“Practical learning improves the employability of engineers” – Pavan Ponnaganti Founder of Skyfi Labs Learn Engineering Practically. As a recruiter Pavan felt there is a huge gap between text book and practical knowledge of the students and finally launched Skyfi Labs to bridge the gap.
Tell us about your startup journey (Skyfi Labs)? Your previous experience and How did you get the idea and what made you start Skyfi Labs?
We started Skyfi Labs with a vision to increase the hands-on skills and employability of engineering students through practical, hands-on training programs. We develop and deliver training programs involving real time experience of building projects “that work”.
The idea came from a problem which I personally faced while recruiting freshers. After graduating from IIT Kanpur, I worked at JP Morgan for a while where I was slightly involved in freshers recruitment. I later on moved to a startup Dsquare Solutions where I was further involved in recruitment. At one point of time, I had to interview close to 50 candidates to recruit one person for an entry level opening. All the candidates were giving excellent text book answers but no one had a clue how to implement things in real life and get work done. This means that the companies have to spend a lot of time and money in hand holding them and in getting them to a stage where they can deliver by themselves. The experience of “developing successful projects” while in their engineering days will help them understand how to identify, learn and apply the knowledge needed to complete the project. Such experience will give them confidence and will improve their capabilities. That is the kind of experience we wish to give to the students through Skyfi Labs. Since our trainings require students to work in groups, students also get an opportunity to learn the soft skills in addition to the core engineering skills.
How much funding initially needed, where did you get the startup funding? Any angel investors helped you?
We bootstrapped. We haven’t raised any external money till now.
Tell us about Skyfi Labs services and target groups?
Our services are for engineering colleges and students. We currently offer training programs for students of CSE, IT, Electronics, Electrical, Mechanical, Automobile, Aerospace and Civil Engg. Departments through our channels – AerotriX (www.aerotrix.com), Roboversity (www.roboversity.com), Civil Simplified (www.civilsimplified.com) and Code Instruct (www.codeinstruct.com). All these training programs involve understanding concepts, identifying the problem, designing the solution, implementing it and testing the solution. The end product of all training programs would be a “working prototype” developed by the students. Depending on the type of training program and the student, the end product will vary. A few examples include: a radio controlled aircraft, a robot that performs a given task, a mobile application, a website, a prototype of a bridge, computational analysis of complex engineering problems etc.
Do Skyfi Labs partner with any other companies or startups? Share those?
One of the objectives we have is to bridge the gap between industry and academia. So we partner with various companies and startups to achieve this. In the past, we have partnered with a few companies and designed special training programs to fit their needs and to increase the reach of their technologies to the student community. In some cases, we helped them in their recruitment efforts. Startups who worked with us include MobME Wireless, Innoz Technologies, Ornithopter Zone (USA) and a few more.
Biggest challenge you faced in your entrepreneurial journey? How did you manage that?
Biggest challenge we faced was to develop a talented team. Quality of training programs is of utmost importance for us. And that requires a strong technical team capable of developing innovative training programs across various disciplines of engineering that help us move towards our vision.
Finding such talent with real determination to make a difference in engineering education was not easy. After a lot of effort put in that direction, we now have a very strong team consisting of 6 graduates from IIT Kanpur heading our R&D and training departments. That biggest challenge is now our biggest strength.
Tell us about aha moments (great joy) of your journey?
There were many such moments. The happiness and feedback which students share with us after seeing their products “actually work” at the end of every training program keeps us motivated. We get feedback like, “This was the first class in the last 2 years which I listened to without sleeping!”, “I couldn’t believe I did all this in 2 days!” etc. We were also very happy when our students called us to inform that the training program helped them in their interviews and in getting placed.
Another moment to remember was when we posted a status on facebook saying we completed training 10000 students and a student replied back saying, “I love your work. But you should not be happy with 10000 students. You should set targets to train a lot more”! That was a humbling moment – both to see a student admire us so much as well as to see how much more there is left to be achieved.
Let us know about business or revenue model of Skyfi Labs?
It is a simple model. We deliver hands-on training programs to the students and we charge them for participating.
Let us know your future plans?
We are currently focused on R&D and in increasing the number and quality of training programs we offer. We are also working to increase our operational efficiency and delivery capacity.
Who are there in Skyfi Labs and how you recruit new team mates?
We are currently a team of 14 with 6 of us being graduates of IIT Kanpur. Aditya, co-founder and my batch mate at IITK looks after our Operations and our R&D efforts are led by other key members.
Since quality of talent and culture of the organization form priorities at this stage, we rely mostly on employee referrals for our recruitment. We also recruit top-performing students from our own training programs who not only like the work we do but also our motive to change the way engineering education is imparted.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs, which one is better starting right from college or from company?
I would recommend starting as soon as possible. As an entrepreneur, you are supposed to learn continuously and quickly – doesn’t matter you start from college or after working for few years the knowledge you have is so little compared to what is needed. The little knowledge, if any, you gain from a traditional job in a couple of years can be learnt by an entrepreneur in a few weeks – especially with the whole startup ecosystem improving, the presence of so many incubators and accelerators and increasing number of mentors who are actively willing to help entrepreneurs. The couple of years’ experience of running your own company is a lot more experience than the traditional job experience. And you have lesser risk, less to lose and less inertia when you are in/ just out of college to take the leap.
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