Changing The Mindset - From Scientists To Entrepreneurs

March 09, 2009
Ashoka Chakra

There are many reasons for the United States' dominance in science. Freedom to operate, (relative) lack of seniority and sycophancy, and availability of funds are among them. Another reason the US has been in the forefront of technological innovation is that it allows scientists to be entrepreneurs. Take a look at the cluster of innovative companies coming out of Universities in California and Massachusetts and you get the picture. Companies span the gamut of fields, ranging from software to biotechnology. In most countries, this dual role is frowned upon, if not forbidden outright.

Such was the case in India as well. For example, in 2001, Swami Manohar and three colleagues at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore invented the Simputer, a simple and cheap hand-held computer. However, being employees of a public entity, they could not commercialize their invention. So Manohar and colleagues left and founded their own company, which was in turn bought out by Geodesic. If they had been in the US, they would have had many options including being on the SAB or even a senior executive of the company while still retaining their academic post.

Indian scientists will now have a similar choice. On 24 February, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research issued regulations that permits researchers at government-funded institutions to hold equity stakes in scientific enterprises and spinoff companies.

Approximately 400,000 scientists, about three-quarters of the scientific work force, are employed at public institutions. By bringing India in line with the United States and other Western nations, the new rules should create an attractive environment for talented faculty. The new rules also permit research institutes to hold equity stakes in commercial enterprises. To facilitate this process, the government will encourage the lateral mobility of researchers between institutes and industry. This would also be good of institutions who could reap tremendous financial rewards from successful spin-offs.

So a talented scientist who comes up with a novel idea won't have to play office politics or be sycophantic to his/her boss any more. They can keep their position and at the same time, start a company.

In this instance, it is good that India is following America's lead.

Favorite books: Germs of War (Ketan Desai), Moby Dick (Herman Melville), Sherlock Holmes Treasury (Conan Dolye)
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Changing The Mindset - From Scientists To Entrepreneurs


Author: Ashoka Chakra


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