Empowering innovation ecosystem in North India

The creation of two strategic business units at the IIT Delhi’s industrial interface organization, Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer, is all set to strengthen the startup environment in the northern region

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New Delhi: Since 1992, the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer, popularly known as FITT, has been the vanguard of knowledge transfer activities from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. As one of the leading industrial interface organization, it has played a leading role in fostering innovations and technology transfers. Until now, this techno-commercial organization has incubated 125+ start-ups, it is currently handling a portfolio of 1000+ IPs and has transferred 170+ technologies.
FITT has contributed to the entrepreneurship ecosystem through different modes, be it mentoring or collaborating with various incubators across the country. Earlier there was one incubation unit that FITT managed, now the number has increased to three. FITT is also managing a number of innovative programs, funding schemes to support entrepreneurship.
The latest mega initiatives at FITT are the creation of two Strategic Business Units. First is the setting up of Innovation – Technology Transfer Office,  a joint project between the Government of India and the World Bank – the National Biopharma Mission managed by BIRAC, in the month of March 2020. The second one is the establishment of AIC IIT Delhi Sonipat Innovation Foundation, a Section 8 company at the I-TEC, IIT Delhi Sonipat Campus. The AIC is supported by NITI Aayog through the Atal Innovation Mission.
Talking about the initiatives, Dr Anil Wali, Managing Director, FITT said, “Innovation-Technology Transfer Office and AIC IIT Delhi Sonipat Innovation Foundation are the two initiatives designed to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in the region with FITT playing a pivotal role to capture ideas and nurture talent towards creating societal impact and economic value.”
Nurturing a plethora of upcoming startups 
i-TTO has been established with the mandate to serve Northern regions of India and is constantly serving the budding entrepreneurs to help them with their innovations from ideation to licensing. It is helping them in protecting their innovations better by creating IP Policy and suitable mechanisms.  It brings with it, FITT’s 28 years of experience in innovation management, technology transfer, and industry-academia collaborations.  It has so far engaged with more than 20 start-ups, entrepreneurs, faculty members, students. Since it is sector agnostic, it majorly focuses on measures to strengthen the Innovation and Technology Commercialization ecosystem in the country and offer a different set of services to Universities, Institutes, startups, incubators, innovation centres, industries, MSMEs, companies.
It is working towards the following major components to help entrepreneurs by supporting and promoting the technology transfer ecosystem in India; enhancing academia-industry collaboration; protecting & managing the Intellectual Property Rights resulting from R &D efforts; and creating mechanisms for commercialization of IP through different modes
Besides the above, i-TTO intends to assist institutions in forming spin-offs based on their innovations which will increase the number of start-ups.
As per Pooja Bhatia, Chief Manager, i-TTO, “We have just started up and despite this, we have organized umpteen numbers of webinars to make innovators aware of their IP rights. We have been continuously striving towards technology transfer capacity building by conducting very many webinars to help innovators to grow. Our webinars have always been audience targeted and we always try to separate academics from start-ups in order to maximize the benefits. We have conducted webinars with esteemed national and international speakers. So far we have conducted 35+ webinars.”
Even during the testing times of COVID-19, the i-TTO has helped innovators in reaching commercialization partners for technologies. Among them is Kawach mask, a technology solution developed by one of the incubated start-ups at IIT Delhi, ETEX. This multi-layered facial mask which has a filtration efficiency of 98% against 3 micron-sized particles has been transferred to Model Hospital, New Delhi. Another example is Unique C1-C2 spacers with occipital cervical fixation was a BIRAC funded technology developed by Prof. Sarat Chandra from AIIMS under Biotechnology Ignition Grant. The technology was transferred to Med Solutions, New Delhi for further development. Both technologies are in the healthcare domain.
Pooja adds, “ Amidst the pandemic, we are striving hard to reach people who wish to innovate. We have also collaborated with several academic institutes to deliver lectures on IP, Technology Transfer, IP and entrepreneurship, fundraising etc. Some of the institutes that have collaborated with us are IIT BHU, DIPSAR, Jamia Hamdard etc. Though virtually but we are always on our toes to help the innovators in breaking the ice.”
Through one-on-one sessions “HUMSE POOCHOTM” for innovators including faculty, students and entrepreneurs, it is trying to work out the best strategy for their innovations by helping them with their doubts related to IP and Licensing. It has assisted innovators working on COVID technologies by showcasing such technologies to identify licensees, partners for further development or manufacturing or connecting with faculty members and start-ups working in this domain. Most importantly, it is providing pro bono services to entrepreneurs and startups to foster innovations.
Right kind of incubation
FITT was the first of its kind to initiate the Technology Business Incubation program at the IIT Delhi in the year 1999. Later it expanded the incubation facilities with the setting up of the Bio-incubator in 2014. In early 2018, the IIT Delhi Technopark Sonipat was made operational on a 10-acre plot thereby expanding the residential incubation program in the NCR.
Taking another major step forward, the AIC IIT Delhi Sonipat Innovation Foundation, a Section 8 company has been created by FITT and IIT Delhi at the Sonipat Campus of  IIT Delhi Technopark (I-TEC) with 10,000 sqft exclusive space reserved for it. Supported by  Atal Innovation Mission of the NITI Aayog, AIC is looking to creating a world-class incubation facility with over 10,000 sqft of space and state-of-the-art physical infrastructure, in terms of capital equipment and operating facilities for incubatee start-ups.”
“So far, FITT has provided incubation to over 150 startup companies out of which more than 40 startups are presently being sheltered. Now with the Atal Incubation Centre (AIC) at IIT Delhi Sonipat Campus, we are offering you a gamut of services in NCR. Nearly 15 start-ups are using the space allotted for AIC.  After the formal inauguration of the AIC, these will be transferred to the AIC and the number of start-ups will grow over time,” says P Somarajan, CEO, AIC IIT Delhi Sonipat Innovation Foundation who also lays thrust on tie-ups with other research institutions to support and strengthen the regional ecosystem.
Over time it is expected that in addition to the usual seed support funds, support to access various grants and funds available for start-ups from the DST, DBT and other government departments and PSUs, CSR funds from corporates will be made accessible. Networking with angel investors and VCs for subsequent funding will also be provided.
Breaking the perception of ‘north India is lagging behind!’
There is a common notion that startups in the northern region of India haven’t created many buzzes like their counterparts in Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
Pooja disagrees and calls it a mere perception. On the contrary, she says, Delhi-NCR has a thriving startup ecosystem. “As reported by TiE Delhi-NCR and Zinnov,  Delhi-NCR is home to 10 unicorns with at least one added each year since 2013, compared with the nine Bengaluru unicorns added in the first half of 2019. According to the report, a total of 7,000 startups were founded in Delhi-NCR in 2009, whereas Bengaluru had 5,234 startups in the same period, followed by Mumbai with 3,829 and Hyderabad with 1,940 startups,” Pooja opines while backing her argument.
“Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities are the high growth areas for innovation. Awareness and access to facilities are increasing and several smaller towns are throwing up innovative start-ups. However, the angel investors and VCs are yet to venture beyond the better-known metros. The discovery of value in these towns by investors over the near future will see an expansion and growth over a sustained period,” explains Somarajan.
In line with the Atmanirbhar Bharat motto, i-TTO intends to focus on all spheres of the innovation ecosystem and to strive to come out with innovative solutions customized to the indigenous needs. For the next few years, i-TTO shall majorly work with innovators to protect their innovations, further develop their technologies to make them market-ready, increase its commercialization quotient and enhance the rate of transfer of technologies from Institutions.
It’s often said that to be able to guide startups, one has to feel their struggles. Pooja identifies with the thought process, “We are young.  We too have just started up in the month of March this year. We face almost similar challenges as any budding entrepreneur would. We are expected to quote a number of organizations we have signed deals with each time we are meeting a new client,” she concludes.
Since there are huge expectations from i-TTO and AIC, we are hopeful that they would bring a fresh approach to facilitating the expansion of the startup ecosystem across northern India.