2. Setting up a central prototyping facility at IIT Madras
In many cases, the process of converting a research idea into a business venture needs building prototypes and testing the same. This involves a set of low scale but complex activities that are difficult to accomplish, as it requires non-standard processes. These are usually carried out at different places, and with no standard supply chain, present huge difficulties to a faculty member.
If a central prototyping facility managed professionally were available at IIT Madras which could execute tasks such as building prototypes for testing or simulation, conducting rapid prototyping if necessary, carrying out (or arranging) any performance tests that may be required, and giving a feedback to the faculty/research team concerned, it would be a much more efficient process. GDC will aim to create such a world class prototyping facility at IIT Madras
3. Interface between industries and IITM in the domain of innovative solutions
For the world outside IIT campus, the perception about IIT is that it houses intellectuals - faculty with deep knowledge, and bright students who will be leaders of tomorrow. Culturally, they are happy to interact with such intelligent people. It also adds value to their solutions if they come from collaboration with IIT Madras.
While this is so, the collaboration can be more fruitful if there is better mutual appreciation between the parties. For example, most students and some faculty are not fully aware of the problems facing industry, and as a result, the research work at IIT do not necessarily reflect these problems. Sometimes faculty and research scholars at IIT work on society’s or industry’s problems but the solutions found in the laboratories are not easily scalable and replaceable for widespread applications.
Students work on about 1000 projects every year at IIT Madras, each of which has expert guidance from and inputs of at least one faculty, and several person-years of intellectual effort are put into each of them. Due to a lack of formal dialogue between industry/ society and the Institute, many of these projects solve theoretical or irrelevant problems and therefore do not add too much value from a societal standpoint.
One way to get over these issues would be to give opportunities for students and faculty to be exposed to information and problems that industry is grappling with. This can be done by inviting teams from various companies and organizations to the Campus .These teams can bring with them various issues and problems that they are dealing with in their operations, and can invite the faculty and students to solving them in a collaborative partnership. The underlying idea is that academia and industry tend to work with different endowments and perspectives, and this intersection of complementary approaches is likely to do better than either party working individually.
The students at IIT are bounding with fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm, and with some incentives can be galvanized into providing innovative solutions to these problems. Such projects could be structured as internships with the corporates concerned, which also help the students gain practical experience of working in an organization. Well-structured projects also enable the corporate to evaluate the intern’s capabilities, motivations, and suitability from an employment perspective, with appropriate feedback being communicated to the Institute’s Placement Office.
Another interesting offshoot of this idea can be to invite Government officials to present problems of public policy to students and faculty, which could lead to formation of groups and teams to find solutions.
4. Student competitions for innovation
IIT Madras has about 4500 students on campus in UG, PG, MBA and PhD programmes. The pedagogy at the institute is mainly centered around classroom learning, laboratory work, and a few projects. Most of the learning is by way of self-study and limited group work by way of projects, both academic and some extra-curricular (e.g. organising Shaastra, Saarang etc.)
Over the past decade, students have been exposed to innovative activities such as Center of Innovation and some form of entrepreneurship in the Incubation centers of the Institute. However, there is considerable further scope for students to hone their creative skills and innovative thinking.
GDC proposes to organize student competitions that will involve innovative thinking such as finding solutions to common problems facing the Institute or Chennai using science & technology (e.g. how to eradicate the Dengue virus on campus), coming up with innovative business models, designing experiments or algorithms to solve knotty problems. GDC’s ultimate objective here will be to incentivize and encourage students to form their own Innovation club that will be able to organize such competitions.
At GDC students and faculty will get an opportunity to participate in and attempt to solve the 14 grand challenges as designed by the NAE.
5. Re-structuring the process for design of projects for all academic programmes in a manner that enables better innovation and entrepreneurship
With 4000 UG (including dual degree) students, 1000 PG students and 1000 PhD scholars on campus at any given time, the students on campus every year finish about 800 -1000 academic projects. Each of these projects has one or two students spending considerable time on design and execution, a highly qualified faculty providing expert inputs and overall supervision, and at least 2-3 person years of effort going into the project.
What becomes of these projects once they are completed? A small fraction of these (most likely the PhD students’ projects) are likely to result in some tangible outcomes such as technical publications in journals, while the rest of the project reports would be consigned to cupboards, and soon forgotten. Maybe a few more of them involve making working prototypes which are displayed in exhibitions or labs, which is laudable.
However, is there a different way of approaching these projects so that at least a quarter of these can be taken forward in a more creative manner? Say, can the core idea of the project (including technical papers, prototypes, working models etc) be carried forward in subsequent years by the same team or a different team and made into a product or aid a service to be delivered by a commercial enterprise? Maybe, this is being done by some 5% of the faculty at IIT Madras today (and by implication 5% of the projects), and it is GDC’s endeavor to increase this to involve at least one third of the faculty along this route.
The outcome that GDC envisions is to create a pipeline of 200 high potential ideas that can be curated into robust ventures under the guidance of expert faculty and mentors. The curated ideas from these projects once they are well-developed and structured into robust business plans will go on to feed the several incubation centers that IIT Madras has created for various disciplines.
GDC’s main role in this will be to transform the process of academic projects at IITM. For instance
(a) How the students and faculty select ideas (eventual production should be a criterion for evaluation for at least half the projects).
(b) How the project structure is designed in terms of coherent stages and intermediate outputs, team composition, timelines, and maintaining team continuity/ coherence to ensure desired outcomes.
(c) What steps need to be taken to create intellectual property;
(d) How to move to next steps that may involve taking the discovery(ies) to prototype or MVP stage, conducting the requisite testing etc.
(e) How to think through commercial and business design issues of a potential product/service.
(f) How to estimate the budget and consider innovative financing if the amounts involved are large. It may be noted all of these are at a pre-incubation stage, and are required to ensure that a venture if incubated has a fighting chance of success.
6. Improve understanding of Innovation and entrepreneurial research at IIT Madras
One of the objectives of GDC is to make innovation all pervasive in the campus. For this to happen innovation must be seen to be happening and not just happen. Today, innovation and entrepreneurship is confined to a few faculty and to fewer students. This is not because people are not creative but because there is little knowledge of creativity itself. So the choices for enhancing creativity are limited. Most creativity and innovation happens in spurts or serendipitously. But Creativity is not just an art or an accident. Apples don't keep falling from trees. There is a science to innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. There is a method, a process and it ought to be a separate subject of study. There is a deliberateness about creativity that has to be captured. Making it a separate subject of study will bring in a sea of knowledge about creative thinking. This in turn would lead to more participation from students and faculty in the centre’s activity. This participation will allow them to explore various aspects of innovation and dispel some myths. The biggest of them being that creativity is not a science.
The centre will focus research in the history of innovation, the theories of innovation, innovation projects from around the world. The centre will be a link between the campus and the outside world in the context of innovation. And needless to add it will be the first of its kind in the world.
7. Managing special projects on Innovation
By special projects, we mean those initiatives that are attempting to solve big societal problems using technology. The present world especially Indian society, is besieged with all kinds of problems. There are issues of insufficiency or poor quality of services in water, health, traffic, infrastructure, illiteracy, nutrition and a myriad others. Many of these are eminently solvable (that is, the problems can be considerably ameliorated), which will bring relief to a large number of people.
We, at GDC would like to get the Institute involved in finding solutions to a few of these problems, as much as our time and resources would permit. We will strive to get together people, processes and resources that will collectively find a solution to better lives through application of technology and creativity.
8. Networking with other institutions within the Deshpande Foundation
The Deshpande Foundation (http://www.deshpandefoundation.org/) has spawned several entities in different institutions (and countries), namely, the MIT Deshpande Centre, Pond Deshpande Centre (at University of New Brunswick), Dunin-Deshpande’s Queen Innovation Centre, Deshpande Foundation India, and the Deshpande Innovation Network. Each of these Centres focuses on innovation, skill building and building the spirit of enterprise amongst students and faculty at their respective universities and institutional partners.
The Annual Deshpande Innovation symposium (the fourth edition of which will be held in June 2018 at Lowell, Massachusetts, USA) has acquired the status of a marquee event in the world of Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Higher Education. Other annual events that the Deshpande Foundation conducts includes the Ideastream@MIT, Entrepreneurship Conference at UNB, The Development Dialogue at Huballi, and the SandBox Summit at UMass, Lowell.
As part of the Deshpande Foundation network, GDC will actively participate in the functions and events of the Foundation, and spread the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Indian ecosystem.
9. Holding periodic (monthly) symposiums and seminars on Innovation and Entrepreneurship
GDC will organise periodic (read, as often as desired or necessary) meetings amongst interested participants who wish to discuss, brainstorm and ideate thoughts on innovation about any aspect of the Institute’s functioning. We propose to call this club as Peter’s Café (where Ideas collide). A club or cafe, by definition, is a meeting place for people who wish to relax and network and exchange stories both personal and professional. What better way to relax in a campus like IIT other than with stories and anecdotes on innovation.
Under the banner of Peter’s Cafe, GDC will organise lectures, movies, book reviews, on innovation and creativity from all around the world. There will also be opportunities for young and old to participate in debates and oratory on topics of varied interest. This will be a vibrant place where knowledge will be deep but fun will be deeper.
10. Evangelization of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in IIT Madras
Spreading the message of Innovation and Entrepreneurship across the country by being a role model and mentor to other similar organizations.