Ronnie Screwvala’s Second Mission Is Edtech
“Edtech is an exciting space to be in. I’d like to do this for at least the next 15 to 20 years. But it’s not just about capital returns. The ability to make an impact and empower so many lives by taking education online is profound. I have been blessed. I was able to make a big impact in the 90s when I founded UTV. If I am able to make a second big impact with UpGrad, then that would be wonderful and a real privilege.”
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Ronnie Screwvala is an influential man. The media mogul founded UTV Group and played an instrumental role in forming an alliance between the entertainment industries of the east and west.
Since those days Rohinton Soli "Ronnie" Screwvala has moved on to become a philanthropist and an investor. He together with his wife Zarina, has founded the Swadesh Foundation to empower rural India. In 2012, Mr. Screwvala founded Unilazer Ventures, a private equity and venture capital firm focusing on late stage and early stage companies.
Unilazer has turned quiet for now. What Mr. Screwvala is most focused on these days is his philanthropic work; UCypher, the eSports league and a startup he helped found, UpGrad. The startup falls firmly in the category of edtech, as it takes imparting knowledge beyond the classic black board-white chalk classroom and into the realm of the digital platform.
According to Ronnie, cofounder and chairman of UpGrad, education must become digital, especially for a large country like India with too many citizens living under the poverty line.
“India needs to educate a 125 million students and currently there are only about 25 million students in the system. If we are going to build physical schools to accommodate all these students, it will possibly take another 10 years and 10 billion dollars. It’s too expensive and takes too long. That’s why education has to go online.”
Besides post secondary education courses in subjects ranging from data analytics to digital marketing, a flagship course offered is the one on entrepreneurship. “Our country is going to need a million entrepreneurs a year to keep up national economic growth. We will need more job creators to join the workforce in the coming years,” said Mr. Screwvala.
That thought is reflected in PM Modi’s action plan, Startup India. One of the key objectives of the campaign is indeed to encourage more people to become entrepreneurs and start their own ventures. On the one year anniversary of Startup India, at an event by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, UpGrad announced that they would be offering their course on entrepreneurship free of cost to anyone who wishes to know more about what it takes to “Startup”.
“We had a soft launch for the entrepreneurship course five days before the Startup India anniversary. So far around 18,000 students have registered for it and about 4,000 have already commenced the course. The course has a duration of four weeks and will be available at no cost,” said Mayank Kumar, cofounder and managing director of UpGrad.
There’s a reason why this course is offered free of charge besides trying to get more people interested in entrepreneurship. “We need to evangelize online education for at least the next 3-5 years. UpGrad is not a not-for-profit organization. We are very much in it for its business value. But to make people aware that online education is the way forward, we’ll first have to invest in changing their mindset.
We have offered this entrepreneurship course to the government free of charge and as more and more people take this course, online education as a whole will start to gain traction as a business.”
However Mr. Screwvala is trying to achieve two goals with one move. “Edtech is an exciting space to be in. I’d like to do this for at least the next 15 to 20 years. But it’s not just about capital returns. The ability to make an impact and empower so many lives by taking education online is profound. I have been blessed. I was able to make a big impact in the 90s when I founded UTV. If I am able to make a second big impact with UpGrad, then that would be wonderful and a real privilege.”
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