How Meghna Bhutoria is revolutionising learning for children in India
Have you ever seen kids making their own life-size chair? Or coding and creating a game instead of just playing? Well, your answer would be yes if you have been to MakersLoft, a Kolkata-based startup that positions itself as a hands-on training institute for kids. Open to kids across age-groups 5-15, this startup encourages them to explore their hidden talents in activities as diverse as 3D printing, robotics, coding, and carpentry, to name a few. And the brain behind this venture is 40-year-old Meghana Bhutoria, who, aptly calls it a “gym, but for the hands and mind”.
“We are surrounded by machines, but very few know the science behind them,” says Bhutoria, who holds a BSc degree in Resource Management from Jadavpur University and an MBA from INSEAD. For instance, she says, every child who rides a bicycle knows it will move forward when you peddle. But if you peddle backward, the bicycle doesn’t move back. This is because of the ‘ratchet and pawl’ mechanism. “Now, in our country, unless you study engineering, you wouldn’t know about this. And this is what we want to change.”
Born in Kolkata, Bhutoria comes from a conservative Marwari family where all the women were homemakers. Not surprisingly, that was Bhutoria’s childhood dream too. “But I wanted to be better than anyone else because I am very competitive,” quips Bhutoria. She also remembers when she expressed her interest in doing an MBA, and father had promptly replied, “That is a good idea, but for your brother. You should focus on making better phulkas.” She, however, went on to break the norms by not just being the first woman in the family to work, but also start her own business.
After opening her first centre, a 4000 sq ft space in Ballygunge, Bhutoria spent her time designing the space, identifying unique activities and purchasing relevant equipment. Her idea was to create a space on the lines of the Makers Movement in the West, which emphasises learning-through-doing (active learning) in a social environment. Although the idea was very new to the Indian market, MakersLoft found quite a few takers in Kolkata. The number of kids coming to the centre went up from less than 100 a month to more than 300 a month in no time. Buoyed by its success, Bhutoria has not only opened another centre in Alipore, but also tied up with premium educational institutions in Kolkata to provide on-campus labs and train teachers.
The founder is now looking to expand to newer cities through the franchise route. “For me, it is not just a business. Learning by doing helps kids gain confidence, improves their ability to think logically, makes them more organised, and teaches teamwork and creativity, and I want more and more kids to explore this form of learning,” says Bhutoria.