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Technological innovation is of little use if not translated into a viable product or service. And that is exactly what initiatives like TIME IS and FITT are attempting to do—bridging the gap between innovators and the marketplace.
India is witnessing innovative IT businesses mushroom across the country, as indigenous entrepreneurship efforts spur it on to become a global IT player. In this scenario, an endeavour like Technology Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship Information Service (TIME IS)—a joint project of the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board, Department of Science and Technology, government of India, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)—could go a long way in assisting budding entrepreneurs.
A portal (www.techno-preneur.net) launched in 2000, TIME IS has been designed to help innovators who wish to be entrepreneurs by collating information on funding options, the current policy environment, incentive schemes and the industrial infrastructure available in the country through both the central and state governments. Project appraisal methodologies adopted by various financial institutions are also highlighted.
TIME IS stems from the fact that it collates information from all those who have a stake in entrepreneurship —the government, financial institutions, chambers of commerce and industry, research and development organisations, educational institutions, technical training institutions, and the community at large.
Tools for technopreneurs
In a sense, TIME IS paves the way for an IT innovator to turn technopreneur by providing a useful set of online interactive tools and templates. These are useful for developing project profiles, feasibility reports, tax returns, calculating financial and profitability ratios, and estimating the market potential of a new product. Some of TIME IS’ services – offered both online and offline – are free, while others come with a nominal price tag.
TIME IS also identifies potential grassroots technology innovations from major Indian labs and companies for technopreneurs to pick up and convert into commercial projects. Its database contains hundreds of latest technologies from R&D institutions, and other organisations relating to various technology sectors.
Focusing on information
The focus on providing financial, managerial and technological information stems from the belief that a lack of information and guidance is a major stumbling block for those possessing the brains to develop a new technology, but not having the know-how to convert it into a saleable product. TIME IS has a panel of experts, listed in an online database, who advise TIME IS members on a range of issues – from marketability and feasibility to project reports, and so on.
The experts also select technologies to list on the TIME IS portal from those shortlisted by the staff, usually focusing on those technologies that they identify as in the line for being patented.
According to Manasi Shankar, information manager at TIME IS, while TIME IS’ staff searches for new innovations listed on the websites of leading institutes such as the IITs, innovators can also contact TIME IS to list their innovations. TIME IS would help the innovator document the technology so as to attract maximum interest from established industries. The completed project profile would then be included in the relevant online database.
TIME IS also disseminates information about new innovations through a monthly newsletter, which is sent to nearly 500 industrial and small-scale unit FICCI members.
The importance of patenting
However, Shankar points out that most IT innovators share limited details with TIME IS for display on the website, unless they have already patented their technology, as they fear that their work might be ‘stolen’.
Dr Anil Wali, managing director of the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT) at IIT Delhi, explains that a decision on whether or not to patent an innovation is intricate and based on many rules. FITT advises innovators at IIT Delhi on the patenting process, and more importantly, explains the need for a technology to be novel and not infringe available patents. He points out that sometimes technologies are not very obviously different to available, patented IPs. In such cases, obtaining a patent is quite difficult. Its potential application, if different from existing uses of similar technology, may help the patenting process.
Enabling technology transfers
Institutions seeking to assist their students in conducting meaningful research under the guidance of professors would do well to follow the IIT Delhi model, as implemented by the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT), its sole technology transfer agency. Technology licensing and transfer takes place through various modes, such as exclusive and non-exclusive technology transfers, assignments, first right to use by the sponsor, and so on.
Sponsorships are an important means of encouraging the development of new technology, as well as putting in place a technology transfer agreement. For instance, the development of software for the computer-assisted learning and teaching of Hindi as a foreign language, by Professor Saroj Kaushik of the Department of Computer Science and Eengineering at IIT Delhi, was sponsored by the Department of Electronics (now Department of Information Technology) of the government of India in 1994-95.
This software assists a teacher in creating teaching material and helps students to learn Hindi as well as be evaluated on a number of relevant topics. Since the system was developed on a DOS platform, its usability was limited and it was never patented. Yet, it is being used by the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, New Delhi. An interactive system, it facilitates the fast retrieval of words, letter recognition, word formation, case generation, morphological analysis, and many other functions.
From the lab to the market
Another software innovation listed on the TIME IS website is ‘Day Lighting Design in Building’. This was developed by Dr B. Bhattacharjee of the Department of Civil Engineering at IIT Delhi, as an academic exercise. This interactive software uses mathematical analytical equations to analyse the daylight available in different points of a regular-shaped room, by using inputs such as room dimensions, window descriptions, external obstructions descriptions, and reflectivity of room surfaces. Its deliverables are sky components, ERC and IRC and, hence, the design daylight factor.
The software is potentially useful for any architectural organisation. When contacted, Dr Bhattacharjee pointed out that innovators do not have the marketing contacts or expertise to commercialise a technological innovation and perhaps this is why India is severely lagging in this field. Which makes a service like TIME IS all the more important.
However, TIME IS does not facilitate the actual transfer of technology. Its role is limited to disseminating information and, in doing so, it maintains a transparent system between the technology provider and seeker. Institutional departments like IIT Delhi’s FITT are, in this sense, better placed to facilitate and negotiate the transfer of technology from innovator to client or sponsor.
FITT recently facilitated the transfer of a vehicle underside scanner technology, developed by a team led by Professor Anshul Kumar, of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, to BEL, Bangalore and ECIL, Hyderabad.
This technology has a specific set of image processing software and hardware tools and techniques for capturing, integrating and analysing defects on the underbelly of vehicles, or on any 2-D surface, for that matter.
Similarly, a statistical scenario analysis software package, developed by Dr Arun Kumar of CARE at IIT Delhi as the principal investigator, has been transferred to Macmet Technologies, Bangalore. This software applies scenario set-up parameters to process transition probability models for various entities in a scenario, which are in the form of .txt files. The software generates snapshot-wise probabilistic information about the location of entities in the scenario. It also produces snapshot-wise and accumulated information about the probability of a hit between any pair of entities (up to a maximum of three chosen pairs) in the scenario.
Yet another technology, a heat transfer apparatus and method for high efficiency, developed by Professor K.D.P. Nigam of the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Delhi, was sponsored by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and is being used by the laboratories of Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers.
The technology involves an apparatus that enables maximum transfer of heat between two fluids, one of which is flowing in tubular pipes. The new design can handle heat transfers of up to 36000 KCal, while saving 16-20 per cent power compared to existing heat transfer equipment.
Besides enabling the transfer of technology, and overseeing the patenting process and procedures of drawing up a non-disclosure agreement and memorandum of understanding between the innovator and client, FITT also negotiates the remuneration for the development of the technology. It uses its own networks and information database to contact the right clients for a particular technology.
Bringing innovators and clients together
Partnerships between innovators and entrepreneurs or clients are essential to boost the process of innovation.
Thankfully, an increasing emphasis on innovation and techno-preneurship is encouraging young minds to apply themselves to research and development and, simultaneously, is assisting in the incubation of new technology businesses. This growth of private technology businesses will, in turn, go a long way to spread confidence in India’s burgeoning IT sector among the public, which at present perceives R&D and its associated commercialisation as limited to huge IT companies.