India: The Hub for Scientific Research

Author: Vinod Khosla
Founder & CEO, Khosla Ventures.
Based on the interview given exclusively to siliconinida.

In the last fifteen years, IT has played a dominant role in giving India the edge over other economies, so much so that we have now been christened a “transforming economy”, a distinction showered solely upon us. As the country continues her sprint towards ultimate economic success, it is imperative that it maintains its image of a “knowledge based talent pool”. It will ensure that other nations look up to India, like they thus far have, with admiration and respect. Our IT workforce is recognized for its keenness and technological prowess, and it is about time that professionals in other fields too garnered the same reputation and respect.

I am quite upbeat about the possibility of the exploits of IT being repeated in other industries across the board, especially in areas relating to research. The effect of a combined emergence of numerous industries in the way IT has emerged in India could create a nation not only rich in economic wealth but also the wealth actually trickling down to the common man.

Detractors would question the possibility of such an emergence in the first place. There is also the issue of India producing a patently small number of PhDs for a nation of its size. Our neighbor China for the record, produces close to 2500 PhDs a year, and detractors would point out that the Chinese are far better placed to move ahead in research-related areas. But history proves that we (Indians) have the talent and bent of mind to excel in fields like Mechanical Sciences, Pharmaceuticals, Electrochemistry, and other pure science areas.

Also, we have a fairly good fundamental education setup that equips students with the basics, and talent too is available. The only drawback is that people in the recent past have veered away from pure sciences and research owing to the lack of well-paying employment opportunities in the field. In this regard, startups in the respective fields need to be encouraged. Venture capitalists must be open to funding more seed and speculative ventures that they thus far haven’t touched.

For example, I recently teamed with MIT professor Srini Devdas on a project called Puffco. Devdas is developing a tiny chip that can uniquely identify an object and cannot be deceived. Such chips could be used in RFID tags and numerous other areas, though the scene is not really clear as of now. I’d like to point out that investment in pure research at the ‘science project’ stage is highly risky since the entrepreneur hasn’t yet proved that his or her technology will work, much less attract customers. The ‘science projects’ as I call them are initiatives that don’t yet fit neatly into a business plan but promise to produce breakthrough technologies providing a huge return on investments in time, and that time may stretch up to 25 years.

The government must, in this regard, provide incentives to startups in research and sciences and help them with infrastructure and financial benefits, like it has done in the case of IT. The quality of science schools and their management need to be upgraded too; that will encourage more and more students to take pure sciences, and thus enter areas of research associated with them.

The presence of a vast talent pool covering many fields and the experience of having achieved milestones in the field of IT will arm India with the capability and power to defeat its opponents in the battle for global supremacy. If things move as I foresee, in the next ten years India will become the hub for research in fields as varied as electrochemistry and biotechnology.
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Reader's comments(5)
1: From: Mrs. Mary David

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Posted by: mary lovely david - Monday 26th, September 2011
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Posted by: tata tatababy os - Friday 30th, October 2009
3: SUB: Indian R&D- Science and Technology- Current State
Inadequacy and non-performance -provides an Index for growth
Does the Industry want Inventors? Then go all out!!
Do the Universities Want Excellence? Then identify State of Art as an Index
Do the Science and Technology want next Dimension of Knowledge ? Then Discipline ane Internal Index for frowth!
Who leads ? Space Research, Nuclear Research and Defence Research ?
Identify Technology Management Index ?
Question oneself- Many western countries progressed through
Intellect-IPRs-Copy-Rights-Pride Industry?
NOW Can You get Organised or Perish!!
India at first stage unable identify 100 steps ahead?
A clericl pool makes India a laughing stock- unable produce
or support Leadership and excellence.
Vidyardhi Nanduri
Cosmology World Peace
Posted by: vidyardhi Nanduri - Wednesday 19th, November 2008
4: The problem with research in India despite the talent pool, is the pencahnt or better call it compulsion among us Indians to make a quick-buck from the market . You have encouraged the development of the "chip" effort by Srini Devdas. That must be a lone example. In the sixties and seventies many of the Research Istitutes established and funded by GoI have done quite some good research in some areas esp. Electrochemistry, for instance as you have rightly pointed out but how many have become real products produced by the industry. Our Industry steers clear of any of these ideas, for to productionize them also a lot of effort and investment are needed. In industry whether it is Public Sector or Private Sector the drive to set apart a part of the profits generated to drive developmental research is wanting.R&D effort in any of our industries is only for fufilling the mandatory requirements. Here, people want readymade technology that is convertible into Turnover and Cash.Look at the social conditioning.How many of us would like to be reverred as a Scientist or a Technologist generating New Technology with no Power of Pelf to attract investment? It is not clear how the Govt will fund individual effort in S&T development without losing out on the Money and gaining nothing in the bargain. We could do it in S/W because the main resource is the intellect, and the other material resources are affordable even for a small VC. It is a similar situation in Biotechnology. It is only in Space and Nuclear Power that our countrymen have produced technology one can say. That agin is driven by extreme compulsion. No readymade technology was available for the buy. It is puerile to assume that the same is repeatable in a Material Intensive Research Area, like say Fusion Research, why try matching the speed war in Supercomputers? We did start well on the Supercomputing speeds with PARAM with the Parallel Computing paradigm. I would like to know where we are agianst the Jaguar!?!
Posted by: MAHADEVA S SARMA - Tuesday 18th, November 2008
5: I think India has and always had very high caliber talent pool. It lacks the know-how to use this talent pool to establish global leadership. In last five years India has done significant progress to show its global leadership. I agree with you that yes we need to produce more talent in advance research but if we don’t know how to use them productively it is going to create frustration and the brain drain that we have been seeing for last few decades.


Posted by: KB258 - Saturday 16th, August 2008
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