Positive energy for industry-academia innovation

19th February 2016, BUSINESS STANDARD

Email: rgopal@themindworks.me Website: www.themindworks.me Alongside the Make in India show at Mumbai, it has been reported that the 25,000 bronze cladding parts for the 182 metre memorial statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel are being fabricated at the foundry of Jiangxi Toqine Metal Handicrafts Company, Nanchang, China.

19th February 2016, BUSINESS STANDARD

Email: rgopal@themindworks.me Website: www.themindworks.me

Alongside the Make in India show at Mumbai, it has been reported that the 25,000 bronze cladding parts for the 182 metre memorial statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel are being fabricated at the foundry of Jiangxi Toqine Metal Handicrafts Company, Nanchang, China. The company is obviously competent as its website says that”the company is a full service bronze sculpture foundry with 29 years’ experience.” The steel frame that is to be contoured is also being procured from China. Sardar Patel made in China!

According to one persuasive report (World Bank, Jose Guimon,2013), “Collaboration between academia and industry is increasingly a critical component of efficient national innovation systems….it is the role of public policy to foster such linkages…developing countries face even greater barriers to such alliances…..collaboration between universities and industries is critical for skills development, innovation, technology transfers and entrepreneurship.”

The nation needs more discourse about industry-academia collaboration. IIT alumnus Shail Kumar has authored a recent book on higher education (Building Golden India, www.shailkumar.com) in which he has argued the case for better collaboration. The NDA government has sponsored the PM’s Fellowship Scheme for doctoral research, a welcome PPP initiative. The truth is that we need a more positive mind-set all around.

I recall a 1983 industry-academia symposium hosted by Hindustan Lever Research Foundation (Pulse Production, Oxford & IBH Publishing, 1984). The symposium emphasized the emerging and critical need to grow more pulses, India being a vegetarian and protein-deficient nation. Several advocacy papers were circulated. However not much happened for twenty five years until a supply crisis hit the nation in 2010. I was lucky to leverage my HLL exposure and helped Rallis India start its Grow More Pulses program in Maharashtra, MP and Tamilnadu.

Thanks to my watching the former HLL Chairman and, later, the Director of Global Research in Unilever, Dr Ashok Ganguly, and reading his Business-driven Research and Development, I have had some exposure to the subject. I also experienced the technology response to the acute shortage of soap-making oils through minor oils development in the 1970s; the development of Tata Swachh, the low cost bacterial/virus water purifier through rice husk ash and nano-silver technology (only 27 paise per litre, gravity-driven). According to the World Economic Forum, 2008, India ranks 43 in terms of industry-academia interaction, compared with China (23), Japan (21), South Korea (12) and the US(1). (Re-inventing India, RA Mashelkar, 2011). There is hidden power if universities would re-engineer themselves to meet national grand challenges like Swachh Bharat, Make in India and Digital India.

In a welcome initiative, CII and Bharat Shikshan Mandal recently hosted a Research for Resurgence symposium at Nagpur for fifty university vice-chancellors. Some observations: firstly, everyone concurred about lowering the barriers to collaboration; secondly, participants spoke about things like our social attitude, our educational system, the Ministry of Education, and how Indian parents raise their kids as though it is an India issue whereas it is a global issue; third and last, it took some effort to steer the group on what they could do when they returned to their offices. Their conclusion to should convert their academic team into positive collaboration seekers was an energising, but self-evident one.

In the summer of 2010, the MIT Sloan Management Review carried an impressive article entitled ‘Best Practices for Industry-University Collaboration’ (Reprint number 51416). The paper was based on a three year study of the experiences and perspectives of 25 research-intensive companies who were involved with over 100 university collaboration projects. As always the “Seven Keys to Collaboration Success” read like motherhood statements, but they are eminently sensible and bear review. Apart from ideas like define the project’s strategic context, share the vision with both the university and the company teams, establish strong communications and review mechanisms, the most striking was “select boundary-spanning project managers with certain attributes.”

What the Atal Innovation Mission and the multiple National Initiatives need are these boundary spanning project managers, who have the ability to make connections between research and the opportunities for product applications. It will not be enough to just have talk-up artistes.

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