When she was in Class 8, Ashwathy Venugopal could not attend an interactive session with the then-President APJ Abdul Kalam. Nobody had told her about the event or how to grab a chance to take part in it. So when the teen girl saw photographs of some of her schoolmates with the most popular president of the country, she was in shock. That missed opportunity haunted her for long.
So when she grew up, earned a job and left it to start her own venture, she wanted it to be something about opportunities. Two years after Ashwathy and her husband Sandeep launched 'Avasarshala', or hub of opportunities, the Kochi-based startup seems to be on a promising path.
The company does what Ashwathy’s teachers didn’t do when the Kalam event took place. It keeps a track of events and competitions for schoolchildren across the world and lets parents and their kids know about them. Those interested can apply for and take part in the programmes through the company’s web application.
The one-of-its-kind company, incubated in the RUSA Innovation and Startup Ecosystem of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat), opens up a huge avenue of opportunities for children with an interest in co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
By offering the right type of exposure, the platform helps parents identify and nurture the talents in their kids. The events the company lists on its platform include competitions, scholarships, grants, Olympiads, fests and inter-school events. Parents can subscribe to services on the app to get weekly updates on such avenues, customised as per the age and location of their kids.
The startup earns a major share of its revenues through subscriptions, which comes to Rs 1,200 a year. Avasarshala also partners with organisers and promoters of events. Apart from the app, Avasarshala also interacts with its subscribers on WhatsApp.
“I was an active student in my school but I didn’t get many opportunities to participate in events. But when I was doing my MBA in Cusat, I was selected for the Kectil International Youth Leadership programme in the US. It gave me a huge exposure and parents of many students wanted to know about how to find such opportunities. I got one opportunity and got into the network. Then I thought that I should share my exposure with students looking for opportunities,” Ashwathy told Onmanorama about the origins of the company.
Avasarsala now has an active user base of over 10,000 subscribers. During the past two years, it has seen 60 per cent of its clients renew their subscriptions. “As much as 75 per cent of our active users are girls. Also, 55 per cent of listed opportunities are used by girls,” the proud social entrepreneur in Ashwathy revealed. The company has a pan-Indian focus and has invited a good client base from Delhi and Bihar.
Ashwathy, a TEDx speaker and former curator of Global Shaper Community - Trivandrum Hub (an initiative of the World Economic Forum), took the entrepreneurial plunge along with Sandeep after a well-paid managerial stint with Amazon. She also had a short stint as the co-founder of another startup making a smart wearable health tracker for pregnant women.
Sandeep, who handles product and operations at Avasarshala, comes with the confidence he earned from his previous roles including that of a co-founder of CatalanLabs, a startup that was acquired by a US company.
Avasarshala had a humble beginning with bootstrapping. The startup has received the central government-sponsored Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) grant, Kerala Startup Mission’s ideation, productisation and women innovation grants, and IIM-Kozhikode’s Education Innovation and Research grant.
The company will be exploring funding options as it rolls out its expansion and team-building plans.
Avasarshala has been recognised internationally as the Top 10 Purpose Driven Innovations by Bridge for Billions and Top 30 Most Inspiring Digital Innovations by Partos, Netherlands, in 2020.
Ashwathy was recently featured in ‘75 Womenpreneurs of India’ 2022, released by Atal Innovation Mission as part of “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” Innovations for You.
She has been recognised among the Top 5 Social Innovators from India. Ashwathy and Sandeep were chosen for the People’s Choice Award at Youth Co: Lab India 2020 (in partnership with Atal incubation Mission and UNDP India).