If bringing home a dog makes your mom cringe, imagine the furor a pet iguana will cause. This giant lizard may be an incredibly intelligent creature, but most people simply don’t get the love for reptiles. However, you  can now make your dream come true thanks to Virtudopt, a new venture that allows one to keep pets, albeit at a distance.

You just need to pick an animal or bird of your choice online and pay for its upkeep — Rs 100 monthly for common pets like rabbits and Rs 1000 for exotic creatures like the iguana and cotton-top tamarin (a mini monkey). The pet would be reared at a farm on the outskirts of Bangalore. You can see and interact with your ‘baby’ via a webcam with two-way audio or even drop by at the facility to cuddle it.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Wait till you read further. 

Virtudopt, a first-of-its-kind service, is not a startup founded by an astute entrepreneur. It is the brainchild of two 14-year-olds boys from Bangalore. Anish Garg and Haashir Sheikh, who study in standard 9, came up with this unique idea during a course which teaches the basics of MBA (Masters of Business Administration) to teenagers and also arms them with the knowledge to start and operate their own business.

Teenagers Haashir Sheikh and Anish Garg have set up a unique pet adoption service

The Junior MBA programme was launched by education technology platform Clever Harvey this April. Over 2,500 students from across the country have already completed the 10-hours-over-10-days course which enables kids to ‘test-drive’ the coveted MBA degree. “Even when we go to buy an ice-cream, we sample different flavours. So how can we dive into a career without even trying it?” says Sriram Subramaniam, co-founder of Clever Harvey.

The Mumbai-based company is not alone. Henry Harvin, a career development center based in Noida, too runs a TeenMBA to help youngsters in their quest for ‘a suitable career’. Kidspreneur, a business school for kids in Chennai, recently launched a month-long online MBA — in this case they have specified that the acronym stands for ‘My Business Adventure’ — programme for kids aged 7 to 18 years. “It is never too early to start,” says the brochure of Kidspreneur which claims to equip children with 21st century skills and inspire an entrepreneurial mindset.

While Kidspreneur awards students who complete their course a certificate from the International School of Business in Washington, Clever Harvey’s MBA graduates receive Ivy League certificates. Facilitators at the latter use case studies of Silicon Valley giants, unicorn startups and relatable companies such as Amazon and Big Basket to teach children how companies strategise. On the last day, the students have to ‘sell’ their business pitch to an expert panel and convince them to part with their hard-earned cash and invest in their idea in a contest modeled on Emmy-award winning American reality show, Shark Tank.

Subramaniam points out that many of their students have started their own business during lockdown. Visakhapatnam-based Sreeja Mamidla has launched her own range of refillable sanitiser pouches under the brand name, Kefi. “I was disturbed to see the additional plastic waste being generated as people use up bottle after bottle of sanitiser during the current pandemic,” says the 17-year-old science student.

Though Mamidla aspires to become a doctor, she had always wanted to try her hand at running a business, too. “I only knew the basics of profit and loss. The course helped me develop the commercial acumen required for entrepreneurship,” says the teen. Mamidla has employed 20 women, who worked as domestic helps or tailors but lost their jobs due to Covid-19, to stitch the pouches and will soon start selling them via e-tailers like Amazon.

While the MBA brand is magnetically drawing parents to enroll their wards,  independent experts fear the tall promises — of churning out CEOs — made by the kiddo B-schools may raise expectations too high and set the stage for disappointment.“A 10-hour course can, at best, serve as a window to the MBA degree. The duration is not enough to create even mini professionals,” says Sudeep Mehrotra, an IIM Lucknow graduate who is a visiting lecturer at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Navi Mumbai.

In an article published in Forbes magazine this July, Jodie Cook, a Birmingham-based entrepreneur and writer advises parents to raise entrepreneurial kids, not kid entrepreneurs. “Giving kids an experience of the real world is great, but they shouldn’t be pushed into something they are not ready for,” she cautions. “Do 10-year-olds want to deal with supplier negotiations? Do 15-year-olds want to hire staff? Do secondary school students want to file accounts or create forecasts? There’s no rush. Let kids be kids.”