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Like startups, academic research will attract FDIs when it delivers world-class products: Wadhwani Foundation CEO

Academic research will find investors from the country and abroad when they start consistently delivering world-class products, Ajay Kela, President and global CEO of not-for-profit tech organisation Wadhwani Foundation, said on Tuesday.

“Even 10 years ago there were hardly any foreign VCs that were interested in investing in the Indian startup ecosystem, look where we are now,” he said.

“In the case of research, if you are able to produce something that is at world-class level that is 10x less the cost, it will by default attract foreign direct investment (FDI),” Kela told PTI on the sidelines of an event where agreements were signed between the Wadhwani Foundation, technical education body AICTE, as well as four IITs and other premier institutions to set up a network of innovation hubs across the country.

Citing an example of one such product, he said, “Ten years ago at IIT Bombay we funded the CAR-T solution for cancer therapy. This cost Rs 4 crore in the US, and through commercial academic research, we brought that cost down to Rs 30 lakh. This is the kind of impact we are looking to have.” India has about 40,000 educational institutes and less than 1% of them are involved in deep research, and “we are at the beginning of the journey to change this,” Kela said. Wadhwani Foundation, as part of the memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur, IIT Hyderabad, IISc Bangalore, and C-CAMP, will establish Wadhwani Innovation Network Centers of Excellence (WIN-COEs) to accelerate the commercialisation of academic innovations.

The WIN-COEs aim to accelerate home-grown research and discoveries to create an ecosystem that provides inclusive and equitable solutions from emerging technologies, while also fostering collaborations between industry, universities, research institutions, and the government, the foundation said in a statement.

“Emerging technologies like advanced AI, synthetic biology, and quantum computing hold immense promise for inclusive and equitable solutions.

“Establishing WIN COEs will amplify such solutions and catalyze their application in real-world scenarios, setting India on a trajectory of scientific economic progress,” Kela said.

There has been a steady increase in research funding in the last 10 years, “and now it is also a matter of utilising these funds properly”, AICTE Chairman T G Sitharam said.

“In the last 10 years, there has been a 2.5-times increase in funding on research… Funding definitely drives research, but it is the ecosystem that we are trying to create through these initiatives,” Sitharam told PTI.

IIT Hyderabad Director BS Murthy said, “Viksit Bharat that the Prime Minister has been talking about is about developing the country where you see the products in other countries. This agreement aims to support innovation, particularly among the younger minds who should be mentored on their out-of-the-box thinking.”

As part of the agreement, “each COE will receive up to $1 million annually, with AICTE’s 13 ‘Indovation Centers’ adding $10 million yearly of joint investment to support 100-plus higher education institutes”, Wadhwani Foundation added.

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