Start-up crib at city IISER

New Delhi: The department of science and technology has agreed to support an initiative at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Calcutta, to take innovative research ideas from its laboratories towards applications and the marketplace.

The DST has sanctioned Rs 13 crore for the Research Innovation and Scientific Entrepreneurship (Rise) Foundation that will seek to translate science from the IISER itself and other academic institutions in the region into products with the intention of creating technology-driven start-ups.

The funds will be used for civil and scientific infrastructure and the annual costs to run the Rise Foundation which is expected to serve as an "incubator" for research ideas and enhance prospects for entrepreneurship and technology jobs in the region, scientists said.

"Start-ups provide the best platforms to take high-end and early-stage research ideas forward," said Sourav Pal, the director at IISER, Calcutta. Government funding for such efforts is important, he said, because early-stage ideas may carry some risk of failure and large established companies may be reluctant to invest in them.

The Rise Foundation - expected to operate through a 20,000sqft complex on the IISER campus - besides providing seed funding to scale up laboratory innovations towards the marketplace, will also provide management training, business consulting and assistance in business plans, scientists said.

"This is the next logical step to doing good science," said Shiladitya Sengupta, assistant professor and principal investigator at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Rise Foundation's technical advisory board.

"The faculty is going beyond the call of duty, which is to do excellent science and mentor students, to now convert their science into products that impact society," said Sengupta.

Examples of some innovations emerging from IISER, Calcutta, he said, include a catalyst that may revolutionise the petroleum industry and a blood-clotting agent that can be critical in treating battlefield injuries or trauma. "It is time such inventions move from the bench to benefit society," Sengupta said.

Polymer chemist Raja Shanmugam is among IISER, Calcutta, scientists with laboratory-scale innovations. He has demonstrated a drug-delivery system that uses polymers to improve the efficiency through which two cancer drugs may be delivered at sites of tumours.

Physicist Ayan Banerjee is collaborating with a Bangalore-based start-up to use digital imaging processing to improve medical diagnostics.

Another chemist, Swadhin Mandal, has developed chemical processes to turn carbon dioxide - a waste greenhouse gas implicated in global warming - into commercially useful compounds, including methanol, as an alternative fuel to run vehicles in the future.

"IISER, Calcutta, is rich in such ideas, and there is also a hunger for an incubator," said Swaminathan Sivaram, a senior scientist at IISER, Pune, and a former director at the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, and a member of the Rise Foundation's technical advisory board.

Sivaram had set up a similar incubator at NCL a decade ago which, he said, now hosts nearly 40 start-ups and employs over 250 people in high-technology jobs.


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