Deepa Aathreya, a Chennai-based entrepreneur, set up Alt School (formerly known as 'School of Success') to inculcate leadership qualities in children and introduced programmes for holistic development of parents, and teachers. She even holds a Guinness Record for conducting program on child safety. However, Aathreya had to face several ups and downs in order to succeed.
Born as an obese child, Aathreya often found herself being fat-shamed in her childhood. Her academic life started getting impacted but things gradually changed for good. When she was in ninth standard, a teacher motivated her to take charge of her life. Soon after, she participated as a candidate for the school election and won which added to her confidence.
After completing school, Aathreya completed her bachelor's degree in Arts and thereafter pursued an MBA (Master of Business Administration). She then joined an internship and while still in the internship period, she decided to tie the knot. Within nine months after her marriage, their son was born and she had to discontinue her internship.
Aathreya felt bad for passing on the entire financial burden to her husband, but fortunately, she soon received a call from her former employer asking her to plan the birthday party of her son. She took the opportunity and executed it, and this proved to be the turning point.
She started getting requests to conduct summer camps and the business started to flourish. But within a couple of months, life came to a standstill for the family after Aathreya was cheated by a business partner. They had lost her home, car and even had to get their son enrolled out of the school as they could not afford the fees.
She went bankrupt to the extent that survival had become a great challenge for her. "Now it does not affect me but at that point, it seemed like the whole world came to an end. We were angry and also feared how are we going to manage everything. Being an entrepreneur, we had the responsibilities of the people working with us, then there was our own child whom we had to take care of. There was a lot of mixed feelings," Aathreya said to The Logical Indian.
To make ends meet, she started selling balloons at the beach. She used to tell stories to children at the beach and then sold them balloons. Eventually, she became quite popular amongst the children who used to visit the beach just to listen to her stories. Media, too, noticed this and covered her innovative approach to teach life lessons to kids which eventually paved the way for her big start-up.
A school in Madurai, on reading about her, reached out to conduct storytelling sessions in the school. This was when the idea of School of Success (now known as 'Alt School') came to Aathreya.
"When I was called into the school in Madurai and I conducted the storytelling session. Firstly I felt like I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and secondly I realised that it can be a brilliant idea by itself as it does not require much investment and you are your investment initially. At that point in time investment was the biggest barrier, so I thought this could be the right way forward."
School of Success (now known as 'Alt School') is based on "classroom without walls" concept, which targets the multidimensional development of students. She also introduced the concept of "Leadership for kids" where they learn leadership skills by working on social causes. She firmly believes that changes begin with children and therefore started the "Be The Change" movement. Her venture now includes over 2,500 schools where she also conducts parenting and teacher training programmes.
In 2011, Aathreya and her husband met with an accident. After recovering, the entrepreneur said that the experience turned out to be life-changing for her.
"Until 2011, all I was seeking was a materialistic pleasure. Before the accident, if someone would ask me why am I in this business of working with children, I would say —earning opportunities. But after my accident when I put my life mission and purpose of what I want to do further, I think that is when a phenomenal and exponential growth happened," she said.
After finding the purpose, her start-up had touched more than a lakh students all over the country. She does not even charge any fixed fees for her courses but accepts whatever amount the schools wish to pay according to their budget.
Emphasising the role of her family, Deepa said, "I always say this 'No place like home, no strength like family'. We had lost everything but our biggest asset is we struck on together with each other as a family even during our toughest times. The family has been a great support, my husband, my son, and my daughter."