Infosys Ltd co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, who is also the chairman of startup accelerator Axilor Ventures and a trustee of the Infosys Science Foundation, is a thought leader in technology and innovation. On the sidelines of this year’s Infosys Prize event, he comments about science and research in India, the gaps, and the role startups can play in bridging them. Edited excerpts:
What’s the funding scenario in science and research in India?
It is certainly lower than what it should be in terms of quality and quantity. But there is clearly a transition to where the value is in the value chain of a product or a service that we use today. And that value is shifting to information, knowledge, data, algorithms, software, and that’s the reason why we need to do our own research. The government funding is increasing now. For instance, in the Union budget, they have talked about the National Research Foundation, as well as increasing the funding to ₹20,000 crore which would approximately be 1% of the GDP. We need to increase our private funding from 0.1% of GDP currently to 1.5% of GDP in a stepwise manner.
Which are the technology areas you see certain gaps in and where we need to work on?
We need to work on the technologies that are going to impact us in the next 20-30 years—all the way from artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, of course, smartphones, and internet of things (IoT). We also need to look at genomics, DNA sequencing, 3D printing, nano technology, etc. There’s so many new areas that are emerging at this point. Then there are other areas which will come up as we go forward, for example, quantum computing.
How do you see startups playing a role in India’s innovation in science and research?
All innovation starts with research. Then you create a proof of concept of some of the things to see how they can be converted into a product or a solution or something like that. If it is a good product or solution, you will get funded by external investors and you become a startup. Let’s take, for instance, the transition to electric vehicles. The existing companies are primarily focused on their current generation of technology, the current customers they have. And some of them are now transitioning but since five years or even earlier, we are having startups in electric scooters, electric three-wheelers and even four-wheelers such as Reva in Bengaluru. Startups typically bring out products first in the market before they become big or get acquired. So, startups do play a role in bringing new technologies into the market.
What are the ways in which we can bridge the gaps in science and research in India?
We need to improve on both the quality and quantity of research we do so that we can compete with the best in the world. For a country of our size, we should be producing more number of research papers, technology-based products, etc. We need to see how we can increase the number of institutions that can be world class. We need to look at more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work. For example, professor G. Mugesh of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) who won this year’s Infosys prize in the Physical Sciences category is working at the intersection of chemistry and biology. We also need to have strong industry academia partnerships.