit."Several courses in arts and technology will need study tours. Institutes will need to invest to develop these visits and recruit guides," said an angel investor in the education sector.

Future prospects

Purple Squirrel aims to be an aggregator of industrial visits and workshops. It has launched India's first One-Day Industry (ODI) visit series, an initiative that directly connects students with the industry. Having partnered with Amul, Coca Cola, NSE, Just Dial, Volkswagen, and Bisleri, the company said this initiative has been well received.

Reaching out to students from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Chennai, Bhubaneswar, Indore, Jaipur and Chandigarh, the series aims to make experiential learning individualised and accessible to all. Gandhi said, "Our portal should be a one-stop shop for all such study tour needs of students and institutes."

Pilot projects are being conducted to design programmes for commerce students. Gandhi said they are also building their technology platform to add more features so that students have easy access through mobile applications.

FACT BOX
Founded: 2013
Founders: Aditya Gandhi and Sahiba Dhandhania
Business model: Organises industrial visits, workshops for students from streams for hands-on field training
Incubated at: Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, IIT-Bombay
Funds raised: Recently raised an undisclosed amount from Matrix Partners India


EXPERT TAKE: Sunil Goel

In India, there are more of educational institutions and, comparatively, lesser number of structured organisations. Challenges to get a good placement and to get a good hire are always high. In such a scenario, platforms like Purple Squirrel Eduventures can fill some gaps and bring organisations and the students or job aspirants together through training programmes.

This will work because it is like a collaborative platform where both the sides can come and can select each other.

This need already existed in the market and most of the activity was happening offline, which has limitations of scale.

Offline, it is almost impossible to redirect industry-specific skills to the targeted units or organisations.

The industry visits by Purple Squirrel not only brings the brand visibility to the target segment but it also gives them future employees.

A good visibility among target employees is always important for a future employer. A good experience can make students attracted to a particular company.

For the students, it is a real-time experience to be on the premises of an organisation, observing the atmosphere and work culture. They have the opportunity to interact with other people and what is expected from them as an employee, giving them some sort of a heads up for the similar organisations.

But it will be interesting to watch that how the interest of the aspirant and the companies is kept alive through innovations on the platform (of Purple Squirrel Eduventures) and regular engagement would be the key to keep both the sides engaged for all through the year rather than just a one-time activity.


 Sunil Goel is managing director of executive search firm GlobalHunt