The call of the outdoors is what drew a group of management graduates to the business of creating experiential learning programmesfor children.
Four years ago, TarunChandna, 46, andGauravSaklani, 45, floated Inme, a venture that offers outbound learning for pre-teens and teenagers. In doing so, they were drawing from their combined experiences -Saklani has earlier set up corporate training companies, while Chandna has launched an outdoor leadership firm.
Pooling in about Rs 2 crore, they roped in a team of directors, including fellow graduates from the Xavier Labour Relations Institute ( XLRI) as well as French business school Insead. The team, which includes an Indian Army officer, was intent on building a differentiated business model to instill life skills in children.
"We faced quite a few hurdles in finding the right quality of instructors and aligning them to our philosophy, when we first started out," said Satindra Sen, a director in Inme who earlier cofounded two corporate training ventures-Exper and Innergise-with Saklani.
Chandna had brought with him learning from a previous venture, iDiscoveri, an outbound activity provider. This mix of varied experience has helped Inme craft a twin revenue stream for the business. They work directly with schools, creating special learning programmes that focus on building life skills, and also have a retail arm that offers summer camps and outdoor activities that parents can send their children to independently.
In the first year, costs will outrun revenue, as the team built its first camp at Tons in Uttarakhand. The camp has been temporarily closed due to the floods in the state. Besides the camp, they also invested in marketing and outreach to build the business.
By collaborating with schools they have been able to incorporate outdoor education with existing curriculum. This has helped create a steady stream of business that now accounts for nearly 60 % of the overall revenue.
"Students who participate directly in summer programmes account for the rest of the revenue," said Sen, who believes that endorsements are a better way to grow the business than advertising. Inme, which has worked with nearly 15,000 children so far, has camps in Coorg, Uroli, Yercaud, Rishikesh and Tons. Given the founders' background in corporate training, the company draws heavily from the organised activity structure that is used to train adults.
Nooraine Fazal, principal of Inventure Academy in Bangalore who has drafted Inme to develop outbound training programmes for students in her school, said such programmes help improve individual efficiency. "Life is not about knowing the right answers. It's about knowing how to set goals, work well in a team, and calculate and mitigate risks for the best outcome," said Fazal. Students from class 4 to class 12 at her school attend outbound trips during the holidays as part of their curriculum.
With Inme growing at a steady trot of 22-25%, the founders are now looking to introduce newer services-that will allow parents to accompany children on specially designed camps.
"This is a potentially new market and will help mothers to bond with their children," said Sen who expects the new offering to be called Glamping-short for glamorous camping. The move is drawing kudos from parents such as Manisha Dua who accompanied her daughter to an Inme camp in 2010. "It was an exhilarating experience and really touched me," said Dua.
With one adult supervising every four children at Inme's camps, the company has a roster of 160 instructors, all experts in their fields of outdoor activities. As the business is largely cyclical, the biggest challenge for the Inme team is to balance revenue and quality of the program.
"Ours is still a niche business and there is a huge market to be tapped," said Sen who expects the company to remain selffunded.