The NRDC is actively promoting research and innovation across universities and the present innovation/startup eco-system in the country is offering a conducive environment for students to choose entrepreneurship as an ideal career option, says Dr H Purushothsm, Chairman and Managing Director, National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), in conversation with Elets News Network (ENN).
In terms of an emphasis on the research and development, how has the education system in India evolved in the recent times?
There are about 815 universities and more than 3,400 technical institutes in India and every year about 15 lakh students graduate in various engineering streams. However, except few universities and IITs, the research activities are very limited. Many of the universities are only teaching with little or no emphasis on R&D.
In addition, the boom in the IT industry has also caused a reduction of enrollments in higher education – which essentially leads to research. If we look at universities in the USA and other developed countries, these play a key role in bringing radical or disruptive innovations to the society through their strong basic and applied research. This is missing in many Indian universities. The proactive policies and huge investments in offering quality education in those countries make the universities innovation hubs. We are yet to implement any act or policy like Bay Dole Act in the USA to motivate researchers and professors to undertake R&D work and commercialise their R&D outcomes. But gradually we are changing our policies wherein we not only look at publications but also look for number of patents filed, number of technology(ies) transferred/ commercialised etc. In NIRF ranking of universities, research has been given adequate weightage now. This has resulted in a change in attitude of researchers across the country. We, at NRDC, have been endeavouring to encourage R&D and promote filing of patents and commercialisation of technologies/research outputs by opening UIFCs (University innovation Facilitation Centre) at various universities. We have so far opened such centres at AIl India Institute of Medical Sciences (New Delhi), Amity University (UP), National Institute of Technology (Silchar), Indian Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology (West Bengal), IIT Kanpur, Gujarat Technical University (Ahmedabad).
NRDC has also been funding universities for value-addition of technologies/ research outputs to promote R&D/Innovations. For example, University of Delhi developed a technology for Targeted Gene Delivery System which required in-vivo study at Albert Einstein Research Institute, USA and NRDC have funded the said project. Similarly, NRDC has various schemes like Techno-Commercial Support, Patent filing assistance, Programme for Development of Technologies for Commercialisation (PDTC) for various value addition of technologies like preparation of market survey, techno-economic feasibility report, basic engineering design package, preparation of Knowhow documents, etc.
Along with educational institutions, how the country’s corporate sector can contribute in building a stronger research community?
The Corporate sector can contribute significantly in building a strong research community by way of sponsoring projects to universities, offering R&D fellowships and research chairs etc. In India, while corporate/private sector spends about 30 per cent, the Govt spends about 70 percent of the total R&D spent. The scenario is exactly opposite in developed countries. There is a need for enhanced R&D spends by the corporate sector. There are large numbers of corporate involved in carrying out research work and engaging students for the same. Some Corporate sectors have separate R&D set up for carrying out research. NRDC has been associated with many such Corporate R&Ds like NTPC, BEML, BHEL, IOCL, SAIL for patenting and commercialisation of the research outputs/ technologies.
What are the programmes conducted by NRDC to encourage research and technology transfer along with promoting innovations among the youth?
NRDC has been carrying out several promotional programmes for encouraging and inculcating the spirit of inventivity of the researchers, scientists, students, etc. through its structured schemes i.e., Programme for Inspiring Inventors and innovators (PIII) and Programme for Development of Technologies for Commercialisation (PDTC). Under this scheme, several value-added services are being provided by NRDC to researchers. Every year, NRDC awards Meritorious Invention Awards in three categories i.e., Innovations Awards – 2 awards (Rs 5 lakhs each), Societal Innovations Awards – 3 awards (Rs 3 lakhs each) and budding innovation awards for students – 5 awards (Rs 1 lakh each). In addition, NRDC has been helping the researchers in the filing of patents, international patent search, provide various techno-commercial supports for successful commercialisation of technologies. To support universities in capacity building in Intellectual property rights, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) established a Technology and Innovation Support Centre (TISC) at NRDC-Intellectual Property Facilitation Centre (IPFC) at AP innovation Society, Visakhapatnam. TISC is promoting IPR Awareness and capacity building in universities on IPR and Innovation. NRDC has also opened its outreach IPFC office at University Agriculture Sciences, Bengaluru. Further, it has signed MoUs with a large number of universities and has conducted hundreds of IP and Technology Transfer Awareness Programmes across universities in last few years.
How NRDC supports technocommercial projects to promote and commercialise innovative technologies?
NRDC has several programmes for promotion, development and commercialisation of lab scale technologies emanating from various R&D organisations/universities in the country. The activities include the filing of patents, carrying out patent search, market survey, preparation of Basic Engineering Design Package, Techno-economic feasibility study, testing of the products, carrying out field trials/clinical trials, authentication of the products, obtaining third-party quality assessment certificates, etc.
After carrying out proper evaluation and value addition to the technologies, we bring it to industries for undertaking its commercialisation. For example, the Superabsorbent Hydrogel technology developed by Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) is a wonderful technology. One gram of the product can absorb 500ml-1000ml of water and thus offer great value to the agriculture sector, particularly where there is a shortage of water. But its effect on various crops at different agro-climatic conditions was not evaluated and the entrepreneurs were not able to gain confidence. NRDC sponsored about Rs 25 lakhs to IARI to conduct field trials on various crops to generate the efficacy data. Subsequently, NRDC prepared basic engineering design package, feasibility reports etc. and then approached industry for licensing. Like this, there are many success stories NRDC is currently part of.
Please tell us about various Entrepreneurship Development Programme carried out by NRDC in recent years.
NRDC carries Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP) every year in several locations for promoting the entrepreneurship among the fresh graduates, local unemployed youths, etc. to educate them about the technological opportunities, various schemes of the Governments/ Ministries/departments, training and skill development programmes, to demonstrate working of some machines, etc.
In the last four years, NRDC has carried out 21 EDP and skill development programmes and about 2000 people were benefited from these programmes. Some of the EDP programmes carried out by NRDC in recent years include: EDP through skill training on brass melting furnace for production of brass artifacts, home decor items and ornaments at Jamshedpur, EDP on CSIR-NEERI Zar- Low cost water purification system at Rangpo, East Sikkim, EDP Training on Handmade paper at Jorhat, Assam, developing entrepreneurship for disinfection of silkworms rearing houses and silk cocoon harvesting at Mysore, Karnataka, Solar Energy Solution in Remote Tribal Areas by Tribal Youth, Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, etc.
What message would you like to give to country’s youth?
NRDC has access to all the technologies developed by public funded research institutes under Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) universities and is recognised as a large repository of technologies in almost all sectors of industry including Agriculture, Agroprocessing, dairy, biotechnologies, electrical, electronics, chemical, drugs and pharmaceuticals, herbal medicines etc. There is a huge opportunity for young entrepreneurs/students to start their start-up ventures. The government of India has also opened up several schemes for start-ups. NRDC has also opened an incubation centre in its premises. In addition, NRDC also provides various value-added services to the inventors/researchers through its promotional programmes for encouraging the spirit of inventivity by awarding them cash and medals/certificates, assistance in filing patents, value addition to the technologies etc.
A big entrepreneurial movement is going on now in the country and it is the best time for students to take entrepreneurship/start-ups as a career. I urge all the aspiring student entrepreneurs to make use of the pro-active Govt policies/supporting innovation and start-up ecosystem unveiled by State and Central Governments. Students who would like to realise their entrepreneurial dreams may contact NRDC for the support, mentoring and hand-holdings.