How this teacher from Kolkata is innovating to help students aim for the sky

October 23, 2018

Sunita Sonthalia’s Skyculture develops innovative products to help young minds learn faster and better.

Sunita Sonthalia, 47, from Kolkata, had always found the disparity between bright and weak children in classrooms disturbing. “Every child is intelligent, and each child should be rewarded in some way or the other. We cannot just restrict rewards only to the bright,” she says.

Sunita, who has 17 years of experience in the teaching field, says she often saw children getting disheartened on not winning a prize in a competition or getting a star on their academic report cards.

“At this age, we should not really make them realise that they have fallen behind. Instead, we should acknowledge their efforts,” she says.

In a bid to help children learn better through positive reinforcement, Sunita decided to put her experience into use. In 2016, she launched Skyculture, an educational firm that “aims to develop innovative products to help young minds realise their full potential”.

With an investment of Rs 1.5 lakh, Skyculture came with its first offering - a book called Gift a Smile in 2017. The book, essentially a positive reinforcement and reward sticker book, aims to foster good behaviour and discipline among children by using the tools of rewards and motivation.

“The book has been conceptualised by me. I delved into my past  teaching experience to design a range of 44 stickers, each serving a different purpose. The stickers include motivating quotes to messages that will help children develop positive habits,” she says.

According to Sunita, Gift a Smile has been received well in the market and all the 1,000 books have already been sold.

Not long after, she focused on younger children. “I had seen many parents struggling to prevent their children from ripping paper books,” she says. To address this problem, Sunita developed another series of books - The Head Start series - in 2018. The series includes fabric books, made out of either cotton or polyester, and help children learn while their motor skills fully develop to make a smooth transition to paper books.

Sunita’s products were recently displayed on Amazon Saheli, a dedicated platform built by ecommerce giant Amazon to showcase women entrepreneurs’ products and sell to customers across the country. Apart from the presence on the online retailer, Sunita also markets her products in her professional network.

“I have received positive feedback from my former colleagues who say that my books are helping them manage classrooms better,” she says.

Skyculture products have the potential to disrupt the market, but the company has not been able to take full advantage. “My products are in demand but I struggle to produce books in bulk.” She blames the lack of skilled labour, adding that she is “involved in every process, from designing and production to marketing”.

Sunita is now keen to focus on the design aspect and is looking for government help to outsource production and marketing aspects of her business. She is also in touch with a number of women self-help groups to select women who she can train to be part of her company.

Skyculture currently has a turnover of Rs 4 lakh, and Sunita sees immense potential ahead. “I want my company to grow exponentially, and cater not to the pre-primary and primary school levels, but go up to the college level,” she says.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? The entrepreneur says it is vital to provide solutions to already existing problems. “Regular feedback from customers and market surveys are important to a business’ success,” Sunita says.

(This story is published in partnership with the MSME Ministry to showcase success stories of SMEs)

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