Conversion of research activity into entrepreneurial ventures is gradually gaining importance in India. And for academicians like professor A Q Contractor, currently the head of the Chemistry Department at the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay, such a platform has given a “new lease of life” to his ideas and a chance to “serve the people”.
For the last 15 years, Contractor has been working towards developing sensors that can be used for a range of applications like water quality monitoring and affordable healthcare solutions. But while the idea of developing sensors based on conducting polymers was well received way back in 1992, the industry’s response was “very disheartening”. “They only wanted us to copy what was available in the market. And though I wanted to take my product to the market, I had no business plans and didn’t know how to go about it, being an academician,” says Contractor.
But after the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) was initiated in 2004 at IIT Bombay, it gave a boost to his plans to start a company. SINE administers a business incubator, which provides support for technology-based entrepreneurship.
“The IITs were created so that India can have a technology base. Publishing papers is not enough.
Academicians need establishments like SINE which can help take our technological solutions to the people,” Contractor says.
With this background, a concerted effort has been made over the last three years to develop a water-quality monitoring system with support from Medialab Asia. “Hence, this seems an opportune time to launch a company to take this and other sensor-based products to the market. And from 2008 onwards, we will avail of the business incubation facility provided by SINE,” says Contractor.
Further, it was during the summer of 2006 that Dr S Bhat from Bhat Bio-Tech India Private Limited showed interest in the technology being developed by Professor Contractor. Eventually, the two decided to incubate a company, Polymeric Sensors Private Limited, with SINE. “He was an academician turned entrepreneur and once Dr Bhat decided to jointly start a venture with me, it gave me a lot of confidence,” adds the professor.
Bhat Bio-Tech provides kits for health care (Cancer, Hepatitis, Thyroid, HIV etc). While the launching product, the low-cost, hand-held instrument for checking water quality was tested in 2007, with the formation of the company, 100 such instruments will be tested by ‘marketing people’ starting January 2008.
This will be followed by an improved version (if any changes are equired) on a larger scale. “All the data collected by us can be centralised. Hence we intend to generate a dynamic water quality map of the country which will help in planning where to invest and what technologies need to be used,” explains Contractor.
On the anvil is a sensor-based evaluation system for items that are commonly consumed. Milk is of particular importance since milk adulteration is “rampant in India”. Developing systems for agriculture and for diagnostic parameters like glucose, hemoglobin and immunogens are some of the initiatives that the company will undertake.
Significantly, the company wants to focus on sensor-based technology to bring innovative products that address healthcare without requiring much technical expertise and at an affordable cost. “Treatment can be effective if diagnosis is done at an early stage. Hence, we will develop a range of sensors to address the issue of health in our country,” he said.
The focus will be infectious diseases and common disease conditions like hepatitis. “Again, so many are affected by malaria and diabetes in India. Hence we will give such diseases prime importance since it’s time that we create our own solutions,” he added.
The professor eventually intends to register start-up as a small-scale industry.