IIT Madras has had a long history of working closely with the industry, from the setting up of the Centre for Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research (IC&SR) in 1973 to the creation of the IIT Madras Research Park in 2010. The Research Park is the brainchild of Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of the Electrical Engineering department and Prof. M.S. Ananth, the former Director of IIT Madras. Modeled after research parks at universities such as M.I.T. and Stanford, the IIT-M Research Park houses the R&D wings of several big names in the industry such as Titan, Tata, BHEL and DRDO, which coexist with startups out of IIT-M and elsewhere.
All of them benefit greatly from interactions with the faculty and students at the Institute. Companies related to most departments at IIT Madras have a presence in the Research Park, from ARCI, which works on materials science, to Amada Soft, a major player in the Computer Aided Design software market, which has one of its main R&D centres in the Research Park. Mr. Seshadri from Titan says, “We give students the opportunity to work on actual problems in the industry. We send some students to our manufacturing plant in Hosur where they interact with our engineers and try to come up with innovative solutions. Students are often given process optimization or materials science based problems, and they come from varied backgrounds such as mechanical, chemical, or metallurgical engineering or even computer science.”
Having so many companies to choose from, just a stone’s throw away, means that internships are plentiful for IIT-M students. Staying in your own room, with your workplace just a short cycle ride away and dining facilities available as usual in the messes and at the Research Park as well, allows students to concentrate on their work better, without the inconvenience of commuting to work every day. Students can also work on academic projects in collaboration with R&D centres housed in the Research Park. Arjun Bhagoji, a student from the Electrical Engineering department, says, “ I worked at Reliance IIT-M Telecom Centre of Excellence in the summer after my second year, where I built an ECG signal processing module for a low-cost telemedicine kit to be deployed in rural areas. It was a great experience as I was given the time and space to think on my own and learn a lot of new technical concepts. I stayed in my own room in the hostel the entire summer and it was really convenient, as I could cycle to work in just a few minutes. The working hours were also really flexible.”
A unique blend of academia and industry exists at IIT Madras thanks to the Research Park, which offers an environment unparalleled anywhere else in India. “The fact that the Research Park is full at the moment is very promising. There is a lot more that can be done, but we’ve made a good start.,” says Dr. Ashwin Mahalingam of the Civil Engineering department. “From a student’s perspective, the Research Park is just fantastic. Opportunities abound in terms of internships industry-supported projects and possible jobs. With world-class companies sitting just next door, there’s a lot more that can be done if students are proactive,” he says.
They certainly have great incentive to be proactive. The Indian economy changed fundamentally in 1991 when a long-term economic liberalization process was initiated. An Indian dream, in many ways similar to the American dream, is beginning to take shape. A sense of confidence and positivity is directing many among the youth towards entrepreneurial paths. Innovation is critical to entrepreneurial success and the IITs have long had environments that are conducive to innovation. IIT Madras in particular, has been putting in place measures to position itself as a leading hub for entrepreneurship and innovation in India. Recent news reports have compared the entrepreneurial culture at IIT-M to that at Stanford University in the U.S., whose graduates have started companies like Google and Hewlett-Packard to name just two.
“IIT Madras is one of the best places to find your co-founders, mentors and professors who can put you in touch with industries and real-world problems,” says Vignesh, a final year Computer Science Dual Degree student and one of the co-founders of HyperVerge, a Silicon Valley based startup working in the field of visual data. “After working at the Computer Vision Group of CFI for a couple of years on real-world problems with proven impact, we could not just not startup,” says Vignesh, leading him and four others to start HyperVerge. Like many of the startups emerging from IIT-M, they are housed at the Research Park.