by Barbara Sherf
Who would have thought that reselling books and electronics could be such a lucrative business and result in scholarship money for needy students? Flourtown resident Chetan Bagga, a Columbia University graduate, ran the numbers and started Education by Inclusion (EBI) about a year ago.
The home page of their web site offers this comment to customers.
“We are a socially conscious online bookstore with a simple promise — everything you buy contributes to a deserving student’s education. This year, you’ve made over 100,000 purchases toward scholarships. We sincerely thank you! Let’s keep the momentum going.”
The startup company, based in Huntingdon Valley, has 15 employees and has just awarded its first scholarship in the amount of $40,000. EBI hopes to reach the $1.5 million mark in book sales by the end of this year.
Not bad for a 28-year-old former management consultant turned entrepreneur with social responsibility leanings. “I do believe in making money and living well, but also in giving something back. I think you can do both,” said Bagga, EBI’s CEO. While he had many clients, Bagga wasn’t finding the work rewarding. He and colleague Michael Goldenberg, 26, decided to start a company with a cause.
“Now we make money and are giving a percentage away to students who might have been excluded from going to the college of their choice,” said Bagga. One such student, Javier Ramos, whose father was recently laid off from the Camden County Fire Department, is pursuing his dream of attending Fordham University due to the scholarship distributed by Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia.
“I’m not sure if I would be here right now,” said Ramos, 18, by phone during a break in his psychology classes. “I feel like this is a blessing that just fell into my lap.”
Founded in 1995 at Germantown Friends School under the original name of Summerbridge, Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia provides disadvantaged students from Philadelphia’s under-resourced schools with the education and support they need to access higher education.
Jean Fitzpatrick, a neighbor of the Bagga family on Creek Lane, who is involved with the Breakthrough, invited Chetan’s parents, Paul and Kushi, to a fundraiser a year ago.
“Our mission resonated with them. They realize how education can change lives and decided to support Breakthrough,” said Fitzpatrick, who had only high praise for Chetan. “He is a fine young man. He is a graduate of Columbia, has held high level management positions in Princeton and New York, but decided to take a step back and give back. He recognizes the gifts he has been given and is now giving back at a remarkably young age. It’s been very refreshing,” she said.
Two Breakthrough Board Members are from Chestnut Hill, Susan Fleming and Anne Marie Corner. Fleming talked about working with EBI and Bagga. “One of the great things about Chetan is that he thinks outside the box. The scholarship he established has given a real boost to Breakthrough’s students and teachers. Everyone at Breakthrough is delighted to see Chetan’s dedication to our mission.”
Bagga said he needed an outside agency to work with that already had an infrastructure in place to process the scholarship. “I didn’t want to just select a candidate on my own. I was looking for an entity that already existed and had a rigorous selection process, and I found it in my own backyard. Next year we hope to give away four scholarships,” said Bagga.
Described over and over as a “big picture guy,” Bagga was doing a more mundane task on Sept. 10: picking up books left over from the annual rummage sale at St. Paul’s Church in Chestnut Hill. He will sell the remaining books online, giving a portion of the proceeds back to the church. “The reality is that I can get up to four times the amount online as they would bring at a book sale, but I understand there are reasons to have a book sale, like bringing visibility to an organization and building community,” said Bagga.
Upon graduation, Bagga worked as a management consultant from 2004 to 2009, but he had a yearning to start his own company and to give back. “My entire life was in a thumb drive, and I just felt like ‘Is this all there is?’ I wanted to create something that would have an impact on society. I guess it comes from the way I was brought up as my parents and grandparents were always proponents of giving back.”
In India, Bagga’s grandfather owned a bank that started a charitable foundation to fund a school. Chetan’s father, Paul, owned a number of fast food restaurants before starting a business in the alternative energy field. He too has given back in terms of helping to establish EBI and to make the connection with Breakthrough.
As for his son’s accomplishments over the past year, the elder Bagga said he is proud of Chetan.
“Giving back is a trait found on both sides of our families. Chetan is doing this by example. We are very proud that at such a young age he has decided to do this.”
In addition to funding the Breakthrough scholarship, EBI has established relationships with 36 local colleges and universities whereby the institutions turn books over to EBI, and a portion of the proceeds goes back to the school for their scholarship programs.
“Our goal is to branch out to schools beyond Philadelphia and work on a national basis, and then an international basis,” said Bagga, while giving a tour of the 25,000-square-foot warehouse. The mostly used books are shelved in sections by institution, with employees sorting, working on computers, packaging books and placing them in huge bins to be shipped to customers all over the world.
Wearing a traditional Sikh turban, t-shirt, shorts and sandals, Bagga typically works in the front office managing the operation with Goldenberg, who has a Star Trek-type central control station with several computer screens blinking and buzzing the best rate EBI can get on a book and the current inventory.
After hours, Bagga recharges by swimming, biking, listening to music and dancing with friends.
While Bagga wears the traditional Sikh turban, he said he does so for cultural reasons. “I’m not so much religious as I am a believer in the cultural values within the Sikh community,” said Bagga.
As for keeping his mostly 20-something staffers happy, Bagga believes not only in hiring people who also have an interest in giving back to students, but in sharing a portion of the profits with his young team. “At the end of the day here everyone has ownership in terms of sharing revenues and scholarships. It makes sense to give employees equity in the company.”
To learn more, visit www.buyve.com or call 215- 995-4105.