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September - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
India-the-hub-for-scientific-research
Vinod Khosla
Monday, October 15, 2007
Based on the interview given exclusively to siliconindia.

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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