The Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneur development (IIED) centre at National Institute of Technology (NIT) started its activities in May 2015 and is presently carrying various activities like skill development, entrepreneurship support, incubation of ideas, development of grass root technologies.
In conversation with Rising Kashmir’s Feature writer Insha Latief Khan, Associate professor, Mechanical Engineering Department, National Institute of Technology (NIT) Srinagar and Head IIED Center, Dr. Saad Parvez talks about the working of the center and the challenges faced in building the innovation culture in Kashmir.
How did the IIED center come into existence?
The higher technical institutions were directed by the Ministry of Education to start activities relating to entrepreneurship, startups, innovations and so forth. We were not new to the concept as when this institution was Regional Engineering College, we used to have a small entrepreneur and development cell where people used to work. We had that inclination that students and local idea generators can be helped by us to create an enabling environment of entrepreneurship in them. After 1990s, the cell was closed due to disturbance in Kashmir. Eventually it didn’t take off again but when the directions came from the government. The director called me and while considering my specialization is Industrial Engineering, I was given this responsibility. So we revamped it and started a new center called Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship Development Center.
How is an idea changed into a product or service?
The first component is Innovation. Innovations used to happen since ages but talking about innovations in educational institutions, inviting people and promoting creativity is the basic mandate. The initial step is to promote creativity. We reached out to the students in educational institutions and developed their mindset. Students think we do education just for seeking jobs but the concept of job seekers is old now. Our objective was to change their mentality from job seeker to job creator. We have been very successful in doing that. We promoted innovations and local innovators were invited, workshops and events were organized. They were sensitized and an ecosystem of innovations was formed.
Next is incubation. It comes with innovation and creativity. When we talk about the whole ecosystem of entrepreneurship, unless you can’t find out of box solutions and don’t generate new ideas, you can’t become an innovator. When you become an innovator, you file patents and get your ideas protected. When ideas get developed in the form of a prototype which requires a lot of handholding where NIT and other incubation centers help such people.
The mentorship is provided on how conceptual designs are converted into actual designs. How actual designs can be converted into prototypes. The prototype is tested and the shortcomings are overcome and Proof of Concept (POCs) is made which end up in prototype. Then the product or service is made and the commercialization takes place which is also called entrepreneurship. The government and the agencies provide initiatives to start the ventures.
Once a product or service is formed, what difficulties are faced further?
The difficult part is commercialization. For that we have an MSME scheme which assists us monetarily to do the market penetration. After the product or service is ready, more important is how exactly this product will enter the market. What can be the acceptance of the product in the market and for that we have to understand the needs of the customers.
How can we make the commercialization better?
When we talk about commercialization, then you should have a different team who are experts in marketing. The team involves people who have done their research and MBAs and take the product to market. There are two things which are taken into consideration. If it’s a new product and the need of the hour then naturally people will like it but if it has competitors in the market, then there are challenges. There we have to look for what are the things that only our product has. All the factors like efficiency, durability and reliability are taken into consideration which are important for our product to survive in the market. Right now, we have an MBA department who will help us in commercializing the product but we haven’t encountered any challenges yet.
Is there any scheme to provide monetary help to innovators?
There are schemes from the government of India and MSME (Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprise) with which idea generators can be uplifted. IIED center applied for some schemes. In 2016 and 2017, MSME came up with schemes for academia which we were able to successfully obtain. We made a proposal and based on the work we did from 2015 to 2018, we were able to acquire those schemes.
One of the schemes of MSME called as Support for Entrepreneur and Manager Development which is a pan India contest where NITs and IITs were told to get local ideas. Among all the ideas we received, we forwarded 10 ideas where 2 ideas were selected. Currently our two innovators are working under that scheme who got support of 15 lakh. We inducted them as incubates.
Two technologies that we are currently developing are Design and Development of Seed Sowing Machine. The innovator had a conceptual idea and he came to us and we support him monetarily as well as technically. The prototype is ready and very soon we will be displaying the prototype to the office of MSME, Government of India. If they like this product, they will give us upto 1 crore rupees to start the plant and machinery.
Another idea selected is Saffron Processing Machine. The machine that was designed and developed required a lot of technical aspects like cutting force, angles and the rulers. The professors helped this innovator and we will have the workable design which serves the objective of saffron processing through the machine.
Also we have some projects of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and also the local funding where we support the students and the local idea generators to make the things possible.
The schemes are open for any idea. In the whole valley, we are calling for proposals for stage two of MSME projects where they can get funds upto 15 lakh depending upon the weightage of the idea. Among the ideas we received, we have selected 16 promising ideas and forward them to the Ministry of MSME and they will further process it. They would select some promising ideas and send them back.
Nurturing Innovation for Designing and Harnessing Innovations scheme is one of the schemes where the government gives a good grant. We have applied for the scheme. The schemes offer 5 crores of funding. There is some amount kept as seed funding for startups. The schemes that we got from MSMEs are only because of our credentials.
How many patents have been filed by NIT till now?
From the last 3-4 years, the number of patents filed by NIT is more than 20. Filing patents is not difficult but granting is a huge process. For 10-12 patents funding has been granted.
Have you collaborated with any institution?
We have MOU with IITs and NITs, MSME and DST. For collaborations, there should be concrete programs for both the agencies for successful implementation of cross linkages. There are some exchange programs as well. We are also looking for MOUs with foreign countries.
Does this center have a network with other innovation cells of Kashmir for making the innovations successful?
We have built a design studio for National Innovation Foundation (NIF) cell, University of Kashmir for the GRIDS scheme. In 2017, we took a project with them for an innovator from Kishtwar whose idea was to make a modified bukhari. He made the prototype and we undertook the project, modified that and did testing as well.
What academic course does NIT offer to create a sense of innovations among students?
IIED center in collaboration with the Humanities department have started the masters course in 2020 as Technology, Innovations and Entrepreneur Dynamics for which, later on, we changed the nomenclature as Masters in Technology, Innovations and Entrepreneurship Management. The purpose of the course was how we can teach innovations and entrepreneurship. It’s an open course; a student from any academic background can join. If one really wants to become an enabler or go-getter, he should know what components are important to study and learn to become the ambassador of innovations.
Are innovations in Kashmir happening at par with the rest of India?
We are at par with most of the NITs and colleges of the country. Unless we don’t have a network, these things can’t happen. We need to build up a network within Jammu and Kashmir and with other IITs, IICs and big institutions of India and the whole globe. We are lagging a bit in establishing a network.
What is your rank in the Innovation Economy Council (IEC)?
We have a 3 star ranking which is a promising ranking based on the activities which the ministry tells us to do and we have been doing the activities successfully.
Are the innovation and incubation centers revolutionizing the education sector as well?
Right now, the innovation and incubation centers are a new paradigm in the sense that the academies of India were operated under loop learning and cramming. Now the education system is also changing. We are into problem solving now. The new education policy has good components like skill development, exposing students to real world problems and developing solutions in our labs and schools. It will take time and till now we have not switched to that level that our total education system will be revamped and total focus will be problem solving. The concept of design thinking is very important when we select a problem based on empathy. How empathetic you are towards a certain problem of society? When we identify the problem, we try to ideate or brainstorm and come up with different aspects of problems and find the solutions.
When we talk about my academic center and the environment which we have, I am facing a lot of difficulties because the paradigm hasn’t shifted yet. NIT and other institutions have to work hard for that.
Since skill development has become important aspect, do you think we should have skill development centers in institutions?
The industries are not looking for the degrees and grades but are looking for the skills which would be used by that industry. The industries want the basic skills to be in the students already. They want academia to take care of it. For creating skill development centers in the institution, one should have space, money, resources and other things.
There are lots of government agencies approaching the universities to enhance the skills of the students. When the government will streamline the whole system, we either would create some small skill development facility within the campuses or we will ask some agencies who are experts to impart skills to students in the form of internship programs. The Electronic Sector Skills Council of India (ESSCI) approached our Electronic Department. For that we need to change the curriculum, lab system, and have more resources. We are eagerly looking for how to overcome those difficulties.
How can we encourage students to get a good idea?
I believe we should encourage all the ideas. Idea generation is a culture. I had talked on many platforms that we should have an idea bank. People come with different ideas and if it’s not stored somewhere, it will evaporate. We can create the idea banks in universities and education institutions and involve the other students of the universities to refine and develop the ideas. Every idea has a potential to be developed in one or other direction. Also we can protect ideas of the idea generator. We don’t have a facilitation center here as the process of IPR is very stringent but NIT is trying to establish the facilitation center. Eventually we can get the ideas protected and can file more patents.
How can we further improve the incubation cells?
We need a dedicated team for the incubation cells who are here only working for this cause. This has to be a separate entity. We have created a section 8 company called Greenovator Incubation Foundation (GIF). Once funds come, we can expand it more. We would create this as a company where we would nurture startups.
What is the role of industries in creating the innovation ecosystem?
It’s important for industries to come forward with their problems. Innovation doesn’t only mean creating new ideas. An innovator can pick the idea of industry. The Design Expertise Scheme of MSME has been successfully availed by us. It has a component for students where a student is asked to pick up any design problem of local MSME and solve the problem in his institution in the form of designs, POCs and prototypes and later on industries accept and develop it. We are developing 4 such projects in our center.
What role innovations can play in solving the problems of society?
We have a role to play as far as society is concerned. Innovation starts with empathy. We have a lot of problems in society. In the electric department, the linemen usually get electrocuted. This was in my mind and I approached the managing director of KPDCL for the safety and I mailed a concept that safety is the mindset. We organized safety workshops for these people and when I interacted with them, they say we have safety gadgets, PPE but still accidents are happening. But how well we implement the norms of safe working practices and innovations can play a role there. Make safety circles, divide the division into circles and do safety audits and training, organize idea challenge competitions and a sense of safety will be created.
Another societal problem is baker’s shops where the baking of bread is done in a very dingy environment and people working in the shop are inhaling smoke and burning too much wood. I pitched the idea to Hackathon that we can redesign the ventilation system, keep a heat exchanger which can preheat the tandoor. These are some of the technological interventions based upon innovations that we have to take into consideration and help our society and underprivileged people to live a better life.
What are the future plans of the center?
Sustainability and growth is very important for a business. The National Innovation Start-up Policy (NISP) rolled out in 2019 mentioned the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in education institutions. According to NISP 2020, a clause about diverting 1% min budget towards innovations and entrepreneurship related activities would really boost Innovation and entrepreneurship.
Any message for innovators?
I would say heal the world, make it a better place for you and for me and for the entire human race.