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5 tips to succeed for young IIT-ians

December 11, 2006 17:58 IST
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"Sustainable new technologies can mitigate the poverty , unemployment and backwardness in villages," believes Dr S Rajagopalan, former IIT-ian and founder of TIDE, a non-profit organisation.

His mission is to identify economically rewarding and ecologically sustainable inventions from India's universities and develop them into successful enterprises.

Over the last 13 years, TIDE has  worked on technologies related to biomass energy in non-formal rural industries, sericulture, post harvest processing, waste to energy conversion , rainwater harvesting, and grey water treatment .

TIDE has established twenty enterprises. Their  turnover last year was Rs 1.5 crore (Rs 15 million).

In an interview with, Dr S Rajagopalan shares his views on IIT education, his rural mission and reveals his success mantra. Excerpts:

'Inspire, Involve and Transform India.' Can you dwell upon the significance of the theme for this year's Pan-IIT global conference?

IIT-ians have performed well in the field of engineering and the brand IIT has earned respect across the globe. Can this success inspire other professionals? Can this well earned respect inspire us to perform for India's poor?  If we have to involve other players, politicians, administrators, other professionals in transforming India, we need to earn their respect. This can be done only when we come down from our pedestals, break barriers and work with, as equals, others.

How do IITians plan to give back to their country and to transform it?

We plan to give our time, skills and resources.

IIT-ians are the pride of India. What do you think is the biggest contribution of IIT-ians to India?

To have created in the world stage a respect and awe for India's technological prowess.

What is it about IITs that sets its graduates apart from others?

IIT promotes three qualities: Skeptical enquiry, creative irreverence and a respect for quality. Skeptical enquiry makes us question, prod and explore everything and find for ourselves. Creative irreverence makes us to focus on "what is said" rather than on "who said it". Respect for quality pushes us always to deliver the best.

When you made it to IIT; what was that experience like?

I came from a small town where IIT was not known (in 1972).  In fact, people questioned my choice of IIT over more the well known Guindy Engineering College. So I had no expectation. I also did not know that it was tough to get in to IIT. There was a satisfaction that I got in to a good college.

Did you have any role model who inspired you in your career?

Many people have inspired me, in my work on rural technology. If I have to choose one among them as a role model it would be Prof Amulya Reddy of the Indian Institute of Science, who passed away recently. Rigour in work, attention to details and respect for others, especially the poor were a few things I learnt from his life.

How did the IIT help build your career and personality? How does the IIT-ians network help?

The name IIT opens many doors. It is easier to get to know information, technologies and street smart tips.

Could you tell us 5 things that young IIT-ians, entrepreneurs must do to succeed?

  • Don't underestimate resources required ( money, people, time)
  • Under promise, over deliver
  • Focus on customer experience and customer value add
  • Always care for your staff
  • Be prepared to exit. Don't be possessive.

What are the challenges that India faces in the new millennium? How can IIT-ians help address these challenges?

The main challenges are unemployment and under employment. Most Indians in rural areas do not even have 300 hours of work per year. Problems of resource scarcity and contamination (water, land, forest etc) IIT-ians can bring in innovations to address these issues.

What keeps India from becoming a product giant like it is in services?

We do not take risks. We are afraid of failures. We also do not provide sufficient resources.  Our marketing skills are also poor.

How do you contribute to the society, industry, IIT?

This is for others to evaluate.

In what way do you help train women for senior management roles and entrepreneurship development?

We do not discriminate. We provide same training and opportunities to our women executives/engineers as we do with men.

What are the biggest obstacles that Indian women entrepreneurs face?

Balancing home and work is a serious challenge for women in Indian society. Most men cannot work with women who are their equals or superiors.

What advice would you give today's IIT-ians who are tomorrow's entrepreneurs?

Do not wear blinkers. Persist, do not give up. Be brutally honest and acknowledge your shortcomings upfront.

What role can IIT-ians play to develop India as a knowledge economy?

Share skills, knowledge and quality processes among all those who are interested. Share how you did it rather than what you did.

Many IIT-ians have preferred to go aboard rather than work in India . Do you think this trend is changing now? How can India retain its talented people?

Talented people go where they get paid adequately and where it is respected. We should not worry about brain drain. We should worry more about closed minds. If we are open, we can benefit from the work of IIT-ians wherever they are.

Which are the technologies and companies in the rich India that can have a beneficial impact on the rural India?

  • Water purification technologies , especially to remove fluoride and arsenic ( aqua guard and HLL  can have a market here)
  • Drip irrigation and precision farming
  • Small scale high quality processing of horticultural produce.
  • Micro insurance ( crop, health, live stock , vehicles )
  • Telemedicine

Should India have more IITs? Why?

India should have many more institutions (by what ever name you may call them) which functions on the lines of IIT. We need more institutions where faculty are autonomous, students are not afraid and the environment conducive to many experiments.

What does money mean to you?

Money is an important resource to achieve the goals. Money in itself is not the goal.

Please tell us something about how you became an entrepreneur, the difficulties you faced in setting up your enterprise?

I had worked with a quasi government institution (Karnataka State Council for science and Technology) for fourteen years (1979 to 1993) in developing and disseminating appropriate rural technologies. The liberalisation that was set in motion in 1991 signaled the beginning of the end of the government as sole disseminator of the newer technologies. It opened up an opportunity for non-profits and social entrepreneurs to enter the scene. I made use of this and with other colleagues floated TIDE  (

TIDE is a not for profit organisation . Its  mission is to identify economically rewarding and ecologically sustainable inventions from India's  universities and develop them  into successful enterprises. The focus is on inventions for rural areas and the strategy is to build up rural entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs could be individuals or groups or not for profit organisations .  TIDE ensures that the technologies are replicable, necessary legal, administrative, financial and social infrastructure are  in place.

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