FEW TAK­ERS FOR IN­NO­VA­TORS

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Guide - - SITUATIONS VACANT CAREERSMART - Jee­van. sharma@ hin­dus­tan­times. com

Jee­van Prakash Sharma

Of late, In­dia’s first so­lar pas­sen­ger car de­vel­oped by the students of Delhi Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity was flagged off by the Pres­i­dent of In­dia, Pranab Mukherji, from the Rash­tra­p­ati Bhawan. Though there was a big buzz around the event and the car, the prod­uct is yet to grab the at­ten­tion of an au­to­mo­tive com­pany will­ing to turn it into a vi­able com­mer­cial prod­uct.

In­no­va­tion is a word we love to use, but un­for­tu­nately, in In­dia, not many of us are will­ing to give in­no­va­tive prod­ucts ad­e­quate recog­ni­tion or the sup­port. Apart from the so­lar pas­sen­ger car, many such ‘in­ven­tions’ such as the un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle, en­ergy farm­ing and bio diesel re­ac­tor de­sign, driver­less car, a sen­sor for de­tect­ing air leak­age in packed items, alarm-based LPG sen­sor etc, have been for­got­ten. Many have used up a huge amounts of funds, but apart from gen­er­at­ing some buzz and help­ing their creators get some mileage aca­dem­i­cally or in the me­dia, none of these in­no­va­tive prod­ucts or con­cepts have been com­mer­cialised or put to proper use.

So, does that put a ques­tion mark on the qual­ity of innovations in this coun­try or is there a miss­ing link be­tween the innovations and their com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion?

There is a prob­lem, ad­mit ex­perts. While some blame the pri­vate cor­po­rate sec­tor for lack of in­ter­est, pa­tience and en­trepreneur­ship in com­ing for­ward and bridg­ing the gap be­tween the lab and the mar­ket, oth­ers say the innovations do not have an earth-shat­ter­ing im­pact.

Vi­jay P Bhatkar, a se­nior com­puter sci­en­tist who is also chair­man of the Board of Gov­er­nors of the pres­ti­gious In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and known as the ar­chi­tect of the PARAM se­ries of Su­per­com­put­ers, says, “An idea which is non-ob­vi­ous, sug­gests a new func­tion and ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tion and which hasn’t been dealt with in the past is an in­no­va­tion. Now if I judge innovations com­ing out from our in­sti­tu­tions on these grounds, only 2% of them are innovations. The rest of them are ei­ther copy­ing of con­cepts or just an av­er­age think­ing.”

Anil Wali, di­rec­tor, Foun­da­tion of In­no­va­tion and Tech­nol­ogy Trans­fer (FITT), IIT Delhi, says, “There is no dearth of cre­ative minds in this coun­try, but, un­for­tu­nately, we have not been able to cap­ture them to an op­ti­mum level. How­ever, in spite of a whole lot of copy-paste work in the name of innovations, we still have some re­mark­able cre­ative work be­ing pro­duced by var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions.”

So what about the con­ver­sion ra­tio of even these 2% of innovations into mar­ketable prod­ucts? Ex­perts like Wali feel that if the in­no­va­tion is com­mer­cially vi­able from the user’s per­spec­tive, there are lots of tak­ers in the mar­ket. “In­no­va­tion that is suc­cess­ful in the lab may not be eco­nom­i­cally vi­able or the right prod­uct for the mar­ket. For ex­am­ple, sup­pose some­one comes out with a di­ag­no­sis kit for a deadly dis­ease which is not avail­able in the mar­ket, I am sure the in­dus­try will come out to ac­cept it,” says Wali.

Do sci­en­tific minds re­quire more sup­port from the in­dus­tries? “In­dus­tries, most of the time, show a keen in­ter­est in new de­vel­oped tech­nol­ogy but are hes­i­tant to in­vest money in the same as they are skep­ti­cal about its suc­cess. This ne­ces­si­tates the in­ter­ven­tion of the gov­ern­ment to fa­cil­i­tate the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of new tech­nolo­gies,” says VK Jain, a di­rec­tor, Amity In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Re­search and Stud­ies (ma­te­ri­als and de­vices).

Sci­en­tists see the ben­e­fits of these innovations in build­ing in­no­vat­ing ca­pac­ity among students and fac­ulty at the in­sti­tu­tion level but ef­fort to part­ner with ap­pro­pri­ate in­dus­try which could ex­actly ad­dress mar­ket and con­sumer needs is com­pletely miss­ing.

“It takes time and good ef­forts to bridge the in­no­va­tion to a mar­ketable prod­uct. Many times, in­dus­tries do not have enough pa­tience to un­dergo this time-con­sum­ing cy­cle,” says A Balachan­dran, gen­eral man­ager, Tech­nol­ogy Busi­ness In­cu­ba­tor at Vel­lore In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

One of the land­mark achieve­ments in the di­rec­tion of bridg­ing the gap be­tween lab innovations and their mar­ketable pro­duc­tion has been the es­tab­lish­ment of Tech­nol­ogy Busi­ness In­cu­ba­tors (TBI) by the gov­ern­ment.

TBI es­sen­tially help star­tups dur­ing their early stage of the ven­ture cre­ation process. They pro­vide sub­sidised of­fice space, ac­cess to cam­pus fa­cil­i­ties for prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, test­ing and tri­als, test mar­ket­ing, men­tor­ing and seed fund­ing. There are over 50 TBIs in the coun­try at the mo­ment.

But this ini­tia­tive is con­sid­ered just one pos­i­tive step as a lot de­pends on co­op­er­a­tion from the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

Bhatkar sees lack of en­trepreneur­ship as one of the ma­jor prob­lems in the way of con­ver­sion of ideas into prod­ucts. “Our sci­en­tists can in­no­vate but then en­trepreneurs have to com­mer­cialise and mar­ket that in­no­va­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, they don’t want to take that risk,” he adds.

One of the sug­ges­tions that PB Sharma, vice chan­cel­lor, Delhi Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, puts for­ward is to in­volve the in­dus­try at the early stages of in­no­va­tion, “oth­er­wise we continue to lose such great op­por­tu­ni­ties of tak­ing col­lege innovations to prod­ucts for the masses,” he says.

Pradeep Ku­mar, chair­man, Delhi Col­lege of Tech­nol­ogy & Man­age­ment, en­dorses this, adding, “Take the in­dus­try into con­fi­dence for a par­tic­u­lar in­no­va­tion and en­cour­age them to fi­nance at least 40% of the cost of project. In coun­ties like the United States, col­leges and the in­dus­tries co­or­di­nate closely on such mat­ters.”

“Wider sen­si­ti­sa­tion pro­grammes through the in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions like FICCI, CII etc, and by cre­at­ing an on­line in­no­va­tion ex­change por­tal where in­no­va­tors are made to meet the needy in­dus­tries could be the be­gin­ning steps,” says Balachan­dran.

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