Prajodh Rajan, the co-founder and group CEO of Lighthouse Learning, did the unimaginable in 2021. Despite the ongoing Covid pandemic shuttering schools across India for the better part of eighteen months, Rajan opened a new school in Kharadi, a suburb in the western Indian city of Pune.
“Construction is almost complete on the five-acre plot. It’s our fourth EuroSchool in Pune,” said Rajan, over a Zoom interview with The Ken. While a few parents were invited for a physical tour of the school, the rest of Lighthouse Learning’s marketing was purely digital. Even though this approach was a first in the company’s history, it clearly worked. By early July, 250 students had already enrolled for the virtual classes currently being offered by the school. “We’re getting ready for when things finally open up,” says Rajan, hopefully.
The move to forge ahead is undoubtedly a bold one, given the present circumstances. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the relentless expansion hasn’t been, at least in part, forced on the company by the pandemic.
Lighthouse Learning, formerly known as EuroKids International Pvt Ltd., is a two-decade-old education services company. Through the 2000s, the group found success through franchising a preschool brand called Eurokids. Later, the group added a K12 arm called EuroSchool.
Unlike most other private schools in India, which are mostly standalone schools or privately owned by families, Lighthouse was an anomaly. The chain was founded and run by professional executives, and instead of running on family money or a single promoter’s whim, it invited private equity investment from the very start. In 2017, EuroKids acquired fellow schooling network KKEL, which brought the Kangaroo Kids and Billabong High brands into its fold.
In 2019, the group changed hands—global PE firm KKR entered the Indian education market by picking up a 90% stake in EuroKids for Rs 1,475 crore ($198 million). KKR’s investment brought a renewed aggression to Lighthouse—the group made its first set of acquisitions in Nagpur in May 2021 by acquiring the Center Point chain of schools, which came in a package deal with the Mother’s Pet chain of preschools. It also acquired Cambridge Public School, a stand-alone asset in Bengaluru.
With KKR’s sizeable investment and seven brands in its kitty, Lighthouse should be poised to quickly acquire and consolidate the private school market in India. Except, it didn’t see Covid coming. The pandemic created headwinds for its preschool business. Lighthouse’s 1,500-plus preschool franchises were suddenly ghost towns.
“We didn’t have a virtual alternative ready for a play school,” says Rajan, but claims that they were able to quickly switch to a virtual program called “HomeBuddy” for younger children. Even now, while other streams of business—primary, middle and senior school—have revived to some extent, the preschool business has only recovered to 40% of pre-pandemic levels, according to data shared by Rajan.