Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Logging On To A Road Less Taken.

Logging On To A Road Less Taken

Creating Quality IT Workforce Has Been A Passion For Seed Infotech Founders

A JOB as a scientist in the Defence Research and Development Organisation is not just challenging, but prestigious and safe too. At 32, Narendra Barhate could have continued in the cushy position and retired. But in 1994, he opted to take the risky path of entrepreneurship. Thus was born Seed Infotech, an education and training firm for information technology professionals, mainly in Maharashtra.

“I felt constrained at work,” he recalls. So did his friend Shrikant Rasane, who joined him in the venture. “At that time, the software industry was just starting to take off. There was also a need for trained manpower and bridging the gap between what companies needed and the quality of manpower colleges were able provide to them.” The duo eyed this opportunity and weighed their options. They could start a software company or a training firm. “We chose training,” said Mr Barhate. They roped in two more friends and started Seed with a contribution of Rs 25,000 each.

The first generation entrepreneur was determined not to let his inexperience come in the way of building a successful company. “The first couple of years were not difficult because we were small in number. But as we grew, we started realising the importance of financial discipline and systems and process. We got around this by hiring people with appropriate skills in these areas.” With formidable names such as NIIT and Aptech dominating the business, he also realised the need for continually refreshing business strategy. “We learnt the importance of planning ahead for five years, ten years.”

The first big test for the company’s mettle came just after the turn of the century, when many peers went down in the technology slump. “In 2002, the whole market was sinking. But with the support of well-wishers, we were able to survive it. No bank was willing to lend us money and we needed money to keep the business going. We were able to take credit from family and relatives and tide over the crisis. We suffered losses only for that year, but we came out of it the next year itself,” said Mr Barhate.

From (L): Seed directors Rajesh Vartak and Bharati Barhate along with co-founder and CEO & MD Narendra Barhate and co-founder & ED Shrikant Rasa

Luckily, Seed already had a business to train technical people in Japanese language skills. When everything else dried up, this business continued to do well. Though the segment’s share in overall revenues has fallen now, Mr Barhate fondly recalls its role in sustaining the company during that lean period.

The company provides software training to graduates and employees of corporate customers. It also runs a finishing school, which rounds up the individual with soft skills. Top names like Infosys Technologies and Cognizant are among its 250 or so clients. Corporate business accounts for a fourth of revenues.

Mr Barhate also said the company was saved from further trouble in the downturn also because it had not spread itself thin. The institution had been focusing on Maharashtra, especially its base in Pune, one of the country’s technology hubs. It certainly had wanted to expand, but took a cautious approach when business turned patchy. “That was the time we were thinking of expanding beyond Maharashtra. It is lucky we didn’t,” said Mr Barhate.

Today, with a much larger IT education industry and a steady stream of students, Seed Infotech feels it’s ready for a national presence. Within three years, it plans to be in major cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad and
reach Rs 100 crore in revenues by 2010, about two-and-a-half times the current level.

It is also expanding the scope of its training programmes. “Usually, corporates also require some hand-holding after we have provided training. We plan to provide tool-based consulting and some hand-holding for project readiness,” said Mr Barhate. Further, it plans to enter distance learning and niche training areas in engineering services. All these plans are part of a strategic business plan being drawn up by a consultant. Having put one lakh students through Seed Infotech’s portals, the business of education has proven to be the education on business for this scientist.

Article Resource:
Author: N Shivapriya is the cheif editor in the Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns called "Starship Enterprise.

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