Entrepreneurship is building a business to tap a future opportunity. It is a challenging but potentially impactful pursuit—financially or otherwise. The entrepreneur makes a bet on this future opportunity. To bet on an uncertain future, one needs to know the opportunity while working at the cutting-edge. Talent, facilities and an enabling ecosystem are required to drive entrepreneurship.
Several CSIR laboratories, through science-based entrepreneurship, have helped create businesses. Cooperatives like Amul started new verticals like the baby milk powder using CSIR technologies. The Godavari Sugar Mills converted itself into a biorefinery with the help of CSIR-NCL. Vinati Organics and Excel Industries have also benefitted from CSIR institutes.
CSIR alumni have founded new businesses. Dr Anji Reddy, the founder of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, is a CSIR-NCL alumnus. Dr A V Ramarao, Founder of Avra Labs, is also a CSIR-NCL alumnus.
CSIR also paved the way for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country. The foundational government rules for spinoff companies from government institutes and scientists originated from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). There have been eleven spinoff companies only from CSIR-NCL. Fourteen CSIR-NCL scientists have received approval under Scientist Entrepreneurial scheme. Further, seventeen CSIR-NCL alumni have partnered with CSIR-NCL scientists to build companies. The entrepreneurial activities of CSIR-NCL have also led the Intellectual Property movement of India.
Many CSIR labs and other players such as the IKP Knowledge Park host incubation facilities for early-stage start-ups. These enable access to facilities, seed investment programs, funding databases, advisory circles, regulatory facilitation, and networking events. The 15-year-old Venture Centre at CSIR-NCL has worked with over 600 start-up ideas and has over 150 resident incubatees. It is home to 70 resident incubatees at any point in time, mentoring people in 17 cities across multiple states of India. In the last six years, Venture Centre incubatees have fundraised Rs. 100 cr in revenue.
The 5-year-old Atal Incubation Centre at CSIR-CCMB (AIC-CCMB) in Hyderabad has had more than 70 companies. Ten successes have gotten their next round of funding or set up their facility. Two of CCMB students have built their companies in the last six months. AIC-CCMB is now building similar facilities in CSIR-Institute of Microbial Technology in Chandigarh and CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.
Despite these successes, there is much to be done to ease the process of translating the lab leads into an enterprise by the inventors, i.e., the scientists. We need more mechanisms to foster discussions and collaborations between scientists, incubators, corporates and entrepreneurs. Positions like Innovation Associates can bridge the scientists and entrepreneurs. Involvement in entrepreneurial ventures can be a metric for the scientists’ professional evaluations. The community will need to develop a sustainable process to ensure that knowledge generated is translated either by the inventor themselves or by the ecosystem around. That is the only way to create large-scale tangible value of scientific knowledge that the country has.