Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Now, IITs become fertile ground for faculty startups

A new wave of startups are springing up across the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) with faculty members turning entrepreneurs. Dozens of faculty members from IITs in Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Kharagpur and Hyderabad are now working on startups either by themselves or collaboratively with students.

Ravikrishnan Elangovan (33), joined IIT Delhi's department of biochemical engineering and biotechnology as assistant professor in 2010. He met Vivekanandan Perumal and Shalini Gupta, both of whom had also just joined the institute as faculty members after their post-doctoral degrees from the US. The trio wanted to develop a solution for typhoid diagnosis, put up a proposal with the department of biotechnology in 2013 and got funded.

Faculty floating new companies is an integral part of the academia-entrepreneurship intersection in the US, especially in places like Stanford and MIT. But the trend is slowly gaining momentum here.

Nineteen startups with faculty as shareholders were founded in 2014-15 in IIT-Madras, as compared to 11 such companies in 2013-14. "We are witnessing an increasing trend of joint collaboration between faculty members and their current and graduated students, with research being translated into commercial ventures/companies," says Tamaswati Ghosh, CEO, IIT-M Incubation Cell.

IIT-Madras has so far spawned 16 startups that have been founded or co-founded by faculty. Thirty of the 89 tech start-ups birthed at the institute have faculty members as founders or minority shareholders.

Planys Tech, Air OK Tech, Daksha Imaging, Yrs Intuitions are some examples. About 40% of startups incubated at IIT-Bombay's Society for Innovation & Entrepreneurship are faculty-student projects, says Milind Atrey, professor-incharge, SINE.

iKen Solutions by RM Sonar from School of Management, Zeus Numerix by GR Shevere from Department of Aerospace Engineering and Vegayan Systems by Girish Saraf are some examples of faculty-promoted start-ups that graduated out of SINE. Sensibol, NanoSniff Technologies and kWatt Solutions are among such companies currently being incubated at SINE. "There has been an increase in faculty interest in entrepreneurship ventures," says PVM Rao, professor, mechanical engineering department of IIT-Delhi.

Investors find it easier to trust faculty-led start-ups. They also play a key role in creating a culture of entrepreneurship, encouraging more students to take the same route. "The collaborative entrepreneurial venture provides a space for students and faculty to combine their perspectives, lean on each other, and build something larger than what would otherwise be possible by either party," says Anil Prabhakar, professor, IIT-Madras, department of electrical engineering. He is also the founder of Unilumen Photonics and co-founder of Enability Foundation For Rehabilitation.

At IIT-Kharagpur, though the first such registration for a joint venture between a faculty member and a student happened way back in 2007, such instances have gained momentum only recently. "For the past two to three years, we're getting registrations from three to four such companies each year," says PP Das, head of Rajendra Mishra School of Engineering Entrepreneurship at IIT-Kharagpur. One more such company — in the Internet security business — is likely to get registered next month.

"Research can't be taken to people unless it's entrepreneurial," says Das. "Most of these ventures are in information and communication technology, education through IT, or making educational materials or software development consulting. The remaining are in healthcare or in biotechnology."

Even the newer IITs are witnessing a similar trend. IIT-Hyderabad has two successful startups which are joint ventures between students and faculty — Plianto Technologies and AR solutions. A few more are in pipeline, says Sobhan Babu, professor, department of computer science and engineering at IIT-Hyderabad and founder of Plianto Technologies.

Source: The Economic Times, June 23, 2015

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