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IIT Madras Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre hosts 4th Annual Symposium

IIT Madras Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre hosts 4th Annual Symposium

IIT Madras’ Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (GDC) organized its fourth Annual GDC Symposium on the theme ‘Igniting the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Academia’ at the campus on 24th Jan 2024.

It focused on issues that prevent adequate focus in policy and programs on creating entrepreneurial mind-set amongst academics and featured scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, and participants by way of faculty, researchers, students and entrepreneurs.

GDC’s successful experience with deep tech start-ups germinating from home-grown STEM research solving India’s hard socio-economic challenges proves that these efforts can be scaled up by 10X to transform the nation. This Annual Symposium seeks to debate how this can be achieved through policy and financial support from the Government and Industry besides the changes in approach towards Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Universities.

Delivering the Keynote Address, Dr. Abhay Karandikar, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, said, “The Anusandhan National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill has been approved by the Indian Parliament. The DST is the nodal Ministry and we are in the process of operationalizing the ANRF. This ANRF has been our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision to upscale our R&D and innovation ecosystem infrastructure in the country. The Mission Governing Board of ANRF is going to be directly chaired by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. We will be notifying it very soon. DST currently funds basic R&D research trough SERB, which will get subsumed into the ANRF. The ANRF will be the primary body for funding R&D Programs, Technology Development Programs, incubation, start-ups and innovation programs in the country. It will be a professionally-managed body with a full-time CEO.”

Dr. Abhay Karandikar added, “It is envisaged in the ANRF Act that there are three kinds of funds. One fund is meant for the pure R&D activities. The Second fund is meant for the activities which use to be carried in the current SERB programs that will be called ‘Science and Engineering Research Fund’. About 10 % of the funds will be allocated for the innovation and entrepreneurship funds. We are really looking for what innovative or disruptive things that we can do in the ANRF which can take the R&D landscape of the country to the next level.”

Further, Dr. Abhay Karandikar said, “Another area where DST is taking lead role is geospatial data. The Government of India has liberalized the Geospatial data access. As part of the Geospatial Data Policy, we are now welcoming the participation of the private sector in this area. We will be setting up a ‘Geospatial Data Exchange and have a universal geospatial interface where the industries can access and share the data. There is big opportunity in terms of Geospatial Data Science and Geospatial Computing.”

GDC has collaborated with about 100 STEM institutions and incubators, supporting and guiding over 375 start-ups. Notably, more than 120 start-ups nurtured through GDC’s programs have gone to market with their innovations, with many securing external funding exceeding Rs. 100 crores. The centre has been funded by grants from three illustrious alumni of IIT Madras – Dr. Gururaj Deshpande, Mrs. Jaishree Deshpande and Mr. ‘Kris’ Gopalakrishnan.

Outlining his vision for GDC, Dr. Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande, Chairman, Sparta Group LLC, and a Distinguished Alumnus Awardee of IIT Madras, said, “If you look at the global economy, 50 years ago it uses to be driven by large companies. But now, all the GDP and GNP are driven by start-ups. To drive an economy, innovation is a central theme of growth and the economy. The US has always been at the forefront. India has the potential. We need deep thinkers, who are the core assets of a high-growth economy. You have to give innovators freedom and that freedom means you let them loose and they have the freedom to do things. That is what knowledge generation is all about.”

Dr. Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande added, “The U.S. National Science Foundation’s I-Corps (Innovation Corps) program looks for successful people who know how the industry works and use their mentorship to enable the innovation to have a bigger impact. It has had such a big impact in the U.S. So far, 2,500 companies have come out of this program and they have gone on to raise about US$ 3.7 billion. This is a huge leverage in making sure that the research money that is being spent in universities has a big impact social and economic impact on the economy. What GDC has done is develop an equivalent of the I-Corps program for India (in the form of I-NCUBATE) and run it in a disciplined fashion and now they have tested it at scale – reaching 100 startup teams a year.”

The GDC was established at IIT Madras in 2017 as a philanthropic initiative with a core objective of fostering innovation in STEM universities across India by facilitating the transformation of scientific research from laboratories to the marketplace through deep tech start-ups.

Delivering a lecture virtually on ‘Role and Potential of Translational Research in India’, Mr. S. ‘Kris’ Gopalakrishnan, Chairman, Axilor Ventures, and a Distinguished Alumnus Awardee of IIT Madras, said, “As India transitions to becoming a developed economy, it is clear that this is an economy that has to be built on Intellectual Property, products and technology that will have impact on the society, that will create wealth, new businesses and create new engines of growth. If you look at how the U.S. has developed in the last century, it was about 1.9 per cent of global economy at the beginning of the 20th Century and became 19 per cent of Global GDP by the end of the 20th Century. For me, the manufacturing of products in the first half and in the second half, the development of the IT Industry, the computer Industry, the knowledge industry, and the combination of research, entrepreneurship and industry working together drove the growth of U.S. We need to have that kind of ecosystem built in India. Fortunately, we have world-class scientists. I was looking at one data point which said that 25 leaders of businesses in the U.S. of Indian origin and they together contribute US$ 7 trillion of value.”

Congratulating GDC on entering its fifth year, Mr. S. ‘Kris’ Gopalakrishnan added, “We are transitioning from fossil fuel to electric vehicles and in this transition, battery technology becomes very important. Many of the devices, appliances and automobiles are transitioning to lithium-ion batteries. This technology is imported, it is not made in India and other countries have led in here. We do not have access to mineral deposits of lithium. In India, our laboratories have been working on sodium ion battery technologies and some of the labs already have developed small prototypes. Sodium is available in abundance does not have the same impact on environment that extracting lithium has and is seen as a better technology. This is where the transition from lab to market becomes very important. Do you have unique IP here that can be protected? Do you know which application will bring the benefit faster? How do you actually package this such that it can be commercialized and becomes economically viable, that you can create a profitable business around it. How do you create a manufacturable product around this? How do you collaborate with an industry partner because you need to create an ecosystem to manufacture this product. All of these things are what the ‘lab to market’ transition is all about.”

A national priority increasingly recognised by policymakers in India is the need to enable a higher share of translational scientific research from Indian academia to reach the market and create a positive socio-economic impact at scale.

India has 4,000+ STEM colleges, with several producing world-class research but punching well below their height in impact. India needs many more scientists, faculty, and researchers from its STEM colleges to join hands with industry and entrepreneurs to create more home-grown deep-tech startups to solve the nation’s complex problems unique to a billion+ Indians.

Speaking on the role of ‘Role of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in IIT Madras’, Prof. Mahesh Panchagnula Dean (Alumni & Corporate Relations), IIT Madras, said, “The mandate of GDC is to take ideas that have been created in the lab and flesh them out in sufficient detail that the market would find then interesting. At the end of the day, the market is the validator. You make products that the market will buy. This idea of translating research from the lab to the world is not new to India. India has always been a knowledge producer for thousands of years and India has always also been a knowledge consumer for the benefits of the greater society.”

Speaking on ‘Scaling a Lab to Market Movement in India: From 50 to 1000 STEM colleges and labs’, Prof Krishnan Balasubramanian, Professor In-Charge, GDC-IIT Madras, said, “GDC has completed five years of its service to the nation in building the ecosystem of ‘lab to market’. We have close to 300+ registered participants for this one-day symposium. Most importantly, we have select 12 companies that are alumni of GDC who have exhibited their products today.”

Despite enjoying significant technological access, one of the reasons for the low commercialisation of translational research in India is the high failure rate that early-stage STEM-based innovations face. Two principal reasons for such high failure rates are

(1) Inadequate entrepreneurial skills in STEM faculty and researchers, and

(2) Lack of understanding among founders of how businesses work. Hence, even with sufficient financial grants to develop their technologies, they cannot take forward their innovations holistically.

In GDC’s experience in interacting with 375+ deep-tech startups, the absence of these specific capabilities amongst academics and scientists is a fundamental barrier and a significant cause for the low level of commercialisation of research in India.

Elaborating on ‘Lighting the spark of Entrepreneurship in Academia’, Mr. Raghuttama Rao, CEO, GDC, said, “At the early stage of moving science from the lab to the market, two things are probably not well recognized. One of them is “inadequate understanding of becoming an Entrepreneur”. Entrepreneurship is a non-cognitive ability, which means it is something inherently present (or developed) within a person and cannot be taught in classrooms. It is a trait that can be kindled and honed through disciplined effort. You learn it experientially by seeing others do it and doing it yourself. GDC has trained 375+ teams across 75 institutions and worked with 288 professors; About 30% of our participants are women. GDC does not take stakes or shares in the start-ups we support, and we provide the training free of charge.”

To overcome the lack of an entrepreneurial mindset amongst academics, there is a need to vigorously promote and support entrepreneurship training in STEM institutions through policies, schemes, incentives, and financing. Over the past six years, GDC has launched its I-NDUCT, I-NCUBATE, I-NSPIRE, and I-GNITE programs, which have trained over 1,200 academic researchers seeking to establish 350+ start-ups

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