“Entrepreneurs should always have a clear vision,” says Meenal Arora
Konica Bhatt 08 March 2014

Meenal Arora, who co-founded the Shemford Futuristic Schools with her husband Amol in 2009, says kids are generally kinesthetic learners, and they can learn more by practice than textual education

Meenal and her husband Amol Arora who started Shemford Futuristic School as a natural diversification venture from Shemrock Pre-Schools in Hajipur, Bihar during 2009. They are now in the process of taking it to 90 schools across India, out of which 51 are already operational. This remarkable achievement has been recorded in the 'Limca Book of Records 2013' in the category of 'Most Schools launched in the shortest amount of time". Shemford Futuristic School, with a 14-pillar program like the ShemEduMax, and facilities like science park, history and geography museums, is certainly changing the face of education in India. Meenal believes that a school is successful when a child looks forward to learning, and this has certainly proved true in her case.

Excerpts from an interview by Konica Bhatt of Moneylife (ML)

Konica Bhatt (ML): What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? And what is the thought behind the name 'Shemford' and your brand of futuristic learning?
Meenal Arora (MA): Born in a business family, I grew up listening to talk of business and factories. Inspired and fascinated by this talk, I went on to study in business administration from Shriram College of Commerce, where I learnt a lot about developing and sustaining your own business. After my post graduation, I got married to Amol Arora who was an engineer. His family owned Shemrock Pre-Schools in Delhi. Although they had 20 schools in Delhi, it was an in-house business; my husband was involved with the technical aspects and website designing, my mother-in-law looked into education aspect and my father-in-law looked after franchising. When I decided to get involved with the business, I first studied education leadership and management from Nottingham University in UK and then joined Shemrock in 2002. In 2009, as a natural diversification, we launched our own venture of senior schools. They were branded 'Shemford', where 'ford' means 'Path'. After children receive a rock solid foundation in Shemrock Pre-School, they find their path here at Shemford. Hence, the name was only appropriate. We started with two schools and as Shemrock had already established goodwill in the market, we didn't have to struggle for franchising. This led to establishing the chain of schools.

ML: Tell us something about your experience of being the founder of a school?
MA: During the first year, I didn't have the feeling of being a founder. I was more worried about giving the best to the children who had enrolled. It was exhilarating, as we had personally created everything, right from the curriculum 'ShemEduMax', to the in-house software 'ShemFast'. I was excited to see the result as to how children were developing and growing using ShemEduMax. I used to spend the whole day working, never going home before 11pm in the first year. It was excitement coupled with hard work, which was a very rewarding experience.

ML: How different was the experience setting up schools in different parts of India?
MA: Most of our branches are in North India, which is geographically and linguistically convenient. In South India, as they allow only state board schools, so we could not start Shemford, which is a CBSE board school in Kerala. Opening branches in Tamil Nadu was not much different than that in North India, except the language barrier. We had to hire some business development managers to overcome these barriers.

Anantnag in Jammu Kashmir was completely different. Though we did not face any safety issues or threats, although, we read in the newspapers that it was a little disturbed area. We still have to take precautions during traveling. The real challenge we faced was cultural. People in Jammu and Kashmir are conservative, especially with women. The girls have to wear stockings and scarves to school. We had to design different uniforms, where the skirts were below the knees. We had to respect the culture and their decisions, but we managed it and the school is running successfully.

ML: How did you come up with the concept of the science park and history and geography museums, something that most schools don't have? Can you throw some light on the concept?
MA: We have different labs for different subjects like biology, chemistry and physics, where students can conduct the experiments related to the studies. Here at Shemford, we believe that knowledge develops better in an open environment. Acting on this belief, we formed the science park. In this park, we installed developed instruments made out of metals where students can study experiments like colours of light or convergence of energy or sound travel through actual metal objects and do it yourself model. Kids are generally kinesthetic learners, and they can learn by practical more than textual education. We encourage the kids to enjoy the learning here.

ML: Are parents generally open to new concepts or ideas in the educational system? Did you ever face any criticism regarding any concept in your schools?
MA: All parents want their children to understand and observe the concepts very well. They should grow up to be confident, self assured and expressive. It is not all about marks anymore. Parents want all round development of the child. They like it when the school is thinking out of box, spending for the children and investing for their child's future. Here they get the value for money. They like it when their child gets more practical knowledge instead of just theoretical. Also, thanks to our programs, the kids get more exposure and develop connect with the parents. The curriculum and activities at Shemford are child-centered. Also, due to ShemFast, we bridge the gap with our parents and branches. Everything about the child's progress to the functioning of the school is uploaded on this software. This is why we never had any criticism or complaints. Instead, parents praise us for our effort and commitment.

ML: Has your school life reflected your career choice in any way?
MA: When you start your own venture, you want to fill in the gap of what you didn't get. I wanted to do what I liked in my school and fill the gap of what I lacked then. My convent school had a lot of different activities and it groomed me very well in academics and cultural activities. But we were lacking in sports. They didn't have infrastructure, and we didn't have a lot of sports activities or competitions. Here I wanted it to be different. I wanted to create a school where children can participate in activities for physical growth as well, which I lacked in my school. This is why we have a lot of outdoor activities, sports competitions along with studies.

ML: What were the biggest challenges, generally as an entrepreneur and specifically as a woman entrepreneur?
MA: Every franchise has a working model school which they can look up to, but the land we planned to build the model school on was under litigation. We had to manage the franchise without a working model school. This was certainly the biggest challenge we faced. Another challenge I faced as a woman entrepreneur was a lot of planning is required for traveling. There are constraints and safety issues. Also, sometimes getting people to listen to you, follow the system and getting them on track becomes a challenge. There are minute branch level challenges as well.

ML: You have gained entry in the Limca Book of Records 2013. Would you like to share a few insights regarding the experience?
MA: It was a very unique experience. There was this category under we had applied -- so many branches in a short span of time. To get the entry, you have to fill an application form and provide the evidence of actual physical existence of your school. After a few months, we got a call from the 'Limca Book of Records' saying we were eligible for the award and the entry. Interestingly, it was also their 100th year of cinema. They had invited many celebrities and we got to meet them and gain some good exposure.

ML: How would you encourage other women entrepreneurs who want to start their own business?
MA: Entrepreneurs should always do extraordinary things. They should ask questions and do unusual things as people don't expect regular work from them. They should be able to handle stress and do many jobs at once. This is where women have an upper-hand over men. As women we are blessed with the ability of multi-tasking. Women are also very innovative. Even when they are not working, they are very creative. They like to do things differently. You will never find two houses decorated in the same way. If they use the same innovation and creativity at work, they will get great rewards. We have good communication and negotiation skills, and high Emotional Quotient, which makes us good leaders. Remember to always have a clear vision. The most important thing is to establish your target audience, research and planning. You need to use all that in the business to be a successful entrepreneur.

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Comments
Tabasar Ahmad Khan
9 years ago
Hello
i want to open a school branch in my city where the children get better eduction and i need opinion to open branch what can i do .my mail id is [email protected].
Kh Ibomcha Singh
1 decade ago
Our organization Society for Advancement and Rural Development Activities(SARDA) Heibongpokpi,Imphal West,Manipur State(INDIA) is very highly interested in organising to start a School specially from Pre-Nursery to 10+2 stand. with door opening ypur kind cooperation. The twice below poverty line families could not pay the high rate of Admission and Tuition fees. So villagers are frequently ask to start a School . Unfortunately,our organization is being poor in this kind and valuable projects.
Therefore you are requested to kindly yearned us to implement such valuable projects through your good service and financial assistance for betterment of the weaker section of the society.


Yours faithfully,
Kh.Ibomcha.Singh
General Secretary (SARDA)
Society for Advancement & Rural Development Activities
Heibongpokpi Lamkhai/Lamsang,Imphal West
SPO Lamsang-795146, Manipur State(INDIA)
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