Sparking innovation and IP in Telangana

By: Soonya

A society becomes powerful only through innovation and development of technology.

Prof Indiresan who was a director of one of the IITs opined that India was subjugated at different points of time by invaders who either had access to better technology or better strategy. He believes that the Aryans with their chariots and horses could conquer local people. He believed that Babur had a few cannons and better archers who could conquer and defeat Lodi.

Again the same is true of the British, with their powerful navy and guns could control almost the whole world. Today we see the same happening with US wielding enormous power and resources thanks to their lead in technology and Intellectual Property.

If Telangana were to be at the forefront of developed states, she needs to invest heavily in research in universities, which can be commercialized. MIT alone boasts of billion dollars of industry paved by innovations from their students and professors.

As I mentioned in an earlier post that we need at least 10 world-class institutions. It takes good amount of money, commitment and freedom for the institutions.

It is not enough to create islands of excellence like one ISB or one IIM – again these are national institutions which invite students at the national level and hardly contribute to the local economy except the very local village economy – some chaiwallahs, hotels and some stationary and photocopying shops. It is a false pride to say that we have these institutions. While I do welcome them, I am not enamored of them.

The investments ought to be in the universities that we already have. We must identify at least 5 departments in each university, which have the potential to become national level institutions in a short time and become global level in about a decade.

For example Osmania at a point of time was known for its Chemistry department where 30% of all JRF used to be cornered by OU students at the national level!

We must leverage the principle of mass. World-class research can only happen when we create some excess. We can’t make a department world-class by being miserly on funds. There must be sufficient professors and researchers in each department.

Where education is concerned, especially where teachers are concerned we should not go by the son-of-the-soil principle. An average or poor professor will make students suffer for 35 years! We must get the best the country or the world has to offer. If we get caught in the ‘SOS’ principle, he or she will further damage by recruiting people much worse than themselves. And the institution goes on a downward spiral.

We must learn the best practices from some of the best universities in the world.

The designated departments ought to have a surfeit of professors who must have enough time for research and must be encouraged to develop research that the country needs. By getting world-class professors the local professors a generation later can take over.

We must find 10 world-class institutes to collaborate with the local university. Let us say a Warwick must help us build manufacturing science.

We must get these universities to tie up with some of the best from the world. May be MIT, may be Cornell, may be an Italian university or a Swedish one or for that matter a German one, who knows a Japanese one? We must get them as long as they are the best in their business. The mandate is for them to create IP.

Unfortunately we as a country failed to create such ‘engines’ of growth. For example, it is a shame that the Jaipur foot was improved with a bendable knee made of metal hinge by an American! An MIT student developed a better ‘tricycle’ for physically challenged persons. Where are our IITs and our universities?

It is infra-dig for Indians to work with their hands. We must change it in Telangana. We must respect and celebrate our artisans and others who do magic with their hands. The weavers, the potters, the metal workers, the carpenters, the masons, they must be valued and celebrated.

We must create a Sarasvati-Laxmi-Viswakarma temple so that people value knowledge, technology and wealth as a result of it. Apart from celebrating our courage inspired from Sammakka and a Saraalakka.

Our IITs and other centers of excellence seem to be factories for creating work force for the global companies. While we are proud that a Hyderabadi became the CEO of Microsoft, how come a Microsoft is not in India? Or for that matter a Google or others? What does it take to create a climate for such innovative technology companies to be born here? That is a moot question.

Every tech university ought to have a business school. So that a Scot McNealy can meet a Vinod Khosla to create a SUN type of company.

While one must encourage world-class core science research, we must also develop and focus on technologies, which are useful to the world.

How come we do not have much technology to process millets? And to increase their shelf-life? I am sure there are many more questions that our universities and institutions of higher learning have to answer.

Hope the new Telangana state will create such universities which not only provide answers but become beacons of excellence in what they do and set examples and benchmarks to the rest of India.

While these measures may yield results in the long term, say 10 to 30 years, we ought to encourage our Engineering colleges to have or build a Tech-Shop equivalent, where would be innovators/entrepreneurs can build their products or work on their ideas and those that have potential the state should get them manufactured on a smaller scale to test if they have the potential to scale. And the state can get some stakes in the company, and for every 100 companies 5 might make the grade and one might get a killer app, and when they go public, the state can recover the investments to invest further in other start-ups!

We must dream for the next 30 years. That may sound preposterous. Some of us may not live that long. Who cares? The person who planted tree may not see the fruits in his life time but his children or grand-children will enjoy the fruits. And we should not allow either politicians or bureaucrats to mess with the vision.

Another dream folks!

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