Sai Kumaraswami

Organization: iSTAR Skill Development
Country: India

SAI: India is the world’s youngest and second most populous country. 62% of its 1.25 billion are in the working age group of 15-59 years and it adds 10 million people to its work force every year (4 million of these are graduates). However, less than 2% receive any form of skills training in their respective occupations. Comparative figures in other economies are – 96% (South Korea), 80% (Japan), 75% (Germany), 68% (UK) and 40% (China). Academia in India has been traditionally characterised by an anaesthetic learning experiences for the students – an assessment centric approach to teaching that ignores practical application, outdated concepts, rote learning, poor college infrastructure, underpaid and underqualified teachers. As the world looks to India to take its seat at the engine of growth, policymakers in the country are faced with the onerous task of facilitating this demographic dividend. There is a need to focus and reorient India’s education system to make it more skills based and aligned with the needs of the industry.


iSTAR is an education technology firm that addresses the skilling needs of people and addresses the problem through a public –private partnership. It provides end to end services in higher education management including content and program development, curriculum design, delivery, assessment, recruitment and consulting services. Its mission is to create sustainable livelihoods through intensive skills training across multiple sectors including banking and financial services, retail, IT and IT enabled services. Its current market is the urban base of pyramid, serving socially and economically disadvantaged undergraduate and graduate students in tier 2 and tier 3 colleges. The firm was started in 2009, by Surga

Thilakan and Sreeram Vaidyanathan, alumni of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. In a short span of time, it has quickly scaled up and expanded, largely due to its slick business model and timely funding opportunities. It currently operates in 10 sates of India, working with around 150 colleges and has trained over 50,000 students to date.


During my internship, I was able to deliver the following results to iSTAR:

  1. Rolled out pilot skills training program in 4 sites in 65 days – which was 15 days before the target deadline

  2. We admitted 1700 students into our program, and 83% of them were from families in the bottom 2 quintiles of India’s per capita income

  3. InAmbasamudramandDharwad, the colleges expanded and set up their first full-fledged computer lab because of our pilot program, improving the infrastructure facilities of the college.

  4. Each of the 23 recruiters we have tied up with has agreed to a compensation that is between 35% to 90% higher than the mean family incomes reported by the students to their colleges. This is a substantial increase in disposable incomes for students who will be recruited at the end of the program.

  5. iSTAR successfully raised Series B capital, which will enable expansion into bottom of the pyramid and ramp up technological and geographic presence.