New Delhi: The National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) was established in 1982 by the Government of India, under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology as an institutional mechanism to help promote knowledge driven and technology intensive enterprises. Heading the project is Mr HK Mittal who has made the institutions of entrepreneurship at the state level relevant and user friendly.
He has played an extensive role in developing technology business incubators, industrial clusters and entrepreneurship parks. He is also the National Programme Director for SKILLS, which demonstrates that jobs can be created through application specific, need-based, competency linked training interventions, using conventional line systems. Excerpts from a freewheeling interview:
Q: What was the turning point, when India became entrepreneur driven, especially in the ICT sector?
A: The culture for productivity, entrepreneurship and innovation was traditionally limited in India. It was only post liberalization, 1995 onwards, that the country got noticed because of theY2K issue. The world’s confidence in India and our own confidence in our ability to deliver went up. Suddenly, India became a sourcing ground for companies and headhunters from the developed world. This was the turning point in the knowledge based era.
Many young people took the entrepreneurship route. They started looking for opportunities. Salary structures were competitive, costs were not very high and upper end jobs were available aplenty. Late 90’s, Indians abroad started reverting back to their homeland and India began to be perceived as a land of opportunity. Bi-continental strategy and openness became visible.
Q: How did the concept of business incubators evolve?
A: Business incubators which are technology sound with the community looking for assistance, took off only in 2001. From back-end operations, they moved to being the labour of the world. As of today, 600 firms and MNCs have established their R&D functions in India, essentially in Pune and Bangalore.
The Incubator Initiative was launched in 2002, with support from the Government of Japan. Today, infoDev (Information for Development Programme of World Bank) supports a global network of over 60 business incubators and similar institutions that promote ICT-enabled entrepreneurship in developing countries. These organizations reflect the enormous diversity of business models for delivering business development services to ICT entrepreneurs and the common and unique challenges faced in the respective local environments. infoDev supports these incubators with financing and capacity building and regional and global networking is facilitated through workshops and forums.
Q: Where do you see this concept headed?
A: Value addition has taken place and the benefit of Research and Developmenthas been taken away from large corporates. It is heartening to see that we have moved up the value chain and are fast designing new product developments. Nearly 100 business incubators exist with each technology based incubator being mostly IT focused.
Most of these are housed in academic and Research and Developmentset ups and agencies specializing in entrepreneurship development training and voluntary agencies which have been initiated and supported by NSTEDB to generate income and wealth, besides creating new avenues of gainful and sustainable employment. Through DST we run 45 of them while 30 are based software technology parks and 15 are through the state governments, banks and private sector. Out of this 20 incubators are doing well, 10 average and 10 still to find feet. Most are located in IIMs, IITs and NID.
Q: How do did you convert ‘job seekers’ into ‘job generators’?
A: We have developed and promoted high-end entrepreneurship for Science and Technology (S&T), manpower and self employment by utilizing S&T infrastructure. The programmes and schemes evolved by NSTEDB have created awareness among S&T persons to take to entrepreneurship as an alternate career. Also much of our work is centered around training programmes, creating institutional mechanisms for entrepreneurship development and disseminating information.
Q: Any specific examples that you can recount to corroborate India’s growing competency in upper end IT jobs?
A: A US firm wanted a steam pressure valve for which eight leading engineering firms made a bid, but failed to meet specifications. A team of two from Trichy’s Business Incubator at the National Institute of Technology bagged the order. All large innovation based companies like IBM, INTEL, Lockheed Martin are looking at India for innovations and want to build systems here. So are leading universities.
Three years ago, we partnered with the private sector to set up INTEC, a forum which facilitated technology exchange. Last year a global competition was held in collaboration with University of Berkeley where two of our teams made it to the first and third award winning slots. The team that came first represented the Business Technology Incubator at Hyderabad’s International Business School. They made artificial flowers that smelt and felt like real ones. Using enzymes they created hydroscopic paper that gave the petals the wet and fresh. Using nanotechnology they gave the flowers a natural fragrance. The team that got the third prize was from IIT Kharagpur. They made devices/equipment that act as artificial hackers and checks vulnerabilities of companies and helps them install appropriate software to counter that.
Q: How has the Government of India aided the process?
A: The finance minister in the 2007 Budget has given us two good concessions. Removing sales tax from incubators translates into a 12.5% benefit which is going to be a big boon. The second positive initiative is the waiving off of Rs 3 lakhs for a period of three years, for the entrepreneurs inside the incubator. Earlier under the Society Act, they were not allowed to invest in the private sector.
DST has in partnership with UNDP set up a skill development portal for low end technicians like plumbers, carpenters, TV and other household equipment repair mechanics. This will have standardized curriculum and an employment exchange too.
Two major innovation clusters are being promoted to establish high end clusters in the Bangalore IT hub. This will be centered around Research and Developmentand will build around Research and Development institutions to promote innovation clusters. Programmes of area development also exist through micro enterprise promotion. 200 areas will be promoted at district or taluka level, out of which 50 are in a taluka and will cost us less than a lakh of investment.
Q: Can you elaborate on the institutional mechanism framework that you have developed?
A: Entrepreneurship development cell (EDC) helps us integrate entrepreneurship with education; STEP is the Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park which fosters industry academia linkages; TBI is the Technology Business Incubator that helps translate ideas into start-ups and STED is the Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Project which helps us do our bit in bringing about greater socio-economic development of any given area through S&T intervention. Each are taking shape and evolving. It is easy to set up projects but the tough part is to sustain them through participation, revenue flow and fruitful outcomes.
Q: Recent initiatives with the corporate sector?
A: We have partnered with Ficci to set up three portals: The TIME IS project (www.techno-preneur.net) portal aims at assisting budding entrepreneurs, specially technopreneurs with all the information relevant for setting up new enterprises. It brings together three aspects of business, namely, technology, finance and management by providing information on industrial policies, incentives, project profiles, new technologies, funding options, technology and equipment sources and contact directories. It provides with a set of online tools for project development, evaluation and preparation of feasibility studies.
The www.incubatorsnetwork.com is a joint portal of Ficci and infoDev provides a network between Indian and foreign businesses and technology incubators. It also gives information about national and international incubation centres across the globe.
www.dst.gov.in is an official website of the DST and maintained by Ficci. It disseminates information about scientific programmes, scientific services and S&T system in India.
In 2006, regional networks were launched with the aim of bringing together these organizations to share lessons and experiences. Regional networks are now active in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe & Central Asia, Latin America & the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa.
Q: What are the challenges that incubators are facing as they scale up?
A: Our area of concern is that incubators are still inward looking and that they need to focus more on business outside. To some extent this is being addressed through an international partnership with 60 companies. As we go along we will keep refining our process of selecting projects and providing better inputs to entrepreneurs with a higher rate of success. Tie ups like the one with Berkeley, where a technology entrepreneurship promotion programme in California, Silicon Valley will help us train 15-20 faculty members as master trainers. In the months to come we hope to iron out roadblocks as we dip into India’s huge entrepreneurial talent and provide them a platform to realize their dream projects and take flight.