Founder Stories: Meet Heramb Kulkarni from CCE Finland

Spreading creativity, one box at a time

Photo by Jeff Mayeda, Red Brick Demo Day Spring 2022

Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founder Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!

This story features Heramb Kulkarni, founder and director of the Council of Creative Education in Finland.

CCE Finland is a global organization originating from Tampere. It provides educational programs based on research and expertise from Finnish universities and academia.

The entrepreneurial journey began for Heramb in 2013. Watching their children thrive, together with his wife, Shirin Kulkarni, they realized that the schooling system in Finland is unique. They started researching creative education, and that is where it all started.

They now design curriculums, conduct workshops, camps, teacher training, and so much more, in six different countries!

Read along to learn more about the Kulkarnis and their educational success story.

Emily: How were the early days of CCE? How did it start?

Heramb: My background is in technology, I used to work at Nokia. So in CCE I started working on education technology. We recognized that creative education was successful in Finland, but other countries lack it, and that was the problem: students only focused on academics. From 2007 till 2013, we were both doing research as part of our post-doc studies, and then we came up with some business models. This model evolved into an organization, and that’s how we started CCE as a company.

The reason for getting into entrepreneurship for us was to first try out what we know, and our main objective was serving what the need was at that time. There was no one else solving the problem, and there was a demand. The customers used to ask if we could go and develop the Finnish educational system in India, and in Vietnam at that time.

So we started the supply.

Initially the objective was to concentrate on India, but in a matter of two years, we got requests to scale to more than 25 countries. It was not in the game plan for us to scale to Australia or Mexico or Brazil. We started small, developing the training programs, the school visits, and that is how we started developing our business.

Emily: During Red Brick Accelerator, you became known for your new product, the SISU box. How was the SISU box born?

Heramb: We noticed that our customers also want something concrete. They want to take something physical with them, not just training and verbal things. So we created a box, similar to the Kela maternity pack which is a concrete physical box which every mother gets during pregnancy. We thought about creating a box to accompany the kids when they leave the house and go out of their comfort zone to the daycare, to get prepared for the schooling system. We wanted to add a fun element with the teaching aids, and put those games and activities in a structured box, or Sisu box. Initially our idea was very different, but then it came together, and we now sell it to more than six countries. It is linked to an app where the teacher can take a photograph of the kids doing the activities, and connect it to the learning outcomes and the curriculum. We have already sold around 1000 boxes in the last six months.

Photo by Jeff Mayeda, Red Brick Demo Day Spring 2022

Emily: How did you build your team? What, in your opinion, makes your team successful?

Heramb: We have a very lean team. Even before the pandemic, we do things in a very independent and remote way, even though we have a physical office. We support each other, we are there for each other, our values are like a true Indian family.

Building a team is like building a family.

In Finland we have six 6 people altogether, 4 full-time and 2 part-time. Nelli is our pedagogical director, she takes care of training the teachers and designing the schools. Shirin takes care of research and projects. Kari takes care of training principals and leaders. I take care of strategy and international collaboration. In India, we also have an office with 5 team members. They maintain our back office, training support, as well as maintaining SISU box arrangements.

Emily: What is the main motivator behind the work that you’re doing?

Heramb: Our objective is to get “creative education” as a key word in the classroom. We are concerned about making a big impact. In many parts of the world except Finland, primary education is like a black box for the parents. Once they put the kids in school, they don’t know what is happening in the classroom. In India for that matter, where I come from, education is a really big problem. And the problem is that they are doing too much of that. The basic concept of Finnish education is that less is more. How to do the little things but effectively. Collaborative learning, creativity in the classroom: these are the basic things that you should have in the curriculum. Lacking that makes kids in many parts of the world suffer. Our motivation is to solve this problem for those kids.

Photo by Jeff Mayeda, Red Brick Demo Day Spring 2022

Emily: So did your kids use the SISU box?

Heramb: My younger son used the Sisu box, yes. My elder son helped us design the Sisu box. He told us about this activity in his day care, how he played it in this way. In fact, most of the activities we use, our kids tell us how they use them in their classrooms, in their preschools. They gave good feedback to us about what exactly the games are.

Even though we as parents visit their classrooms, we cannot get the perspective of the kids unless you are there for a long time. The kids give you very honest and very good feedback.

Emily: If you could give one piece of advice to first time founders, what would it be?

Heramb: Just do it. People always have fear in their mind. In entrepreneurship, no one will pat your back and say you’re doing a good job. You have to do it yourself. Get up in the morning, tell yourself you are doing a good job, and start your day. Once you do that, you will do it. The best part in entrepreneurship is, you make your own rules. You don’t go with the ready-made rules given by the employer or by some government. That’s the beauty of entrepreneurship; you don’t have to do it in a structured way and you come up with multiple things, and it looks like chaos, but in the chaos there is music. Feel the music.

Red Brick Accelerator is supporting the growth of early-stage startups, ready to make an impact with their ideas. Check out the programs from our website and apply now!💚