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Taking a lesson from his grandfather, Tobias Schimmer founded UpSkill Capital, a financial-services firm that funds vocational-education training.

Grandfather’s tale inspires Tobias Schimmer to fund vocational training in India

Start Me Up: Tobias Schimmer '12

Grandfather’s tale inspires Tobias Schimmer to fund vocational training in India

By Eric Butterman

8/27/2013 - Editor's note: In the Start Me Up series, the Kellogg School spotlights young members of the Kellogg community who are bringing bold new entrepreneurial visions to life. 

Growing up in Rammersweier, a small village in southwest Germany, Tobias Schimmer ’12 remembers his grandfather’s tales of leaving school at 13 and spending his nights working as a butcher, then undoing his smock and heading off to a nine-hour shift as a production mechanic.

“He always told me to get a good education,” Schimmer says, “because anything you have learned cannot be taken from you.”

With the help of five other 2012 graduates, Schimmer co-founded UpSkill Capital, a financial-services company that funds vocational-education training for impoverished young adults in India. Investors will recoup those loans after those workers are placed at a company.

One hundred students will fill UpSkill’s pilot program, which is set to launch in 2014. The program will be done in partnership with the ETASHA Society, a non-government vocational-training organization based in New Delhi, though UpSkill will have an operations advisor in New Delhi and a corporate development officer in Mumbai to monitor progress.

From theory to action
UpSkill started out as an idea during an Impact Investment course, Schimmer says. He was working with his soon-to-be partners on a theory exercise when another student mentioned that Indian vocational schools lacked the right funding model. Something clicked.

The group founded the company in 2012 and met with success early on, taking second-place in the second-annual International Impact Investing Challenge (I3C). But theory met reality that following January when Schimmer visited India and toured some of the vocational schools. There, he realized what worked and what didn’t.

“It required a major effort to get the youth to attend the programs,” he says. “They would often skip class because their parents needed them to help out. We found that it was crucial to get the entire family behind the kids’ education. Only then it could work.”

Long weekdays, longer weeknights
Schimmer admits that the long hours at the Boston Consulting Group’s Stuttgart office – where he assesses the auto industry – relegates his time with UpSkill to late nights and weekends. But he says the long hours are worth it, especially if others benefit.

“We believe this is the right system to help young people get ahead.” he says. “They deserve the opportunity to improve their skills.”

Read more in the Start Me Up series: