interviews

Charu Noheria opens up about Practically’s journey, recent funding & much more

People can choose to take the name of edtech startup ‘Practically’ almost in a literal sense. Simply because when Subbarao Siddabattula, Ilangovel Thulasimani and Charu Noheria founded Practically in 2018, they didn’t want this to be just another edtech venture. They wanted their edtech venture to be a real game-changer and propel student’s academical career with a practical approach.

Ms. Charu Noheria, Co-Founder & COO of Practically.

As a result, Practically decided to take a very novel and unique approach by focusing on Stem learning. There are not many edtech startups in India that focus on STEM education. For all those who are not aware, STEM education is a learning method that particularly focuses on four disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These four disciplines, as is well known, play a very critical role in determining the academical fortune of students and therefore they always occupy a place of great primacy.

While Practically’s focus on STEM education sets it apart, its unique proposition or USP doesn’t end here. Guided by soaring ambition, this barely two-year-old startup has casted a web of immersive experience on their STEM education approach. By using cutting-edge technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality and immersive videos, Practically makes tough subjects like Math and Science into a fun and enthralling experience for students.

In other words, Practically has set its feet in a terrain where probably few edtech startups have dared to venture.

To know more about this groundbreaking startup, Techpluto spoke to Practically’s co-founder Charu Noheria. In an exclusive interview, Noheria sheds light on the experience that germinated the idea of Practically, the recent pre-series B funding, the edtech industry and much more.

Q) What really bothered you and other founding partners Subbarao Siddabattula and Ilangovel Thulasimani about India’s education landscape that eventually paved way for the idea of Practically?

When Subbarao Siddabattula, Ilangovel Thulasimani and I were bouncing off ideas to pursue, it became apparent that we were excited about tech-based, non-traditional methods of teaching and learning. We wanted to make dry subjects more interesting, engaging and fun for learners around the world.

I was a part of the competitive rat race for admission to the IITs in India and being extremely stressed during the preparations. I also dropped a year, switched five engineering streams and changed three colleges during the 18 months before choosing the correct stream. Unconsciously, this left a lasting mark on my mind which made me develop an affinity towards unconventional ways of learning.

Practically aims to bring back joy into classrooms. STEM subjects for school students have become dry and educators have few means to increase students’ rate of retention. Students have access to mostly passive and rote learning sources and methods when learning foundational concepts leading to less than 30% rate of retention. This disengagement leads to lack of interest in key subjects. Practically also aims to make everything that a learner needs available on a single app helping the parent pay for a single product containing content, simulations/AR, test prep, analytics/feedback, gamification, doubt resolution, live classes, coding, summer programs etc. in one place.

Q) While edtech has become a hyper-competitive space, do you think that the level of competition is the same when it comes to the niche area of STEM learning?

Science and Math specifically have always been the focus of students and parents in India. Though there have been many edtech products which cover all subject areas there are very few which take on STEM as a specialty and go deep into it. Due to its vast curriculum and broad range of applications, no one has been able to make a name in this particular space. Practically aims to become a pioneer in the area of STEM learning with its practical approach to delivering STEM concepts. STEM is not a niche segment in grades 6-12. Every student sees these subjects as scoring subjects as there is little room for error once you understand the concepts and can apply them. With experiential and interactive learning, STEM becomes a very interesting area to learn as it helps us makes sense of the world around us.

Q) How would you like to describe Practically’s impact on the students’ academic performance? Do you think that Practically’s experimental learning method is proving to be a boon for students?

Practically is an intelligent, interactive and immersive learning app for students of classes 6-12 with a focus on STEM learning. It is the only experiential learning app that brings learning alive through immersive videos, interactive augmented reality and 3D simulations. It has an edge over other learning apps in enhancing conceptual understanding and improving retention of concepts with features like life-like video content, hands-on learning, experiential learning, live classes and AI assistant. The app also has a 24×7 Seek Help feature for doubt resolution, where students can reach out to subject experts on the platform.

Practically uses cutting-edge technologies to deliver experiential learning to students. Our primary objective is to improve the rate of retention for students to more than 90% by using new-age learning methodology and experiential content.

Since our launch, we have received positive appreciation from our consumers and customers regarding our approach, curriculum. Currently we have 3.2 lac students benefitting from Practically and 15,000 teachers in 200+ schools have found the Practically School Solution very helpful.

Q) Can you give us a rough idea about the download numbers of the Practically app and roughly how many students have so far benefited from the app?

So far 320,000 students are registered on the Practically app. This speaks volumes about our curriculum, services and offerings. With our new-age classroom experience, over 15,000 teachers in 200 schools have already started benefiting from the Practically School Solution.

Q) Fundraising usually proves to be an overwhelming affair for most startups. How challenging it was to convince investors to believe and back up your business idea.

Fundraising isn’t easy, it takes patience and critical time of founders who also need to focus on building the business. Balancing the two is like doing two full-time jobs. Even a slight amount of delay in securing funds can be detrimental to the business. Moments like those can demoralize you, as you can see the market opportunity slipping away in front of you and there is nothing you can do. I am sure a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to that feeling.

Luckily for us, we have survived our early battles, gone through many ups and downs, raised multiple rounds of funding and are now in a very good place. Personally for me, fundraising has been a very rewarding experience. I have learnt a lot along the way and added some incredible people in my close network.

Practically’s usage of cutting-edge technology has received tremendous response from schools, administration, faculty, parents and students. Our strong team has leveraged the unique products we have built together to attract and win the trust and confidence of the right investors focused on this sector.

Q) Your comments about the recent $4 Mn pre-series B funding round. How does Practically plan to utilize the latest capital infusion?

With the latest round of funding, we expect to expand our footprint to the rest of the country by the end of 2021. With the positive response that we have received so far from our presence in the Middle East market, we aim to reach out to many more schools there in 2021. We are also looking to move to the US by the end of the year. While we are offering services for grades 6-12, in 2021 we will also enter the K-5 segment. We are also planning to add over 2,000 employees by December 2021 to ramp up our services across the country.

Q) Roughly by when does Practically aim to achieve profitability or break even?  

We estimate in the next 12 months, we will be profitable and can self-sustain the growth we set out to achieve. There is huge demand for our solution both in the domestic market as well as internationally and we are well positioned to capitalize on these opportunities fairly quickly as the product has already been launched and is set up for scale.

Q) Today Practically has an overwhelming presence in Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana region. Any plans to consolidate your position in other markets and regions in the distant future?   

While Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are our home markets where we have focused so far, through our first brand campaign ‘Bring Learning Alive’ we reached out to audiences  pan India as we plan to expand to the rest of the country this year.

We are expecting to establish our footprint globally. We are already present in the UAE and are looking to move to the US by the end of the year. Although the near-term plan is to expand into other English-speaking countries globally, we are also exploring with partners in countries where there is a need for content in other languages since Practically’s immersive animated video content can be easily localised.

Q) Your thoughts on the current scenario as well as the future of India’s edtech industry?

The EdTech sector is witnessing unprecedented growth owing to the increasing adoption of technology during the pandemic. We believe that technology adoption in the education sector is yet to see its peak and the growth trajectory is likely to continue beyond the pandemic years. The lockdown induced by the pandemic has brought an ever-increasing demand for EdTech products in India. Consumers are becoming more aware of the offerings and accessibility thus leading to bring in innovations in learning. With steep competition, players need to modify their offerings to engage consumers constantly.

The sector poses some challenges in terms of infrastructure such as access to devices like laptops, smartphones, availability of internet access for the learners in rural areas. Also, the lack of exposure to high-end technologies is creating disparity amongst the students. Usage of shared devices between children and parents are also making the engagement process challenging. We along with Government need to devise a strategy addressing these concerns on an immediate basis ensuring seamless access to education across geographies.

Q) Lastly, how difficult and challenging it is for a woman to grow & sustain in the male-dominated entrepreneurial world?

Unfortunately in India, women are disproportionately represented in the economic market. While the Indian economy is largely male-dominated, slowly women are making their way up and creating successful revenue streaks. To encourage women participation, we need to change our perception and create a more inclusive environment. To achieve gender equality, we need to create awareness about the role and responsibility of women and educate people on women issues.

Technology is a great enabler and provides a level playing field irrespective of gender. With increased participation of women, the Indian startup ecosystem is being recognized for the growing number of successful women CXOs and VCs. According to a report by Bain & Company and by Google, Indian women entrepreneurs are poised to generate 150–170 million jobs. Keeping this in mind, we need to change our mindset and welcome women in the workforce as leaders. We need to acknowledge their creative potential and develop a supportive ecosystem to help them create successful business ventures.

 

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