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Innovation Incubator

As Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay gets set to establish a research park on its Powai campus this year, we take a look at what makes this premier engineering college the most sought after by aspiring engineers and tech entrepreneurs

Published: 03rd March 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd March 2014 06:34 PM   |  A+A-

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After completing his graduation from Kumaon Engineering College, Uttaranchal-born Nitin Joshi joined the premier Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay for his masters and a subsequent postdoctoral degree in 2008. In an environment that gave wings to his ideas, Joshi found himself realising his dream sooner than expected. After researching for over four years, Joshi became the first Indian to devise a method to administer two anti-cancer drugs non-invasively — a method unknown in India. He got his work patented in 2011, and believes it will have a huge impact on cancer patients. “There are increasing numbers of lung cancer patients who undergo either surgery or chemotherapy and have to then suffer its side-effects. But my invention has no side-effects, as the nanostructures are made from lipids, which are part of our body, and act as nutrition,” says the 30-year-old alumni, who is today a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, US.

Joshi’s is just one success story in the exhaustive list of innovations credited to IIT-B. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has, therefore, in-principle approved a research park and set an outer limit of Rs 400 crore where the initial phase will require almost Rs 100 crore. The research park will be set in a 2,000 square feet building, where companies will set up their R&D units. These companies, whose founders need not necessarily be from an IIT, will also get an opportunity to interact with IIT faculty. Incubators will also get space in the research park to nurture startups.

Research is the key

“The institute has been active in education and research in science, engineering and design over the past 53 years. We were able to attract research grants worth Rs 270 crore from external agencies last year. In 2012-13, 94 patents were filed, and Indian trademark and design and copyright registered by the Institute, a rise of nearly 400 per cent from 2008-09, in which 19 were filed. In 2013-14, already 89 patents have been filed. Almost all the patents filed by IIT-Bombay pertain to students, in addition to faculty contributors,” says Prof Devang V Khakhar, Director, IIT-B.

Considered one of the best engineering institutes in India, IIT-Bombay, leads the pack with one of the largest number of startups coming out of its Powai campus. With worthwhile innovations such as Biosensors for Health Monitoring, Biomolecule Immobilisation on Epoxy Surfaces, Polymer-Based Sensor for Monitoring Water Quality, Silicon Locket for Cardiac Monitoring, Consultancy Services for Orthopaedic Implants, Instruments and Surgery Planning, Electrodiagnostics for the Neuromuscular System, Improved Bio-implants, Optical Support Device for the Visually Impaired, Bio-reactor for Recycling of Waste Water, Low Cost Motorised Arm, a Walking Robot, Software for Railway Operations Management and an Efficient Method for Cleaning Clothes; their list is long and exhaustive.

Interestingly, it was in the past three years that R&D receipts grew at a high cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42 per cent. During 2012-13 R&D receipts (`293.5 crores) grew by 54 per cent compared to the previous year (`189.9 crores).

Prof Khakhar said that as part of creating and upgrading infrastructure for enabling research and development, the institute has continually upgraded to state-of-the-art equipment, through a process of review and recommendation by the Research Infrastructure Funding Committee (RIFC). Under this initiative, procurement of 10 new equipment worth nearly `25 crores using institute funds was sanctioned during this financial year.

Additionally, all students involved in research at the institute are given an opportunity to interact with the research community at the national and international levels by providing them with funds to attend international conferences. While the research scholars are the primary beneficiary of this scheme, some other PG students (including those doing dual degree courses) and UG students have also benefited. Khakhar adds, “During the academic year 2012-13, 254 students were granted financial assistance for attending international conferences as against 160 for the previous year.”

With an enviable list of alumni including Nandan M Nilekani (BTech, 1978), Chairman, UID; Jairam Ramesh (BTech, 1975), Union Minister; Bharat Desai, Chairman and Co-founder, Syntel; Romesh Washwani, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Symphony Technology Group, US; Pramod Chaudhari, Founder Chairman, Praj Industries; Shailesh Jain Mehta, Managing General Partner, Granite Hill Capital Partner; D Udaya Kumar, Designer of Rupee Symbol; and Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa, the institute today has, deservingly so, acquired the position among the top five best quality engineering institutes in India (Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World Asian Universities Ranking for 2013 gave it 39th position).

It’s about quality, not quantity

As a major player in producing qualified and competent students, the institute it seems is keen on maintaining its long standing reputation as a quality education provider. It has been on its toes to deliver the very best. “It is ensured that the overall learning experience of the students is of international standards. This is because we have a very good faculty to student ratio (1:13 approx). Plus, the best of faculty is attracted and retained. More than 98 per cent of our faculty members are PhD holders with several publications to their credit.  Several of them have international education and work experience to their credit,” says Khakhar. 

Set up in 1958, over the last five decades, more than 42,000 engineers and scientists have graduated from the institute. It is served by more than 600 faculty members. “Today the institute is recognised as one of the centres of academic excellence in the country.  Among 15 IITs in the country, 67 of the top 100 rank holders in JEE 2013 have joined IIT Bombay, as also eight of the top 10 All-India JEE rank holders. It is a similar trend with candidates qualifying in other entrance examinations as well.

Over the years, there has been dynamic progress at IIT-Bombay in both academic and research activities, including a parallel improvement in facilities and infrastructure to keep it on par with the best institutions in the world,” says Rashmi Uday Kumar, Head, Publications at IIT-Bombay.

Community learning

It was reported this February that the institute will establish an entrepreneurship centre on its premises, with funds received from Syntel co-founders Bharat Desai and Neerja Sethi, under the aegis of the Desai Sethi Family Foundation (DS Foundation).

The new centre, to be named Desai Sethi Centre for Entrepreneurship, will foster entrepreneurship and technology innovation through new programmes for education and research, multi-disciplinary courses, research labs and partnerships. It will also enable students be mentored by teachers at IIT-Bombay and guest faculty from global institutions. Talking about the centre at the institute’s entrepreneurship summit Khakhar said, “The entrepreneurship centre will enable IIT-B to become the hub of entrepreneurship in the region, similar to role played by Stanford University in Silicon Valley.”

The institute now seems to be working on the lines of established universities abroad with cells and centres established to cater to the technological and innovation needs of the country.  The Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), for instance, has been established as an umbrella for promotion of entrepreneurship at IIT-Bombay. It administers a business incubator, which provides support for technology-based entrepreneurship, and facilitates the conversion of research activity into entrepreneurial ventures.

SINE has so far incubated 46 companies. This year SINE hosted 14 companies, of which four have graduated. The existing companies are from various fields, such as education, clean tech, mechatronics, audio technologies, nanotechnology, engineering software, geometric simulation for foundries, and marketing solutions for retail network. Additionally, the Student Mentor Programme has been operating successfully for several years at IIT-Bombay.

“The programme provides a support structure for undergraduates, which is targeted largely at first and second year students, and is essentially managed by the senior students under the supervision of a faculty coordinator. This programme has been extended to mentor needy senior students at the department level,” says a student of the programme.

Nestled between the hills and lakes of Powai and Vihar, the institute is moving towards a new era of innovation, where ideas are encouraged to be converted into proofs of concepts and leaders encouraged to take risks.

— deepshikha@newindianexpress.com



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