(November 30, 2021) If the Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum is right, 65 percent of students entering primary school will ultimately work jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. Then how does one prepare children for the future? It involves a farsightedness that Madhukar Varshney, founder of NimbleQ, has made a part of his DNA. The IT honcho imbues children with essential skills — creative thinking, communication, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. Technology is at the heart of many jobs, and understanding how to apply it to innovate and create able future generations is Varshney’s core strength.
The idea, says the innovator-turned-entrepreneur, is to teach children to apply knowledge to solve real world problems and have a growth mindset. “Did you know only 2 percent of Fortune 500 companies have CEOs of Indian-origin?” he asks, adding, “This is because there is some flaw in the way we teach our kids. We focus on the math, but where is the creativity? Where is the proclivity to create and innovate?”
Enjoyed connecting with children from #NimbleQ. Shared what it takes to become an Olympian. Tickled their imagination on how their academics – especially math and science – can be taken to the playing field (and swimming pool 😊) to enhance their outcomes in life. pic.twitter.com/6TQSPzErAy
— Hakimuddin Habibulla OLY (@HakimHabibulla) July 22, 2021
A holistic approach
NimbleQ’s holistic skills development programme focuses on building the next generation of leaders, creators, and entrepreneurs, and it was developed by the US-returned Varshney and his wife Shailey Motial, who handles brand development and strategies.
What started as an after-school curriculum, now focusses on helping youngsters to innovate. “The idea is to get children to think independently like creators. While it is important to learn all things tech-related, it is also important that children know how to apply the knowledge, understand business, entrepreneurship, and money,” says Madhukar, who was in the US for 20 years thanks to the citizenship he was awarded under the Outstanding Researcher Category in 2009.
Raised in a very conventional family in Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh), entrepreneurship didn’t even cross his mind. Born in 1974 to a father, who was a government contractor father, and teacher mother, Madhukar grew up believing that the route to success was through a US education. “Career choices then were either as doctors or engineers. I’d never thought about starting up. When I moved to the US, I got the opportunity to explore with an exposure to diverse cultures and professional experiences,” recalls Madhukar, who graduated in chemical engineering from HPTI, Kanpur, and then did a master’s and PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Arkansas.
Madhukar then worked at Cornell University as a research associate studying micro and nanomechanical cantilever-based sensors. A job at NABsys, a company which develops semiconductor-based tools for genomic analysis, came next.
The researcher turned educationist
During his career as a researcher, Madhukar published over 35 papers and owns three patents. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he decided to branch out on his own. In 2014, he set up his first company Forty-Five NE, a digital healthcare company that influences disease outcomes by empowering patients to get involved in self-care.
He ran the Massachusetts-based company for two years. The Varshneys then began searching for something empowering in education. “We weren’t too happy about where the education system was headed. For instance, in India, students are not encouraged to question. There is no room for creativity, independence or leadership qualities. In the US too, though the system is different, there is still a loophole that needs to be plugged,” he tells Global Indian.
The seed was planted, and the couple moved lock, stock, barrel and family, to India and set up NimbleQ in 2017. Headquartered in Lucknow, NimbleQ is aimed at developing nimbleness of the mind. “They say that intelligence and capability are not natural talents; they are built by the flexibility of the mind. At NimbleQ, that’s what we aim to do: we encourage students to learn how to learn, question, focus, (even) fail and take in their stride and begin again,” says the founder of the so far bootstrapped startup.
Designed to teach
The NimbleQ experience is designed to teach kids to adapt, be flexible, question the status quo and adopt a holistic approach to life. “This is why business and entrepreneurship and understanding money are important aspects of the programme. So children are truly future ready,” he adds.
With programmes aimed at kindergartners to class 10 students, the startup has already been seeing some very positive results. For instance, a six-year-old student of theirs, won a Business Idea Hackathon for suggesting that energy be harnessed from Mars. “We don’t want our engineers to build a Taj Mahal. What’s the point of a Taj Mahal if it cannot be sold? The idea is for our engineers to innovate and design buildings that can be scaled and sold,” says Madhukar. So far, about 4,000 students have signed up since they started, with 80,000 plus hours of classes conducted.
The programmes are designed to treat students like adults, show them real time scenarios and what real jobs involve. After months of research, sit-downs with industry leaders, educationists, and researchers, Madhukar developed the programmes which today they are helmed by NimbleQ teachers (all engineers).
The startup has students in India, US and UAE. Plans are afoot to resume offline classes again, with expansion plans. “We’re also looking to raise funding to aid these plans,” says Madhukar, who is headquartered in Lucknow and always wanted to start small. “We’re not in it for the race.”
The father of two, loves to unwind with his children and encourages them to explore and question the world.
“At the end of the day, we put the student at the centre. We treat them like grown-ups. We don’t restrict ourselves to premium schools, we want to democratise education and also tie up with mid-size and small schools,” says the entrepreneur, who loves to sketch.
- Follow Madhukar Varshney on LinkedIn.