In an exclusive freewheeling conversation with the BioVoice News, Dr Anil Wali, Managing Director, Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT), Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D), shared his frank views on the innovation, technology transfer, current startup ecosystem, issues that are holding us back, way forward and much more. Read the detailed interview below:
How do you define innovation? Given the fact that there are numerous methodologies of discovering and inventing novel entities, can it be really kept limited to one definition?
Innovation cannot be straight jacketed into a singular connotation. It’s is a continuous process of value creation whether in new products (example molecular entities, devices etc.), new technical processes, new business models, in social impact etc. The innovation paradigm will keep on expressing in newer forms so long these are valuable and sustainable.
How do you view the India’s rise to 66th position in the Global Innovation Index 2016? What are the challenges that hold back our innovation at the broader level?
While this is encouraging, we should be in a position to rise further from here. Only that other nations too are doing their bit to improve or maintain their ranks. Personally, however, I believe we should be more involved in strengthening the underlying capacity. As a nation we a have a huge potential to unlock. These rankings are important and give a sense of our competitive strength. But, it’s important to also recognize that this ranking framework depends on different variables of varied merits. Our performance likewise varies over different metrics. On some parameters we fare quite well.
Towards a few parameters like education, we would need to strategize both from a medium and long term perspective to address various deficiencies. In its current format, a few metrics would be a function of government investments in education and infrastructure. There is also a need to revisit the structure of the ranking parameters to better reflect the actual state of development in a country.
The innovation landscape within the bioscience industry has been evolving in last two decades. What are they key ingredients that could accelerate the translational research?
Yes, the innovation ecosystem is gradually evolving. Emphasis on the same through Government support bodes well for the country. The research establishments and the academia should increasingly pay more attention to IP creation and research translation through a mix of incentives – performance metrics, rewards, linkage with research grants, enhanced collaboration with industry etc. New approaches like the the FTT projects in CSIR are enabling a cultural change towards translation and commercialization.
Institutional mechanism like TTOs, Research Parks, incubators should be strengthened on capacity and resources to accelerate and sustain research translation from academia and research establishments.
“As a nation, we a have a huge potential to unlock. These rankings are important and give a sense of our competitive strength. But, it’s important to also recognize that this ranking framework depends on different variables of varied merits”
Have the technology transfers and interface between industry and academia in India improved? How can we make it better?
It’s still at modest levels. There is scope for much more. Only that the academia should proactively reach out and increasingly work on issues of practical significance where industry needs have been identified. Academic conservatism has to give way to enhanced industry engagement which shall promote healthy knowledge transfer.
What is your take on the multi-disciplinary research? Shouldn’t this be imparted in our teaching system to make it more outcome oriented?
There is no denying the usefulness of multi-disciplinary research which ought to be encouraged. Both the academia and publically funded research organizations should take the lead in this direction. As an example, the Academic Centres at IIT Delhi emphasize on this model. It has to be noted that several technical domains such as biotechnology, materials science etc. carry a strong interdisciplinary flavor. The innovations or market-place needs and challenges can be better addressed through such an approach as it can ensure more effective outcomes. I also believe that a liberal arts approach to education can go a long way in enhancing student interest and can help them to be more creative and excel in their field of choice.
What is propelling the rise of medical technology startups in India? Is this the beginning of a huge indigenous industry?
There is a clear need for better and affordable medical solutions in the country. Besides a humongous social need, there is a huge business opportunity which is too good to be ignored. Hence, the rise of healthcare start-ups in India. Programs like DBT’s SIB, Pfizer-IIT Delhi Innovation, BIRAC’s BIG etc. are providing useful supports. I would be willing to consider this as dawn of an important indigenous industry.
“There is no denying the usefulness of multi-disciplinary research which ought to be encouraged. Both the academia and publicly funded research organizations should take the lead in this direction”
How can the technology help to transform agriculture in India? Do we have enough startups in that direction?
Given the importance of agriculture in the nation’s economy anything that leverages technology for a large impact on the sector is welcome. Be it farming methods, seed varieties, implements, better yields, use of drones, IT tools or novel business opportunities, start-ups are required to transform the sector. This includes creating entrepreneurial opportunities for the rural youth who may not be finding conventional farming models profitable enough. The number of technology start-ups working in this area are not big enough. Thankfully, several incubators having an agri focus have come up and we can expect them to nurture start-ups in the agricultural sector.
Please tell our readers about the key milestones achieved by the FITT since its inception? What are the latest activities at the FITT?
FITT has been the foremost and a comprehensive technology transfer organization from academia in India since 1992. Besides conventional activities towards technology development and transfer, capacity building, consultancy and IP management, FITT has adopted new partnership models to strengthen engagement with industry as also support programs to boost the techno-entrepreneurship platforms (Incubators, Research Parks) in the country. It’s Professional Candidate Registration and Pfizer-IIT Delhi Innovation programs are a few examples of novel outreach and support activities.
What has been the outcome of the Pfizer-IIT Innovation & IP Programme so far? How many startups have benefitted from it?
This is an interesting industry-academia partnership model designed to enable healthcare innovations in India. This pioneering program supports both innovation and start-up ideas and IP filing. In the first year, four start-ups have been given unencumbered grant support of up to Rs 50 lakh each for incubating at IIT Delhi. Also, seven inventions have been supported – for Rs 3 lakh each. This unique program sets the template for more such partnerships in the country.