Archive for November, 2012


NAGPUR: More than ten lakh final year engineering students across the country come up with innovative projects and at least half that number from healthcare and pharmacy colleges as well. However, most of these projects remain on paper despite their huge commercial and social prospects.

This is what prompted Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad’s professor Anil Gupta to come up with the idea of assimilating all these projects and ideas on a virtual platform. Thus was born Techpedia, an open source portal much like the one it gets its name from, where anybody can put up information, edit it or even ask for help on some problem. The site, in fact, lists various problems from fields as diverse as agriculture and hotel management to which anybody can post a solution. The portal, that has been active since 2008, was presented to the engineers from NITs at the NIT conclave being hosted by the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) in city. 

Speaking to the students through video chat, Gupta expressed a desire to improve the society through engineering. He also stressed that these students could help spread education and knowledge to the underprivileged children in vernacular languages to help them come up with their own innovations.

Hiranmaya Mahantha, a former student of NIT Surat who played a key role in building Techpedia, calls the portal as a national laboratory that uses the students for social transformation and forms clusters of innovators. “A majority of the one lakh projects posted on the site are contributed by students from IITs and NITs. However, even students who cannot afford to or cannot get into these colleges have benefitted from the portal,” he said.

The technical universities of states like Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra also support theforum, having sent circulars to their respective colleges to list the projects that their students work on on the website.

Giving examples of how the site can be useful, Techpedia co-ordinator Yash Saxena said, “most Indian farmers have small land holdings and so cannot afford to use tractors. In 1994, an innovator built a bullock-based tractor to solve this problem. For 18 years now, there has been no improvement on the design and capacity of its engine. Another person from Biharcame up with the idea of improving the pressure cooker to use as an espresso machine. These innovations have only been known in the areas they were developed, though popularizing them would benefit millions of farmers and tea sellers.” This bridge between innovations and its popularization is filled by Techpedia, he said. It also opens the city-bred youngsters to the problems being faced by the rural and poor people of the country, he said.

The site also allows people to pose a new problems that the members can rack their brains to solve. Several companies have sought help of the young engineers for their unique problems.No doubt, then, that professor Gupta calls Techpedia “a breeding ground for generating ideas of future”.

 

R.A.Mashelkar-Former D-CSIR-Some Of The Missing Policies That Would Have Bought Progress To India .

Techpedia.in ( http://www.techpedia.in ) :  A portal of technology projects by students to link the needs of industry and grassroots innovators  with young minds and to promote collaborative research 

 

 There are about six lacs technology students who spend at least six months in their final year for doing a project.   And yet, nobody knows the fate of these projects.  There is no requirement from UGC or AICTE that every student put at least the summary of their project on a national portal ( some day it will become obligatory for every student to do so before they graduate). Neither the problems of small and tiny industries are posed to the students nor get the good projects of the students used by the industries.   The grassroots innovations already developed in the informal sector also do not get an opportunity for being valorized by these students. 

 

What will such a portal do: promote originality, and eliminate incentives to purchase the projects from third party vendors. The problem is that once a technical mind cuts corners and gets projects done by outsiders, he/she may not have compunction to cut any corner in future. At the same time, every time a person solves a real life problem, he/she becomes a better human being.

 

Further, the students cannot create a relay or kho kho model of project development by building upon each other’s ideas without a portal  of such projects. Let us say, an idea which came to a particular stage at place ‘a’ could be taken forward to next stage in place ‘b’ and then further developed at ‘c’ and may be in a few cycles, it will become a product. Let us hope that through our collective efforts, at least one per cent projects will lead to 6000 new and innovative products in 2009. This portal will promote originality and give stimulus for the investment in such startups promoting entrepreneurship.

 Incentives can be given to the students who work in teams within the institutions or across the institutions to address the problems of micro and small enterprises

  By creating a techpedia, we are trying to  solve these problems and also identify the centres of excellence among thousands of so called B or C level technology institutions [apart from similar hotspots in “A” Class institutions].  Ranking by the peers and by the experts will also generate information about places where inspired teachers have guided innovative projects.  The experts can be of two kinds, one by invitation and the other on one’s own. Their comments will enhance confidence and also indicate direction in which the said technology can be taken forward. Prospective employers will go to such Hotspots of creativity and hire young bright students, at the same time companies which wish to outsource problems could also approach such inspired teachers. The http://www.techpedia.in might create market for such hidden, less recognized but outstanding centers of excellence in various technology colleges. There is a need to allocate more space and resources to such colleges, students from where really stay in the country, and join manufacturing sector, giving the real growth impulse to our country.

 Similarly, incentives and awards can be given to the students who find outstanding low cost process and products options for the industry or add value to grassroots innovations or develop business plans to become entrepreneur based on technologies developed by them or other students.  See SRISTI YuvaYantriki Awards announcement below. Last year, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam gave the awards to such engineering students at a function held at IIMA on Nov 26, 2008 along with children innovators, part of Ignite 08.

 Retired scientists, professionals  and technopreneurs can be engaged to mentor a mission to mentor the country wide half a million small enterprises through such students.  This initiative has already been started with the help of student volunteers from Pune,  Delhi, Bangalore, and the faculty and students  from SVNIT, Surat.  

 

Entrepreneurs in Micro and Small-scale industry cannot often hire experts from top institutions and this could become one way for getting their problems solved.  They could motivate students to tackle their problems. This will also reinforce linkage between academia and industry as well as informal sector. Large number of technical problems has remained unaddressed in our villages, towns and slums. Who will sponsor their problems to the top technology institutions? How will these problems be addressed unless we motivate the young tech students? We have to harness idealism still available among young hearts.

We could in due course post technology challenges from large companies in private and public also at such a portal so that simultaneous attempt is made by many students at cracking their problems. Their advantage will be  that (i) they will learn about multiple heuristics aimed at solving same  problem, (ii) identify bright young students who they could hire for their in house R and D projects, and (iii) strengthen departments in which promising mentoring and guidance is being provided. Today the top institutions get far more attention even when we know that Chandrayan Moon Mission of ISRO  and Tata Nano did not have any one practically from so called top institutions. It is not that these Top institutions do not deserve support. They do. But not just that they do. We have to develop distributed capacity for nurturing talent in hundreds of small towns and villages through a network of large number of second and third tier of Institutions. Many of these institutions may have top quality departments of specific subjects which will be uncovered through Techpedia.sristi.org. Synergy between all kinds of technology institutions will emerge in due course.

 

India can become an innovation based incubator of the world. Ideas from all over the world may come to India for incubation, product development, design  and fabrication.  Let us pool our spirit and resources to make this happen.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Announcement of a Design Competition

Mahatma Gandhi’s Announcement of a Design Competition, 24th July 1929 One Lakh Rupees or 7700 Pounds Prize!

 

Akhila Bharatiya Charkhaa Sangh Workers’ Samiti has decided to organize this contest for inventors and engineers all over the world that if they could come up with a Charkha or a Samyukta Yantra which – for making the thread and cloth that satisfies the following criterion – shall be awarded prize money of 1 Lakh Rupees or 7700 pounds.

The Criteria

  1. Charkha must be light-weighted, easy to move, and it should be in such a way so as to be operated using either hand or one’s leg in a natural way in the rural cottages of India.
  2. It must be in such a way that a lady shall be able to work with it for eight hours at a stretch without great effort put in.
  3. Either Charkhas must have a build to accommodate the use of a puni (used to make handspun cloth) or along with the charkha there must be a way to handspun cloth.
  4. On working with the charkha for eight hours at a continuous stretch – it should result in 12 to 20 numbers of 16000 feet yarn.
  5. The machine should be so designed such that it costs no more than Rs. 150 in producing it in India only.
  6. The machine should be strong and well-made and with time-to-time servicing it should be capable of running for at least 20 years without any stopping. Servicing of the machine should not cost much and every year not more than 5% of the cost of the machine that year shall be needed for servicing.
  7. All those taking part in this contest may, with their own input costs and expenses, send their machines to Sabarmati Ashram before or not later than 30th October, 1930. In case the machines satisfy the criterion mentioned – then the inventor/designer can patent it on his name to protect their rights on them. But, if they wish to become eligible to win the prize money of the contest, then the designer shall have to transfer the rights of the patent to Indian Charkha Sangh Council.
  8. The Judges for the Contest shall be Khadi Pratishtan’s Sri Satish Chandra Das Gupta, Bardoli Swarajya Ashram’s Technical Director Sri Lakshmidas Purushottam and Tiruchengonduu Gandhi Ashram’s Director Sri Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari. In case there is no consensus amongst the judges on the winner – Gandhiji’s decision shall be the final one. In case of Gandhiji’s absence Akhil Bharat Charkha Sangh Mantri Sri Shankar Laal Banker shall be the final decision-maker.

All questions and queries may be addressed to Mantri, Akhil Bharat Charkha Sangh, Mirzapur, and Ahmedabad.”

 

Present value about Rs. 10 crore. Do we lack the resources? Why do we live with the problems unsolved for so long ?

The technology marketplace can be ruthless. Electrical engineering professor Preeti Rao woke up to it two years ago, when she went looking for a licensee for a melody extraction technology from her lab at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Large phone makers showed interest, but the terms they offered were far from fair. They wanted to own the intellectual property (IP). Not willing to let go the ownership of technology which has broad applications in the digital audio space, Rao and her students decided to set up SensiBol Audio Technologies. Today, they are courted by a handful of music and entertainment companies for acquisition or strategic investment. 

As he narrates the SensiBol story, Sushanto Mitra, chief executive of the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at IIT-B, doesn’t hide his happiness. For the last five years, his job has been to encourage academics on the campus to identify opportunities in their labs to set up ventures. 

Unlike in the US, where technology buyers abound, Indian companies have often licensed technologies from abroad, even copied them, but never bought or co-developed with researchers. So the only way left for an inventor to take his idea forward is to tailor it to the market himself, he says. 

Since early last decade, the money spent on science and technology has increased manifold (from about $1.5 billion in 2002 to about $3 billion in 2011; it will reach $8 billion in 2017). “Research output is higher. Because there are not enough buyers, researchers are getting frustrated; they will be compelled to take their work to the market. You’ll see more of this happening,” says Soumyo Mukherji of the department of biomedical engineering at IIT-B. He has co-founded NanoSniff to commercialise cardiac diagnostics (see pg 61).

These are early but promising signs, says Mitra. “When some of these [academics] become millionaires and ride Porsches, the wives of others will needle them to go in this direction,” he jokes.

A serious stab at this change was taken eight-nine years ago when HP Khincha, head of the Society for Innovation and Development at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, floated the idea of faculty entrepreneurship with funding agencies. Subsequently, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research sent out a circular that academics choosing to start companies could go on a sabbatical and rejoin their institutions at the same position.

Different institutions responded differently. The IITs made it easier for the faculty to file patents, take equity, and set up incubators. At IIT-B, academics get 70 percent of the proceeds of commercialisation that comes to the institute. In case of IP transfer to the startup, the institute doesn’t get in the way, but opts for equity. Some institutions even proactively scan the submitted PhD theses for potential IP. Private universities like the Vellore Institute of Technology are reducing the teaching load of academics if they start a company.

Khincha believes this will bring a cultural change in institutions. Academics will look at their research with an application lens. It will positively impact student-professor relationship, not just churn out conforming professionals. 

The industry will benefit if these stories goad them to factor sponsored or collaborative research as a key input to their business decision, says Mitra. 

Others believe it can teach a thing or two to teachers as well. “The scientific community is small…Setting up a venture is the best way to learn and grow. Venture capitalists are incredibly smart people and know things which I, sitting as a director, would never know,” says Rajesh Gokhale, director of Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, who’s co-founded Vyome Biosciences. 

But the defining benefit of this process, says Khincha, is that it’ll bring “acceptance of failure”. This was earlier not possible with government money since there is no mechanism to undertake risky ventures or write off failed ones. 

“The government is not in the business of risk-taking, whereas, as investors, we think of risks right from the start,” says Sandeep Singhal, co-founder of Nexus Venture Partners. Nexus has led two rounds of funding at Sedemac from IIT-B. He sees change occurring at various levels. Companies, big and small, are looking for cutting edge technology and IP, which will eventually lead them to collaborate with academics. There is also a lot more “education and push from the government to make accessible the possibilities of commercialisation”.

There may not be a central rule governing all institutions, but improved funding and infrastructure have raised expectations. When the research budget was Rs 20 lakh, you published papers, but when it’s Rs 20 crore, you don’t publish 100x papers. At IIT-B, which has at least half a dozen faculty-led enterprises, there’s some amount of peer pressure to start a company, says V Ramgopal Rao, who has co-founded NanoSniff. 

The recent explosion in student innovation plan competitions is another trigger. Many students involve their professors. The investor sees a long-distance runner in a professor and is happy to attach more value to such ventures.  In August, the entire top management of ICICI Bank assembled to evaluate innovation proposals from students. The bank has tied up with 100 engineering colleges in India in its search for innovative solutions in banking and financial services, including ATM technology. While multinationals like Microsoft, IBM and Intel have been honing entrepreneurial talent on campuses, a few Indian companies are joining them. 

Still, there’s no substitute for experience; no, not even talent-exuding youth. It’s known that if you stay in a research area long enough, you get insights into limitations of current technology. That opens up new business opportunities for researchers.  

To bring you this special package, we’ve combed each of the premier technology institutes across the country and handpicked a set of ventures that reflect the diversity of opportunities on offer. By no means is it a flood of ideas turning into enterprise as yet. With support from private venture capital (VC), these academics are now starting to tread into new product territory. 

If government money is available, startups should take it. After all, VC money comes with “strings attached”, says Kumar Shiralagi, managing director at IndoUS Venture Partners (IUVP) in India. After having funded 20-odd startups in India since 2007, IUVP backed its first academic-led startup in August. “The VC industry itself is just about 10 years old in India. It’s now beginning to attract academics. When other professors see this, they will come too.