This mentorship startup is helping students across India achieve their Ivy League dreams

After traveling the world, Princeton graduates and friends Poshak Agarwal and Rahul Subramaniam arrived in India in 2013 and found themselves dragging the children of friends and acquaintances to pay their rent and bills.

“One of our mentors sat us down and said, ‘What are you doing? You are sitting on a huge opportunity because no one is exploring mentorship in a professional, process-oriented and personalized way,” Rahul recalls.

In 2013, Poshak and Rahul started Athena Education to help students apply to overseas colleges with a particular focus on Ivy League colleges. They started with their “meager savings” of a bedroom in their Delhi apartment.

“When we counseled these children of friends, we found that they already had counselors, but they still needed help. We realized that there were so many students in India who needed professional help to achieve their Ivy League dreams. But unfortunately that didn’t exist,” Poshak says.

The duo had previously worked with students. In college, they served on the interview committee for admissions. Rahul also served briefly as the director of a college consulting and test prep company in California.

“We started helping them…more students started coming in and slowly the organization grew,” says Poshak.

Today, the startup provides high school students with comprehensive admissions advice to leading US and UK universities from a team of Ivy League graduates. It worked with more 500 students so far.

The startup operates online and offline, depending on the students’ schedule. It currently runs centers in Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

“When our fellows have more time on their hands, they love being in our office and working with advisors and other specialists. During summer holidays, at least 50-60% of our NCR scholars prefer to be physically present in our learning space at least once a week,” says Poshak.

How it works

The startup offers a personal mentorship program that costs around Rs 4-5 lakh per yearwith students enrolling as early as class 9. In fact, in 2022, they even enrolled 10 students from class 7.

At the beginning of the course, Athena analyzes the student’s interests, passions and abilities, or as the founders like to call it “the student’s ikigai”.

After that, the program pushes students to explore different fields through capstone projects, writing research papers, and AI/ML projects, among others.

Athena then helps students prepare for the SAT, revise and rewrite college applications, and mock interviews.

“We are a one-stop-shop for all student needs. We see it in three parts: strategy, execution and application,” says Poshak.

“There are people who do the applications, or just the strategy, but we do all three. If a student wants to write a research paper, create an application, get an internship or do a robotics project, we will develop a strategy for the student based on our years of experience, with the people who work with us like a former – Admissions officer at Harvard.

“Once the strategy is in place, we work with the student for years to help execute it. Once this is done, we help the student communicate this through a comprehensive application. This execution is what sets us apart.

Each of these activities is managed by different teams. Advisors, students and parents can access a global progress report on the Athena platform. The startup also helps students get internships.

“Over the years, our business model has evolved to become more than academic counseling,” says Rahul.

“It’s like a big buffet. There is strategic advice, tactical advice, emotional advice. We use child psychology experts, admissions officers, our entire in-house research team, a technical team, and art consultants. We have a network of internships and summer schools, and now our research team is also developing relationships with labs so that science-loving students can do hands-on work,” he explains.

The startup connects with students two to three times a week and spends four to five hours a week with them on average.

Shoo-in for the Ivy League?

Three years after its creation, in 2016, Athena made its first breakthrough: seven Indian students entered Harvard. Three of these students were from Athena.

Cut to 2021.

Fifty-six students applied to overseas universities through Athena and all received acceptance letters from prestigious institutes like Columbia, Yale, Stanford, Caltech, Oxford, Cambridge, Dartmouth, Brown, University of California—Los Angeles, University of California—Berkeley, University of Toronto, Imperial, LSE, among others. Among these, 53 students have entered the university of their choice, the startup said.

In 2022, the number of students applying abroad through the startup has increased to 68. The startup has seen 100% of students receive acceptance letters from the Ivy League and other top colleges. In 2022, as much as 97% of students entered the university of their choice.

On average, each student was admitted to five colleges.

Other startups facilitating overseas education for Indian students include Azent Overseas Education, ApplyBoard, EduFund, Leap Scholar, Yocket, Leverage Edu, iSchoolConnect Technologies, and Edumpus.

The startup plans to continue to expand and open more centers in other cities.

“Our goal is clear: to aim for excellent results for our students, to focus on quality of services, to provide our families with access to specialists in all fields and to help scholars become the best versions of themselves- Through a convergence of technology, world-class analytics and a team of specialists, we want to enable many more students to receive a world-class education and become the leaders of tomorrow,” says Rahul .

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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