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I, Robot

Robotics guru Hiral Sanghvi tells JAM how he transformed a little college project into a multi-crore company

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the ‘one less travelled’ by, And that has made all the difference.

Apologies for quoting yet again. But the aptness of these lines hold true for Hiral Sanghvi, the founder of Technophilia — a company that provides robotics solutions and training to students. “It basically started out when I went for a diploma in Industrial Electronics at Vivekananda College (Mumbai) after finishing my Std X,” explained Hiral. “My final year project stood third at a state-level competition, and I fell in love with robotics.”

When he started his graduation at DJ Sanghvi College of Engineering (Mumbai), he started getting calls from his juniors at Vivekananda to help them with their projects. And Technophilia was born. Hiral started out with charging a nominal fee of Rs 500 per student for training sessions on how to make robots. Word-of-mouth publicity kept him going.

Hiral got his first ‘big break’ at Sardar Patel College of Engineering, where he was invited to conduct a five-day workshop on robotics for about 200 students, charging a grand per person. “That was a big one for me, seeing a Rs 2 lakh contract materialise,” said Hiral.

He officially established the company in June 2007, but by then Technophilia had already covered 25 engineering colleges including IITs and NITs.

The first test for Hiral came in the form of a job offer from L&T, which meant letting go off his start-up. “I wanted to do what I wanted, and I chose my company over the job,” he recalled and this passion has helped him reach a turnover of Rs 55 lakh without any investors.

But the ride wasn’t always smooth for him. Said Hiral, “Initially, no one took us seriously. They were very apprehensive and some of the professors said ‘Hum log kuch nahin sikha paye, tum kya kar loge’. But once they saw the quality of service we were providing, they were really happy.”

Keeping the wheels in motion too wasn’t easy without an investor. Office space was a big issue, especially in Mumbai, where real estate prices regularly play footie with the clouds. Hiral operated out of his home for quite some time. The efforts paid off, when they got an investor, who put in Rs 40 lakh.

Technophilia has now moved from core engineering to school students. Hiral got the idea to train school students in April this year. He organised a robotics summer camp, wherein he got about 750 students from Mumbai, Delhi, Noida and Hyderabad. The idea has now grown into a full-blown training programme for students, charging up to 4k per person.

Technophilia has nine franchisees in Mumbai and a centre each in Delhi and Hyderabad, a total of 23 employees and an annual turnover of Rs 1.25 crore for the year 2008 – 09. Hiral is expecting a turnover of more than Rs 2 crore for this financial year.

Their current range of products and services includes training workshops for engineering and schools students on projects, parts and accessories, development boards and a lot more. Hiral plans to extend his school course to as early as Std III. He argued, “It isn’t too early. The children will learn only basics, of pulleys and gears. It’ll be like a toy for them, and they’ll get practical exposure too.” Good point, we must say.

Which is where Hiral lamented, “Most of the courses taught today in the engineering colleges aren’t updated enough and also have almost zero practical exposure. We need to change this, so that robotics, which has enormous potential, can gain popularity. There also needs to be a compulsory course on entrepreneurship. Many students come up with ideas that are very viable as businesses. They just need the right guidance to follow it up. Also, there should be a compulsory semester on internships in the industry where people can get invaluable experience. We take students for internships too, training them in robotics.”

There’s some food for thought for all the academicians. Are you listening, people?

You can check out their website at www.technophilia.co.in.

– Saurabh Datar

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