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Article by Mohan Babu


Working Abroad - Entrepreneurs and academia

Successful entrepreneurs who have risen from the grassroots know how to take new ideas and inventions to fruition. MOHAN BABU writes why it is so important for these entrepreneurs to partner with academia and promote research activities

How many times have you woken up thinking, “Wow, this is a million dollar idea, let me start my own venture and capitalise on it”. Perhaps not many times, may be the reason why most of us are content to remain faceless employees working for large corporations. Even those working in research labs, universities or R&D centres, rarely have “eureka” moments that change the course of their lives or careers. More often than not, research is incremental in nature; with researchers improvising on existing theories and building on already laid groundwork. It is not to say that sometimes, unexpected uses for new discoveries and inventions do not lead to breakthroughs or ventures in a totally different direction. However, such tangential changes are rare and too far between. Some successful entrepreneurs want to change this mindset by motivating researchers and those in academia to closely align themselves with businesses that could benefit from their innovative technologies.

A few successful entrepreneurs who have enjoyed the fruits of the “eureka” moments may try to replicate them by inventing new technologies or ideas. Few others, realising that lightning may or may not strike twice sometimes decide to venture into seed funding. An example of this is Gururaj Deshpande’s recent foray into funding research. Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, a leading American Indian entrepreneur, co-founded Sycamore Networks and was successful in riding the dotcom technology wave of the nineties, pandering to telecommunication companies trying to harness optical networking technologies.

Realising the impact that research in universities can have on our lives and society, Deshpande and his wife Jaishree, have funded a multimillion-dollar technological centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A gift of $20 million from Deshpande will make possible the initial phase of the Deshpande Centre for Technological Innovation (DCTI) at MIT. The idea for the centre arose from the realisation that the limited research and development funds available to young companies restricts their ability to collaborate with leading universities, MIT said in its release.

In a beaten down market, $ 20 million is bound to go a long way, especially when it is utilised in a university setting where researchers are used to being frugally funded. The new centre is being designed to support ideas by MIT faculty members. In its first year, the centre plans to award five seed-ignition grants of $50,000 and three research grants of $250,000 that will support research on new technologies that have the potential to fuel ground-breaking businesses or products. This is a win-win kind of proposition since it will motivate university professors to think outside the box and work towards solving commercial problems using cutting-edge technologies.

Although the story narrated so far is quintessentially American, the player, Gururaj, is Indian by birth. Even the idea, entrepreneurs and industrialists funding research is not something solely American. In India, industrialists like Tatas and Birlas have a long history of funding educational institutions and research organisations that fuel innovation. Microsoft and Cisco have jumped onto the bandwagon and are also active in funding labs and research centres in India, especially in collaboration with premier technical academies like IITs. Can entrepreneurs do more? You bet they can! Indian entrepreneurs who understand our local market need to take it upon themselves to mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs and researchers.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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