Ex-Techies Guide 35000 Youth to Make Right Career Choices With Award-Winning Startup

Damodar Patnekar, Ashutosh Shankar and Aarthy Vassan founded their ed-tech startup Bodhami, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered platform which offers career counselling, mentorship and job readiness programmes to students.

Damodar Patnekar, Ashutosh Shankar and Aarthy Vassan first met in 2013 while working at an IT multinational, in Bengaluru. Their work essentially entailed digital and technology enabled transformation for global businesses. (Images above of Damodar Patnekar offering career guidance to students)

The job paid very well, but throughout their nearly five-year stint there, they met people who were terribly unhappy with their jobs. In nearly all cases, they realised that these people had other skills and interests, and would have been much happier pursuing alternative careers.  

“We realised that most students made poor stream and career selection decisions due to uncertainty and lack of awareness. Going through a variety of surveys, we found that students were aware of only six to seven careers on average when there were more than 2,000 lucrative careers on offer. Over 45% of the students were ending up making a wrong career choice with 95% of schools and colleges not having any formal access to career counselling and mentoring. This problem was even more concerning in rural and semi-rural areas compared to metro cities,” says Damodar, CEO and co-founder of Bodhami, speaking to The Better India.  

Also, a common trend they saw among a large number of young engineering and MBA professionals entering the job market for the first time is that they were not quite ready to directly start their professional careers. Organisations had to spend months polishing their technical and soft skills to make them ready for the hands-on jobs.

“Our objective is to develop an advanced and scaled solution which can reach students across different income brackets at a very reasonable cost. The fact that only 7% of MBA graduates in India are employable is staggering. The remaining 93% struggle to find jobs and/or get jobs with average salaries not more than 10,000 per month,” says Ashutosh, COO and co-founder.

During conversations over tea at the office, Damodar, Ashutosh and Aarthy found that career counselling only entails 5-10% of the initial support students graduating out of high school or college need. They also need support or mentoring in skill upliftment and learning, preparation for entrance examinations, readiness for corporate jobs, placement support in jobs, etc. 

Thus, in June 2018, they quit their well-paying jobs in the IT sector, left for Goa, and founded Bodhami, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered platform which starts with career counselling, mentorship and job readiness programs and ultimately links students/young professionals to the recruiters in the right areas. Its mission is to guide over 10 million students.

“It took us just over a year to build our platform from scratch and went live in August 2019. Within three years of going live, around 35,000 students across 357 cities and 6 countries have used Bodhami’s platform for career counselling and coaching. More than 1,600 career counsellors, educators and trainers across 220 cities have been using the Bodhami platform for guiding and mentoring students,” claims Aarthy, CTO and co-founder.  

Meanwhile, during the lockdown, they enabled a micro-entrepreneurship model where teachers, educators, and consultants could join Bodhami and establish their own setup at a low cost. 

“What is unique about Bodhami is that 50% of our students come from rural and semi-urban areas. More than 50% of our counsellors are women. With one Bodhami account, a user can access a variety of services across five platforms – career counselling, learning management, scholarships, recruitment and corporate readiness,” says Damodar. 

It took about four to five months to roll out each platform. By the end of two and a half years, they had five platforms going live in the Bodhami ecosystem. 

“As a bootstrapped organisation, we are very clear in our vision in creating a low-cost, high-volume and last-mile impact ecosystem that can serve India’s youth,” he adds. 

Students who apply to Bodhami

The profile of the students who apply to Bodhami include:

  • Students looking for a recommendation of the right stream to choose after class 10
  • Students who are looking to select the right career course after class 12 
  • College graduates who look to select the right job based on their skills and interest
  • Professionals early in their career who are looking for alternate careers or career switches.

End-to-end journey

Bodhami’s detailed skill mapping and aptitude testing process begins with a psychometric assessment created after extensive research and statistical validations by a team of experts in human resources (HR), psychology, neuroscience and IITians well versed in AI. 

“We measure students’ unique aptitude, interest and personality which is used to uniquely suggest their desired career and also recommend the learning interventions needed for skill upliftment. There are 14 unique skills, 10 interest parameters and 10 core personality dimensions which are assessed as part of our career tests,” says Damodar. 

“What is unique about the platform is that the recommendation is done based on the data of over 10,000 actual career professionals from 19 different career streams. Every time a student or professional seeking guidance on the most suited career takes the career test, the AI algorithm compares the 34 dimensions for the student with that of actual career professionals and comes up with recommendations based on the association algorithm,” explains Aarthy.    

Vatsav Rivonkar, a student at Bhatikar Model High School in Goa, says, “I have a lot of interest in music. [Answering] an online platform answering career aptitude test, I didn’t expect it to show that I have a passion for music. I was very excited seeing this [on my test results].” 

Jancy Pereira, a teacher at Adarsh High School in Goa, says, “They (students) get a clear understanding that it’s not only [about] the stream or percentage, but it depends on ‘what are my skills’ or ‘what do I have an interest in doing’. These are the things that matter.”  

Career selection is just the first step of the journey. What comes next is the requirement to fulfil the skill gaps needed to get into the career, which is enabled through the learning platform. Following this, you have the scholarship management platform for students, who are given access to scholarships and linked to those who provide them.

Once the students get into a professional course, the life skills and job readiness mentorship are provided through the corporate readiness platform. 

“In the end, the recruitment management platform links the candidates to the right set of recruiters. A salient example of this is the program we are running with SBA Emerging Youth Scholarship & Mentorship Scheme in Himachal Pradesh where students have gone through career counselling, scholarship management, mentorship and job readiness programs and in the next phase will be linked to the recruiters for internship and job placements,” says Ashutosh.  

Bodhami, a Goa-based national award winning startup, offers the right kind of career counselling.

Bodhami also offers a chance for people in the following background to be part of their flagship career counselling certification programs. These profiles include – psychologists, educators, trainers, teachers, admission consultants, counsellors, career counsellors and corporates.

Bodhami, a startup, offers the right kind of career guidance

“We have 1,600 professionals including educators, counsellors, psychologists and HR professionals who have gone through detailed training. We aim to create 1 lakh micro-entrepreneurs and impact 50 lakh students through them in the next 5 years,” says Damodar. 

Mahamaya Chatterjee, an advocate practising in the Supreme Court, who underwent the Professional Skill Assessment & Mentorship Programme by Bodhami, said this in a LinkedIn post, “It is important to appreciate the fact that the litigation field today is in much need of mentors who can groom potential juniors. I strongly believe that as an independent litigating counsel, my dharma is to help those who genuinely need help and guidance. This course was instrumental in helping me appreciate the needs of clients as well.”

Large scale impact

Besides working with individual students, schools and counsellors, Bodhami also partnered with the Government of Goa to enable a state-wise rollout of the career aptitude testing and career counselling program across the state in 2020. They trained more than 700 teachers on career counselling frameworks, methodology and usage of the AI-powered platform for administering career tests, generating career reports and conducting career counselling sessions. 

“More than 18,000 students from classes 10 and 12 across 250 schools answered aptitude tests and were imparted career guidance along with personalised career reports. Following this, we presented detailed analytics at the district, taluka and school level to the government to identify specific skill gaps and ideate ways to design learning programs to address them,” says Aarthy.  

Bodhami, a startup, offers career counselling, guidance and direction
Career counselling programme in Goa

Bodhami has also worked with multiple NGOs across the country to plan and execute career counselling, scholarship, mentorship, and job readiness programmes for students. One such project is SBA Emerging Youth Scholarship & Mentorship Scheme in Himachal Pradesh which would help the upliftment of over 3,000 underprivileged students through mentoring and scholarships. 

The SBA Emerging Youth Scholarship and Mentorship Scheme is for underprivileged children in Himachal and other states undergoing professional courses such as B.Tech. /BCA, B.Ed., LLB, BHM, GNM, etc. In 2021, 110 students (70% girls) benefited from the program.

“The goal of this scholarship program is to provide scholarships to 325 professional students in 2022-23 and touch the lives of 3,000 students with scholarship, mentorship and career counselling programs in the next 5 years,” claims Damodar. 

The founders detail a quick breakdown of their costs: 

  • Direct Model – Career report costs for B2C students coming directly on Bodhami’s platform is Rs 1,495, while career counselling costs Rs 2,495 (one-time use). 
  • Franchise Model – Exclusive franchise partners who are using Bodhami’s platform on SaaS model are allowed to charge their own prices. But we put a cap on the prices they can charge. Every report is priced at Rs 199 per student for the franchise partner.
  • Counsellor Model – The career reports cost is as low as Rs 199-449 to our counselling partners who have been trained on our platform
  • Rural and Government Model – For counsellors providing services in rural and last mile areas, we make sure that report price is not a concern. Bodhami pays part of the investment on the prices from their end.

For their efforts, Bodhami won the National Startup Awards, 2020 under ‘Rural Impact – Access to Open Education’ category, thus making it the first startup from Goa to have ever won a national award. Bodhami received a cash prize and a year-long mentorship from StartUp India as a winner of the award. A few months later, they were covered under the ‘StartUp Champions’ program by DD in Hindi and English across 21 national channels and All India Radio.

When Damodar, Ashutosh, and Aarthy left their stable jobs with good pay, their families initially had certain apprehensions. “It was very important for us to sit with our respective families and explain what we intended to do and how it would all pan out together. Suffice it to say, our journey in the past four years of guiding young Indians with the right career choices in life has been worth it. National Award or not, we will continue to follow up on this vision,” says Damodar. 

Additional Sources:

‘93% Indian students aware of just seven career options: What are parents doing wrong?’ by Roshni Chakrabarty; Published on 5 February 2019 courtesy India Today

‘Almost half of older millennials wish they’d chosen a different career path—what they’d do differently’ by Jennifer Liu; Published on 17 June 2021 courtesy CNBC

‘94% of engineering graduates are not fit for hiring, says this IT stalwart’; Published on 4 June 2018 courtesy ET Online

‘India’s MBA crisis: Why fresh graduates are not getting jobs’; Published 25 November 2017 courtesy ET Online   

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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