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Institutional Entrepreneurial Leadership at Indian Institutes of Technology

The Passion to Contribute a Value to Society


Entrepreneurship is about your passion to create and build up. It means breaking new grounds and culminates in pathbreaking leadership. It is about your vision to add a value to society and that leads you and makes you lead others to uncharted lands.

As your passion to create and build up it naturally rakes up a kindred vein within you to research and innovate. As you set out to research and innovate in your field of entrepreneurship, an interdisciplinary flow of various streams of knowledge sets in. New creation has to naturally build up on the interface of varied streams of knowledge.

As you build up around a new value creation in society in a true entrepreneurial spirit which has the force and the power to take it and place it onto a higher level in any sphere of its life and activity, as in this case it is to give it a new technological uplift for instance, you naturally set out to lead with your focus on how to create and build up that value in all its freshness and originality in all its details. So your leadership has to flow from the purity of your vision. Such a purity of vision dawns on the horizon of a leader’s consciousness when the humility to serve purges the passion to research and innovate, create and build up, of all its individualistic egoistic moorings.

Such a leadership vision tends to evolve into a kaleidoscopic capability to view the vivid realities of large masses in vast and varied geographies and spaces and naturally goes on to build up novel facilities and platforms for research and innovation to meet the multifarious needs of those multiple realities. It finds culmination in building up novel technologies and ecosystems which lead to prototype manufacturing and end-products at affordable costs as it envisions the large masses in a country like India to be the end-in-view and sets out to serve them meticulously, keeping in mind the nuances of their varied situations.

I found a brilliant illustration of all these entrepreneurial processes in what some leading Indian Institutes of Technology have set out to achieve with a novelty of vision and focus for India and Indian society with its benefits accessible to the larger world.

My interaction with the Director of a leading Indian Institute of Technology opened out to me an insight into how true passion to contribute a value to society, while rooted in humility, blossoms and comes to fruition spurring institutional entrepreneurship and setting into force enlightening leadership as it foregrounds vision over and above the person behind the pursuit.

Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao, a winner of numerous prestigious prizes and awards in the field of science and technology and his colleagues personify the values that lead one from a researcher to an innovator and from an innovator to an entrepreneur and a pathbreaking leader in an institutional set up.

Research to them is incomplete unless it leads to innovation. Thus their delving deep into electronics spontaneously led them to see its immense utility if wedded to the knowledge of chemistry and mechanics. It led them to see its application in development of nanotech devices which act as sensors and which can be put to application in various fields of life and society.

Prof. Ramgopal Rao and his colleagues stand as a quintessential example of how nano vision for India takes shape as they begin ‘sensing’ the nano future for India.

With his major interest and doctoral and postdoctoral research in (the CMOS area) the technologies that go into the making of the mobile phones and the current laptops, and working for big industries like IBM, Intel and Infinion, opportunities for growth in personal career for Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao were rich in the beginning of the new millennium.

But the passion to contribute a value to the society superseded the passion for growth in personal career with a growing realization of the limitations India had been facing and still has been facing in the field of semiconductor manufacturing. He along with his colleagues at IIT, Mumbai, started asking themselves what they could do for the country. Thus around 2004-5 his interest took a slight but significant turn. Along with CMOS area they thought of working on the Sensors area also known as micro or nano electromechanical systems. These are the ‘sensing’ platforms and as they set out to work in this area they started looking for how could it be made more relevant for India so that it could make a difference for the people in the country. One of the ideas they took up as a collaborative enterprise across many departments was to develop low cost cardiac diagnostic systems.

They started to develop a nano mechanical platform, a sensing platform for which five departments at IIT, Mumbai came together as a collaborative effort to work on this essentially multidisciplinary project. This very sensitive sensing platform which could serve as a common platform for varied application made them look into new avenues of research and innovation. Thus the next breakthrough was found in the field of security sensors shaping novel products in the form of explosive detectors to ward off terrorist threats to India and Indian society. This led to the foundation of a company called Nanosniff Technologies to which all the technologies developed at IIT, Mumbai were transferred.

Engineering to him is all about solving problems. Thus he set out to research, innovate and offer nanotech solutions to the problems of Indian agriculture. How nanotechnology can help Indian farmers save water in irrigation as tailor made sensors can tell them how much water is exactly needed for a crop, thus ensuring ‘per drop more crop’ a vision beautifully articulated by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, for Indian agriculture. They also worked on how can they tell farmers which soil nutrients and in what exact quantity or concentration does a piece of land precisely need for the healthy growth of a crop, thus saving the farmer and the land from unnecessary use of pesticides. This gave rise to a soil nutrient monitoring system and a new venture, the Soilsense Technologies. Many such startups are seeing the light of the day after the long, intense, dark process of technological incubation at these premier institutes of technology.

Having built the technology readiness level at these institutions companies came to be formed where new technologies could be built up and huge numbers of prototypes could be manufactured and tested. With the passion to benefit the society with indigenous technologies these institutions worked in collaboration with various government agencies to build up facilities and the necessary ecosystem for technology incubation, prototype manufacturing and testing and finally coming up with end-products with great societal utility at affordable low costs for people at large.

It is this urge to research, innovate and add new value to society which has led to the foundation of research parks at many Indian Institutes of Technology.

True visionary leadership doesn’t stop short with any limited manifestation of its insight and vision. It’s multidirectional and branches forth in various directions. Thus from nano tech medical diagnostic tools to explosive detectors and from there to its vast applications in agriculture we see India’s nano initiative leaping forth from one field to another, from one aspect of the lives of its people to another with the help of its premier institutes of technology. In Prof. Ramgopal Rao’s vision plan it should cover Security, Health, Agriculture, Pedogogy, which involves training people in its uses and employment potential, and finally Environment to keep the country pollution free. In brief, it beautifully sums up as SHAPE aiming at SHAP(E)ing India’s Nano Future.

But at the heart of this journey is the passion to contribute a value to society which naturally leads the course from research and innovation to entrepreneurship and pathbreaking leadership.
Dr. Surendra Soni

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