(28 Feb 2024) Welcome address at National Science Day at NCL: “The Spirit of Science”

Welcome Remarks by Dr Premnath Venugopalan

National Science Day at CSIR-NCL, 28 Feb 2024

Dear Friends



Today is the National Science Day!

Every year 28 February is celebrated in India as National Science Day to mark the discovery of the Raman effect by Sir C. V. Raman.

On February 28, 1928, Sir CV Raman announced the discovery of the Raman Effect. 

His classic paper with KS Krishnan titled “A New Type of Secondary Radiation” was published in Nature on 31 March 1928.  Sir C.V. Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for this discovery. 

We were blessed to have Sir CV Raman’s presence at NCL on 3 Jan 1950 when NCL was opened formally by Pt Nehru. This institution has a long  relationship with Sir CV Raman right from its inception (sometimes full of bitter disagreements and science policy debates – something very characteristic of us scientists and I think, a good thing to do that is much better than being indifferent and uninterested!) 



I must tell you that this year’s theme of the National Science Day announced by the Government is “Indigenous Technologies for Viksit Bharat”.  And as all of you know, I have chosen to dedicate my life to how science can be directed towards socio-economic development and build solutions/future industries for India and the World.  That said, today’s  day belongs to Sir CV Raman  and the “Spirit of Science’ as he saw it.

On 22 December 1968, Sir C.V. Raman delivered a lecture on the Foundation Stone-laying ceremony of the Community Science Center, Ahmedabad titled “Why is the sky blue?”. This was actually a discourse on the spirit of science and has several nuggets of wisdom for the young scientists in this audience.

I want to share with you a few quotes from the lecture —

A quote on nature as the inspiration for science and his sense of wonderment:

” You learn science by keeping your eyes and ears open and looking around at this world. The real inspiration of science, at least to me, has been essentially the love of nature. Really, in this world, wherever we see, we see all kind of miracles happening in nature. To me, everything I see is something incredible something absolutely incredible. We take it all for granted. But I think the essence of the scientific spirit is to look behind and beyond and to realize what a wonderful world it is that we live in. And everything that we see presents to us not a subject for curiosity, but a challenge, a challenge to the spirit of man to try to understand something of this vast mystery that surrounds us. Science continually attempts to meet this challenge to the spirit of man. “

He goes on to later reiterate — 

“.. it is not necessary to hunt round the textbooks to find problems of science. You keep your eyes open and you see that all around you, the whole world bristles with problems to solve; but you must have the wit to solve it; and you must have the strength of mind to keep going at it until you get something. This is the lesson, which I want to bring home to the younger generation in front of me. “

A quote on the process of scientific enquiry:

“Don’t read any book about it; don’t ask your teacher. Let us sit down and try to think out this problem: Why is the sky blue? Look at it as if it is a completely new scientific problem about which nobody has troubled himself before. You sit down and think it out and you will find it a most exciting thing to ask yourself that question and see if you can discover the answer for yourself. Now I will put it to you in this way. The best way to answer a question is to ask another.” 

A quote on science as an endless quest:

“What is science? And how can we in this country hope to advance science? How can we try to really make ourselves worthy of our ancestors in the past? That is the real topic of my lecture. …… Science never stops. It is going on. The more you find, the more appears that you have to find. That is the attraction of science, provided you are not distressed too much by other people getting in front of you. Don’t bother about them. The real point is that it is an endless quest and every new discovery opens new paths for discovery. New questions arise, requiring new answers.”

A quote on the utility of science:

“I want to stress the philosophy of my life. Never to ask what is the use of all this. As I told you before, it is the striving that is worthwhile. Because we have certain inherent powers given to us to use – observation and thinking — we must use them. The more we use them, the sharper they become, the more powerful they become and ultimately something will come out of it so that humanity is benefited, science is benefited. Ultimately the aim of scientific knowledge is to benefit human life.”

Her further goes on to say – “The most important, the most fundamental investigations, though at first might seem an abstraction of nature, are precisely those, which in due course, affect human life and human activities most profoundly. This is a very heartening thing because one should not think that scientific work in order to be valuable should be (immediately*) useful. Scientific work is valuable because it will ultimately prove its value for the whole of human life and human activity. That is the history of modern science. Science has altered the complexion of things around us. And precisely those scientists who have laboured not with the aim of producing this or that, but who have worked with the sole desire to advance knowledge, ultimately prove to be the greatest benefactors of humanity.” (*–added by me)



Dear young friends

You may wish to imbibe and live the spirit of science that Sir CV Raman spoke about – one of sense of wonderment at Nature, the spirit of scientific enquiry, the desire to know and discover knowledge, cultivate the sense of continuously rising up to challenges posed by Nature and to contribute to this collective “valuable” activity of humanity called “science”.

While learning from the wisdom of Sir CV Raman, let us re-dedicate ourselves to the mission of this lab — “to advance knowledge and to apply it for the good of the people”.

With these words I welcome all of you to this National Science Day celebration. I welcome Prof Ruchi Anand to NCL and am grateful to her for taking time out to join us here today on this occasion.

(16 Nov 2020) The Career Planning Note Book

Here are some tips and pointers from me for young students and their parents on career planning. Some of these thoughts are unconventional and just practical advise from own experience and from talking to many young people. I am not trying to be academically accurate or complete here.

My advise to parents — Help your children explore and collect data points for their own decision. Give them time. There is no hurry and this is not an “efficient” process. Do not compare with others (especially kids who seem to be sure what they wish to do)— this is a very personal journey.  And there is no right way!  It is very likely that you will influence the decision indirectly via your own life, choices, etc — nothing wrong in that as long as you do not want everything “your way”!

 Observations — Here are some observations to think about:

  • Your work will represent at least 50% of your waking adult life.  So should we not systematically think about how we would like to spend that time?
  • Have you noticed that in most things that you enjoy doing, you tend to loose yourself in it. No other thought comes to your mind at that time. No other worry, deadline, etc bothers you at that time. In fact, it is quite possible that it is the other way around — you enjoy those things which completely occupy your mind. You might notice this when you are completely absorbed in a movie or a song or a book or a video game or soccer game or for some people doing maths or puzzles.
  • Some children say they hate biology.  In most cases, I  find that what they hate is the need to remember many details and rote learning. It is rarely the subject matter of biology itself  — in fact, it can often be curious, amazing and relevant to understanding life around us. But the rote learning overshadows all that. The tragedy is that when people actually use biology in their careers, they actually may not need to use their rote learning of younger days.  So this is a problem of the method of teaching rather than the subject itself. Students should not confuse the two.
  • Some children say they love or  maths depending upon their comfort with the methods taught in maths. I find that very often a student with a strong start and good early teachers is able to keep pace with the new stuff being taught year on year and is not overwhelmed. Others just get lost and frustrated. Much of math has the character of puzzle solving where you learn some methods and then master them with practice.  There is  a chance that you are good in math but just did not have a strong start. So do not confuse your ability to do well in math in class year-on-year with an intrinsic ability to do math or interest in math.
  • A very important aspect of physics taught in schools is the ability to visualize a physical phenomenon and convert them into equations. Some kids have a good intuitive feel for physical phenomenon but just cannot get comfortable converting them into equations or the math associated with it.  This should not be assumed to be an inability to learn and use physics.
  • Some children develop abilities, talent and confidence in certain activities — like writing, poetry, art, dance, acting, sports etc.  These activities may capture their interest and imagination as well. When we see such prodigious talent, we are all in awe and encouraging. Many older people follow these talented individuals as fans(for ex, Sachin Tendulkar). But many of us fail to see that potential talent in early stages and understand the hard work it takes to nurture such talent.  Considering this a high risk venture and under-estimating potential, we often send young people on safer paths where the young people neither excel nor display interest.  Note that in most cases people whom we admire have taken risk at some point and not stayed with the safe path or the crowd!
  • Most children have not really been exposed to many careers or people in different careers. Most children will get exposure to careers of their family members and may be teachers.  If you come from a under-privileged family, you may not even get a significant exposure to careers from family members. It is strange that career planning is done without any “data points”.
  • You will notice that many of us have implicit biases about different professions and careers. These biases accumulate in subtle ways over time. For example, a person from an academic family may have a low opinion of the merchant professions. A person from a white collar profession may have a low opinion of blue collar professions. You will hear comments such as “why should an IIT engineer be wasting his life on selling books?” or “why should a physicist be wasting his talent on trading shares” or “why should a senior manager be doing farming in his village farm?”
  • In many cases, parents and family members can be very large influences in a child’s decision. Many children will have only the life of their parents as data points for their decisions. In some cases, parents may actively push children in a certain direction. Opportunities for greater exposure and collecting more data points are always welcome.  Nothing wrong in this as long as it does not create a lot of baggage (either conditioning or psychological pressures) for the children when they are taking their decisions.
  • In most cases, we rarely directly use the information or specific cases that was learnt in school and college. But we do use the generic methods (like how to do experiments, generate data systematically, how to evaluate data for quality, how to infer from data etc). So do not worry too much or waste your time about whether the information learnt is directly relevant for your future or not — it is probably not meant to be.

 Tips and  Pointers:

  • To give it more formality and force a disciplined exploration, start a note book titled “Career Planning Diary”. This is for:
    • Setting up a plan of To Dos
    • Noting down insights you learn along the way
    • Keep track of how your thoughts change over a period of time as you encounter new data / experiences
  • I think career planning has three main parts:
    • Internal explorations and self-discovery
    • Exploring the external world
    • Small experiments to gather insights
  • Internal explorations and self-discovery:
    • Try to start with a clean slate and minimise biases.
    • Understand how your mind works. This is a very personal  exploration. Note everybody’s mind works differently and priorities things differently because everybody is conditioned differently depending upon their life and experiences.   Acknowledge that this is also subject to change in the coming years as you experience more of life.  So, recognise your mind’s preferences but understand that it is okay to change your mind.
    • See Framework 1 below
  • Exploring the external world:
    • How can we understand a variety of professions?
      • Reading and seeing videos of them
      • Talking to people in different professions; interviews; listening to talks
      • Internships; Shadowing other; Observorship
      • Biographies and following role models
      • Browse websites of organizations or people you admire or are curious about
      • Observe your family members
    • See Framework 2 below
    • How things are changing in the world around you? Trends. New developments.  Does anything catch your fancy? How can you go about this?
      • Read newspaper
      • Follow trends via a few selected magazines, websites/ podcasts etc
  • Small experiments to gather insights about yourself, your preferences, various professions etc:
    • Organising roles in school or neighbourhood; Lemonade stands; community plays
    • Summer job/ experiences; Part-time jobs
    • Internships
    • Volunteering
    • Self-initiated projects; Shadow exercises
    • Mentoring/ teaching siblings/ friends
    • Building a tree house/ real-world solution
    • Trading cards; monopoly
    • Sports — experience in different roles


  1. What motivates you?
    • Livelihood
    • Access to resources; freedoms that it gives you; Buys you what you want/ need.
    • Keeps your mind engaged and interested.
    • Gives you satisfaction; You feel happy with the consequences of your work and the impact it has
    • Gives you purpose; You feel that people/organization/ Nation wants/ needs you; It gives you a sense of importance.
    • Gives you sense of worth or prestige or respect or power; Gives you a sense of identity/ recognition. Allows you to be part of a “club”/ community.
    • Gives you sense of continuous growth, progress, advancement.
  2. Core “nature” of work of different types (Note: Any given job may have multiple of the following “natures” encapsulated within it.)
    • Education — teaching, training the next generation
    • Research — new knowledge creation
    • Technology development — problem solving in new ways
    • Practice — applying knowledge  with existing tools to execute projects/ solve problems
    • Management — reaching end goals by “managing” resources, timing, complexity, decisions
    • Leadership — setting the vision, goals, agenda; raising/ attracting resources; motivating and mobilising action
    • Labour — carrying out routine tasks (can be physical or mental tasks)
    • Analysis — take stock of multiple pieces of information and experiences, and provide a basis for a decision or plan.
    • Trading — buy low and sell high
    • Business — buy, add value and sell
    • Entrepreneurship — foresee a future opportunity well in advance and mobilise resources and action towards tapping the opportunity
    • Services — support activities of others with valued services
    • Farming and related — grow and sell
    • Performances — performing any art form or sport, exhibiting results and seeking appreciation

(19 April 2020) COVID19: Why diagnostics?

There is a lot of clamour about testing for COVID19. My view is that testing for testing sake is of no use. Every diagnostic test should provide an answer to a useful question being asked with a larger purpose in mind.

I thought I will use this blog to put down some useful purposes that testing can serve. (A disclaimer — there different types of diagnostic tests which answer different questions; so, please do not assume that every test does the same thing. Also different tests will have different levels of certainty with which they give results.)

Purposes for doing diagnostic tests for COVID19: 

  1. To support clinicians in their choice and sequence of therapy
    1. To identify if a patient has COVID19 to guide treatment
    2. To quantify viral load and severity
    3. To decide when to discharge the patient
  2. To guide R&D on drugs and vaccines
    1. To provide vital information and clues to R&D scientists on the progression of the disease
    2. To select candidates for clinical trials in a better manner so to come up with more meaningful results
    3. To quantitatively measure the impact of therapy
  3. To  support decisions of  public health authorities
    1. To identify those people who can spread the virus. To identify those who need to be quarantined.
    2. To identify those who can be allowed to leave quarantine
    3. To get better insights into who is more vulnerable and therefore should be protected
    4. To screen travellers and migrants at the borders for potential risks
  4. To provide important data (especially, as basis for assumptions and cross checking if the model predicts reality accurately) for mathematical models that are used to support decisions of the Government such as
    1. Imposing lockdowns
      1. When?
      2. Where?
    2. Lifting lockdown
      1. When?
      2. Where?
    3. For planning operations, budgets, medical services/supplies needed etc:
      1. How large is the real spread of the disease?
      2. What proportion of the population is already immune to the disease?
        1. Infected and recovered
        2. Residual immunity from earlier
      3. When infected, what proportion of the population will be
        1. asymptomatic,
        2. symptomatic (home isolated or quarantined)
        3. symptomatic (hospitalised)
        4. will die

Realism in testing:

  • Clearly one cannot be testing everybody very frequently
  • Testing methods have their own limitations and that should be understood by all: a) the sample has to be collected correctly so as to not miss out the virus due to poor sample collection, b) every test method has some limits of sensitivity and specificity, c) different test methods answer different questions.
  • The test methods which detect the SARS-COV-2 specific  parts of the virus RNA tell you “if the virus RNA is present in detectable concentrations inside you at that time in the location from where the sample was taken“. What are the assumptions here? a) we know exactly which gene is unique to SARS-COV-2, b) virus is present in concentrations above minimum detectable concentration, c) one has chosen the right place to sample from, d) one has collected sample properly so as to not miss the virus.
  • The test methods which detects an antibody that the body has produced in response to the presence of the SARS-COV-2 virus, tell you that “the virus was present in the body at some point and the body responded by producing antibodies to counter it“. What are the assumptions here? a) the antibody being detected is specific to the SARS-COV-2, b) the antibody is not being confused with another one looking similar, c) the antibody is present in concentrations higher than detectable limits, d) the person did not get an external infusion of antibodies or a vaccine causing production of the antibody.


(23 March 2020) Compilation of online learning resources for incubator staff

The following is a compilation of  online learning courses/ resources for incubator staff:

(Credits: This list is crowd sourced with inputs from the Venture Center team members. I have not checked every one of these for quality — as I do it in the future, I will leave my comments. )












  • To be added


  • To be added




  • To be added




  • To be added


  • To be added





(22 March 2020) COVID 19 Perspective

Looking at the confusion and panic surrounding COVID19 outbreak (some of which I find strange and unwarranted), I thought I will pen down some of thoughts.  The hysteria surrounding us does not sometimes allow us to think clearly. For me the only way to clear my thoughts is to write and analyse!   I though I will share those with others who may be able to use it for themselves as well:

  • The novel coronavirus is similar to any other flu virus with the key difference being the speed at which it is spreading.
  • For most people it will cause only mild flu like symptoms after which the patient will be back to normal. To put this in perspective, imagine if you did not know that there was a novel coronavirus acting, you would have just brushed it off as just another variation of the flu. In this context, what is all the panic about?
  • There is no running away from the virus. Chances are that sooner or later it will infect you. Even after the current epidemic subsides, it can be residual in the environment and can come back to infect you later. (Note: One can argue if this will be true.  The virus may not be very stable outside the body. If we find every infected person and ensure they do not infect anybody else, then there is a chance that it can be kept out of our vicinity — but this is practically very difficult in a country like India!)  The only protection at that time will be that a) you have already developed immunity thanks to a previous infection, or b) you have received a vaccine for the same , or c) if many people around you are immune, then spread becomes harder. Chances of universal immunisation in India for the novel coronavirus seems very low in India, so option (a) and (c) are more likely.
  • When you get a flu, you just have to wait it out till your body overcomes it. There is no medication  or treatment for it — you only take medication or measures to alleviate symptoms . The same will apply for the COVID19.  So, in this context, what is the great clamour about not have drugs for treatment?
  • Every year, many Indians get the flu. Most people do not take the flu vaccine or have access to the vaccine in India. Most of them do not have a problem going about their lives without the vaccine. Most will get infections and develop immunity. So, will the case be with COVID19. So, why is there so much noise about the unavailability of a vaccine?
  • Every year lot of people die due to respiratory distress/ diseases caused by viruses or other microbes or other causes. Certain parts of our population are more vulnerable to it and they are more likely to succumb to the disease.  The same shall apply to the COVID19 as well. The vulnerable will be at risk as always and they need to be protected as always.
  • So, what should be the focus of dealing with the disease?
  • FOCUS:  Protecting vulnerable people by isolating them or through vaccines (or equivalents) or treating them with drugs when they are infected.
  • Note that trying to vaccinate everybody or assure everybody that there is a treatment (drug) available is neither the focus nor that important.
  • For a moment, let us ignore the risk of death for the vulnerable subset of our population. In which case, the best strategy for all countries would have been to quickly let everybody get infected, let them recover at their homes,  build immunity and then not worry about the virus anymore. Sooner the spread of infection, lower will the the disruption in daily life rather than having the spread get prolonged over a period of time. Lower will be the damage to livelihoods, economy, etc.
  • So, for most of us, COVID19 should not worry us and there is no real reason to panic. Panic results in poor decisions and eventually larger overall costs. A good example, is how people are panicking and rushing to their home towns in crowded public transportation from large cities. There is absolutely no sense in this panic. This will only cause faster spreading of the disease and expose vulnerable family members to even more danger.
  • So, why should we be so concerned about COVID19?  The concern is for the following three reasons: a)  Because the novel coronavirus  spreads easily and fast, it will reach the most vulnerable amongst us easier than a common flu virus and b) if all the vulnerable people get sick all at once, we will not be able to manage the health care of such numbers, and c) if we can delay the vulnerable getting sick a little longer, then there is a chance that i) we can come up with vaccines to immunise them, ii) reduce transmission by everybody around them  not being infected, and iii) we can come up with drugs in the meantime to treat the patients back to normal.
  • You will notice that all of the above are aimed at the “vulnerable” and not necessarily for most of the population.  So you are being asked by Governments to do social distancing, lockdowns etc as your contribution to help the vulnerable and not necessarily to save yourself (unless you are one of the vulnerable)! So what is the panic for?  It is time to understand issues, be calm and do what is necessary to help the system save as many of the vulnerable people as possible.
  • Protecting and saving the vulnerable in the country with whatever health care systems and resources (without the system getting overwhelmed and we running out of resources )  we have is the primary agenda of any strategy to combat COVID19. Let us contribute to that without panic.
  • It is also important that people understand the purpose of Government actions well and do not confuse it with efforts to protect oneself from an infection. Otherwise, very soon there will be scepticism creeping in and as people start facing increasing levels of economic losses, they will start ignoring Government directives.
  • Some numbers — India has 1.3 billion people. Given the speed at which the virus is transmitting, If we say 60% of our population gets infected eventually, that will be 780 million people eventually (over several months). That by itself is not worrisome. A majority of those are also getting immunised against future attacks hopefully. The real issue is how many of these are the “vulnerable”. Let us say for a moment that 10% are vulnerable (just guessing — no basis). Then one is talking of 78 million people who are eventually infected and are vulnerable; so these are expected to have severe symptoms and will have to be treated by our health care system. If the death rate is say about 1% of the infected ( Note: I have reduced this number recently considering the fact that the percentage calculated using test data may be higher than the percentage calculated using real numbers — if there was a way to estimate it), then 7.8 million people eventually will die in an extreme scenario  (including both who were tested and who were  not!) . (Note that these are conjectured numbers and not based on any specific data. Also, one should not confuse this with data coming from testing cases because every country seems to be having different testing and designation criteria. The data from testing is likely to be lower than the real situation — nobody known by how much.) (Note: This should be seen in context of the fact that around 8-9 million people die in India every year; 22000-25000 deaths per day) The number of people dying will not only depend on how many people are vulnerable but also the quality of health care support in that country and many other extraneous factors.
  • The above are theoretical cumulative numbers. The number may vary significantly depending on many factors (many need to be checked) including weather (early summer and/ or monsoon), heterogeneous distribution of population in India, previous immunity status of the patients (for all you know, some Indians may have already seen something close to the current corona virus in the past and have built immunity), nutrition and health status of patient, current medications etc. I wish and hope that  the numbers are significantly lower! (And this where “miracles” kick in!)
  • If there is a vaccine, we can reduce the number of infected people (down from the 780 million mentioned above). Thus, we can reduce the number of potential deaths (down from the number of 7.8 million mentioned above).
  • If there is a drug and good medical care, then we can reduce the number of potential deaths (down from the 7.8 million mentioned above)
  • But the real practical challenge will be providing medical care to the infected vulnerable population (the 78 million mentioned above). If the entire 78 million people turn up at hospitals within a span of few months, that will be entirely unmanageable. But if we could spread this over say several months, the health care of these patients will be manageable to a better extent (but of course it depends on availability of doctors, hospitals, medical facilities and equipment, medicines etc). Question is how long can we prolong it?
  • About diagnostics —- The key goal here is to measure and track our fight against the virus in objective and quantitative terms. It is said that you cannot improve what you do not measure.  But we need to prioritise the use of diagnostics: First priority needs to guiding the course of treatment for sick patients. Second can be identifying patients who are “suspect” and need to be isolated to stop transmission. Last priority can be having better data for surveillance and planning government action. Wide spread testing or testing to quell the fears of the panic stricken would be a waste of resources at these pressing times.
  • So, here is the CALL FOR ARMS to everybody:
  • FOR MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE:  Help slow down the spread. Do not panic. Do not hoard supplies. Do not unnecessarily imagine yourself to be one amongst the vulnerable. Identify the vulnerable and maintain a distance from the vulnerable. Leave the PPE, diagnostic/ medical equipment, hospital beds etc for the most needy and medical professionals.
  • FOR THE VULNERABLE:  Try to reduce your chances of getting infected.
  • FOR PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: Define clearly who could be vulnerable or not.  Define clearly how to identify “suspects” who need to be tested. Give clear instructions to common people on actions.
  • FOR HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS: Preserve all resources (supplies, equipment, PPE, beds etc)  for serving the most vulnerable.
  • FOR VACCINE DEVELOPERS: Speed to market.
  • FOR DRUG DEVELOPERS: Speed to market
  • FOR MEDIA OF ALL KINDS:  Do not create panic.
  • FOR THE GOVERNMENT:  Plan and coordinate to slow down the spread at minimum socio-economic cost.  Do not take it to a situation where people need to weigh human life (of the vulnerable) against the socio-economic costs to all!!


Notes on 26 March 2020:

  • Alternative numbers for India based on the case of Italy:  Italy’s population is about 60 million. It has reported roughly 74,000 confirmed cases. And 7500 deaths so far.  There are parallel reports it is very likely that >60% of Italy’s population has now been infected with the Coronavirus and so how “herd immunity” will kick in. (There is no way to confirm it since one cannot test everybody.) If this is true, then >3.6 million people are infected in Italy. Of these 3.6 million people, around 2% were tested and confirmed COVID-19 positive.  In an advanced economy like Italy, if testing rate is 2% of the infected population, then in India it will be probably lower —- say assumed 1%. In fact reports suggest that India is doing about < 0.5% testing of the infected population.  That will be 3-8 million confirmed cases in India. So chances are that at its peak, India may report say upto 3-8 million confirmed infected people  (that is those who were infected and were confirmed to be infected by testing).  If Italy’s numbers are anything to go by, then 10% deaths amongst those tested confirmed will mean ~500,000 deaths confirmed and attributed to COVID-19. If one argue that India’s death rate will be lower for various (yet unproven) reasons including weather, younger population, previous immunities of some kind, etc etc — say 1% deaths in India.  Then still numbers will be ~ 50,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
  • Understanding Lockdowns:  Lockdowns can work if implemented well. Here is how? If a population has Group A (minority in early stage of epidemic) that is infected and Group B (majority in early stage of epidemic) that is not, then a lockdown aims to keep Group B away from Group A. In Group A, the following sub-parts will be there: Group A1 (majority) will see minor symptoms (if any)  and recover, build immunity against the virus and their bodies will destroy the virus within the lockdown period. Group A2 will fall sick and hopefully be identified and treated appropriately.  Hopefully, Group A2 will be managed in such a way that they recover, build immunity against the virus and their bodies will destroy the virus in a controlled, isolated environment within the lockdown period or may be even longer.  Group A3 (small fraction) will die without infecting others (since they are in isolation).  If this happens well, then the virus should go out of the population by the end of the lockdown period —- at least for the time being and until a new/ fresh  attack happens begins in the population. So, in principle, an effective lockdown can stop the epidemic. For it to work —- i) Lockdown needs to be long enough for Group A1 to recover fully, ii) separation of Group A and B has to be effective,   iii) Society needs to ensure that Group A2 and A3 are identified and isolated during the lockdown period and then kept in isolation (if required for a longer period) till they fully recover or die. The real challenge in India is (ii) and (iii) above. We will have to see if we can do this well.  Handling (ii) is a nightmare in India. Handling (iii) is easier when the proportion of Group A to Group B is smaller. So an earlier Lockdown is better than later.
  • How do we know who is “vulnerable”? Scientists and clinicians are collecting data on this still but they have announced that those with relatively weaker immune systems are more vulnerable — a) elderly, b) seriously sick with other diseases, c) people with immune deficiency, d) people on immune suppression medication, e) malnourished and people with a history of respiratory diseases — a) COPD, b) excessive smoking etc. Children do not seem to be very vulnerable.
  • People are hoping against hope that Indians are saved by the following possibilities (all speculative — no basis): a)  younger population, b) previous infections and resultant immunity, c) warmer weather, etc etc
  • Weak points for India — a) Very large population and high density with lot of poverty — easy  forCOVID19 to spread, difficult to enforce lockdowns etc, b) poor healthcare system, c) poor nutrition, etc
  • My list of priorities in that order: 1) Enforce lock down as well as possible, 2) PPEs for medical professionals, 3) life saving devices and hospital care for sick patients, 4) drugs (very difficult but more important than vaccines at this time), 5) vaccines (more doable but longer term solution).

(22 March 2020) Making “Work from Home” work (for startups)

Question from a startup — how do we make “Work for Home” effective? Here are my suggestions from our experiments —

Useful components: Plan the following —

  • WFH Coordinator/ Gate keeper  (ensuring the process is taken seriously and discipline is maintained)
  • Mechanism for employees to list daily WFH Plan (in consultation with Reporting Officers)
  • Mechanism for employees to send daily WFH Report


  • Senior managers need to take out time to think about what can be accomplished, organise them into sets of smaller self-contained tasks, identify who can do it amongst the staff and assign it.
  • This does require greater time commitment of Senior Managers. But this is unavoidable. If Senior Managers do not take the lead in planning workforce juniors, WFH may not work (unless the junior is self-motivated and has awareness of the bigger picture already).
  • If the Senior Managers are careless or lazy in reading the Plan and Reports or in giving suggestions or seeking clearer/better goals, then the process will quickly fall apart.

Ideas for what all can be done  under WFH:

  • Preparing presentations; carrying to related desk research
  • Writing reports
  • Planning and detailing proposals
  • Planning and  developing marketing collaterals (posters, flyers, data sheets etc)
  • Planning, creating and updating websites
  • Planning and executing social media campaigns
  • Plan and build databases; Client databases
  • Add useful capabilities/ qualifications via Online Learning Courses ( I will write a separate blog on this)
  • Software development
  • Patent (and other IP) related searches, analysis
  • Search scientific literature; Build technical literature compilation
  • Write publications and articles
  • Prepare SOPs, regulatory documents
  • Update well-wishers of your company vis email, phone, blog posts etc
  • Prepare pitch decks, financial simulations, plan a fund raising campaign
  • Contact potential investors; research and build a database of potential investors
  • Codify and standardise your company processes; explore software resources to increase efficiency
  • Planning internal training on Zoom (or equivalent) where all employees sign in and participate
  • Compile, organise and structure data; Data analytics
  • Put together concept ideas for problem definitions collected; Invent (at least the concept)
  • Modelling, simulation, design, visualisation
  • Lot of routine office work can be done online if you have an ERP or equivalent or have some operations systematized on Google Sheets etc.
  • Follow-up on pending payments, paperwork etc
  • Develop lecture materials, new teaching resources, upgrade/ update teaching slides.

(16 Dec 2019) Benjamin Franklin method of taking decisions

I first came across Benjamin Franklin’s method of taking decisions while reading one of the books that described the many practical pieces of advise he gave. I have always found this piece of advise useful in my life (all though I use it partially). Recently, I shared this with my son when he was to take an important decision. I am sharing it here for the benefit of others.

The method has three parts:

  1. First frame the issue that needs a decision and write it down
  2. Franklin observed that when we feel confused and unable to take a decision, it is due to our mind recognising different reasons for taking the decision on way or the other at different times independent of each others. At any given time, we are not able to keep all the pros and cons together in our mind. His solution: Write down all pros and cons.
  3. Once you have a list, how do you decide?  He suggests matching one or more pros with one or more cons based on comparable degree of importance and ruling those out from further consideration until you are left with only a few pros and cons to decide between.

I personally like Point 1 and 2 above and use it often.  However, Point 3 requires a certain degree of algebraic efficiency that I find difficult to do. But  the good news is that just doing 1 and 2 helps you take a decision with more confidence and assures you that you have taken a decision after careful consideration.

For those who are interested in reading more:

(15 Dec 2019) My wish list for a Pune Knowledge-driven Innovation Cluster

Here is my opinion on what we need to do to build a truly world-class Knowledge-driven Innovation Cluster in Pune:

1) Focus on a few areas where we can synergise Knowledge creation activity, Innovation activity and Industry activity. I would bet on the following:

  • Health: Biopharma |  Medical devices and diagnostics
  • Agro: Farm Inputs & Productivity | Post harvest value addition
  • Energy: Clean energy | Renewable energy | Engineering for Energy Optimisation
  • Computation, modeling, data analytics: Niche services and tools | Analytics, optimisation and control
  • Social and rural innovation: Rural agro | animal | affordable health | assistive tech

(There will be other areas of innovation including B2B SAAS etc where Pune might do well, but I am not sure we will draw upon the city’s knowledge strengths there. Pune wishes to be in IOT/AI/ML etc but again I am not sure we have the new knowledge strength there.)

2) Pune city needs to invest in the following:

  • An institute of engineering and technology to rival IIT-Bombay
  • An institute of business management to rival IIM-Ahmedabad
  • A teaching and research hospital to rival Tata Memorial or AIIMS-Delhi
  • Attract R&D centres of global majors to rival GE-JFWTC that attract high quality talent
  • Attract and nurture technical consulting firms (similar to erstwhile Cambridge Consultants in UK or Arthur D Little in US) that attract high quality talent
  • Attract investors and funders (in complementing domains)  set up base in Pune
  • Ensure that the City can attract, provide adequate options for and retain multiple career families where multiple members of the family (especially spouses) are highly trained.
  • Make sure basic infrastructure, services, supplies and environment of the city are of a high quality (“a big ask?”) even as the City grows
  • A dedicated effort to strengthen Brand Pune and present its identity and potential to the world.

3) The following are key stone elements of the innovation ecosystem and need to be strengthened/nurtured by the City and community:

  • Networking platforms for leaders like Pune International Center or MCCIA or PuneTech.com
  • Innovation ecosystem builders and incubators like Venture Center
  • An intellectually stimulating and vibrant environment — this has always been Pune’s great strength!!!
  • Recognising and welcoming talent from all parts of the world — this also has been a strength of Pune.

(15 Dec 2019) Pune’s Knowledge, Innovation & Industry Clusters

As of 2019, Pune’s strength areas and potential lie in the following  ———–

Potential for knowledge cluster:

  • Astrophysics (IUCAA, NCRA, IISER)
  • Chemicals and soft material (NCL, IISER)
  • Biological sciences (IISER, NCCS, NIV, NCL, ARI, NARI)
  • Archeology and languages (Deccan College, SPPU)

Potential for innovation cluster:

  • IT B2B products
  • Health/ medical products
  • Creative arts and media
  • Agro/ animal
  • (I am intentionally not including those sectors where there is an aspiration and stray cases but not really a cluster)

Industry clusters:

  • Automotive
  • Advanced mechanical engineering /manufacturing
  • Information technology products
  • Information technology services
  • Food and agriculture
  • Biotech – health, industrial and agro
  • Biomed engineering
  • Education
  • Electronics, appliances, mechatronics
  • Clean energy
  • Defense – education, development, manufacturing
  • Non-profit and civil society organisations
  • Religion and spiritual
  • Adventure and sports
  • Scientific/R&D services

One thing that immediately strikes you is that Pune city has not really explored synergies between its different types of clusters. For example, Pune has industry strength in mechanical engineering but not really world class innovation or new knowledge generation strengths in mechanical engineering (It produces world class mechanical engineers, though!) . Why not? We have a chemicals and soft materials research strength, but we have not really build industry strength in the discipline in Pune (it has happened in Mumbai, Gujarat and Hyderabad, courtesy Pune). Why not?

How do we create mechanisms to build these synergies out and leverage it to make the clusters truly world class?

(15 Dec 2019) On innovation clusters

The Office of Principal Scientific Advisor to the PM has been talking about developing so called “Knowledge and Innovation Clusters” in selected cities. The Venture Center and NCL have been party to the discussions. These discussions got me thinking about what and why? I am capturing some brief thoughts here —-

  • When one is talking of clusters, one is thinking of a group of entities that together produce a synergistic and/or an auto-catalytic effect where the total effect is more than the sum of parts.
  • The synergistic effect may have been intentionally created (top-down or bottom-up) or may be a happy unintentional effect. You can imagine that most policy makers would like to think that most are top-down planned and created intentionally — and one has to admit that it is so in some cases. Leading examples could include Singapore or certain Chinese cities.
  • But I would guess that in most cases, Clusters emerge organically or are created by the active bottom-up efforts of a few key players in that cluster. One must note that even in these cases, policy makers and local governments have to often cooperate, match strides and keep up or at the very least not be a hinderance. Leading examples probably include the Boston area or Silicon Valley. Pune and Bangalore are also probably in the same category.
  • What are the key defining features of clusters?  I think clusters feed off a shared ecosystem that attract and aggregate various resources (ingredients)  of relevance to the citizen entities of the cluster. Symbiotic relationships are key. For example, a manufacturing cluster for automobiles may feed off an ecosystem of local parts manufacturers and manufacturing capabilities. A knowledge services company cluster may feed off an ecosystem of academic and research institutions that churn out skilled people. As the cluster grows, various other entities that serve of feed-off the entities of the cluster are also attracted to the cluster and the cluster keeps on growing (an auto-catalytic effect) . For example, once a city develops a reputation for producing many high quality startups, the city starts attracting venture capital investors, other entrepreneurs, other startups etc. In recent years, Bangalore is a good example of such an emerging cluster. It is quite clear that besides the ground realities of the ecosystem available, the reputation/ identity/ image is also important. As the studies by Dr Shai Vyakarnam from Cranfield/ Cambridge  have indicated, a social network of leaders/people who catalyse the ecosystem is also a key element of any cluster — the people who connect the dots, network, champion the the cause of the cluster. Another important role that these people play is of building a culture of trust, cooperation and a shared vision. And because people and organisations  are geographically constrained, invariably clusters are geographically limited and identified. (Similar people aggregate together — because you may have more opportunities aggregating at one place, angel investors like to invest in companies in their neighbourhood, companies locate to places where they can have easy access to their most important resource needs etc etc). Every cluster also seem to have some key nuclei organisations that get the ball rolling. It could be a university or large company or a key investor or a group of people or something else that was an early believer of the potential of the cluster. For example, IISc Bangalore, CSIR-NAL, Texas Instruments, Infosys, Wipro, GE-JFWTC, Biocon and NCBS are probably key nuclei organisations in the Bangalore cluster. I also think that a sufficiently high density of the necessary ingredients in necessary to create clusters. Finally, the cluster must be supported by the right soft and hard infrastructure and basic services (including law and order, ease of doing business, ease of living, roads, houses, transport, airports, pollution control,  etc etc) by the Government. If there is one thing the Government needs to focus on, I would recommend that it be predictability and long-term sustained development.
  • So what could be a recipe for building a cluster? a) nuclei organisations, b) social network of leaders, c) shared ecosystem of key ingredients, d) identity/ brand/ image as “the place to go for XYZ” along with a shared vision, e) basic infrastructure/services and well laid-out, stable development plans, f) high density of necessary resources/ ingredients.
  • Clusters can have different objectives and themes: specific sectors of manufacturing (say, automotive), specific sectors of services (say, education or healthcare), specific sectors of agriculture (say, fruits), research and knowledge creation (say, in AI or biomedical sciences), entrepreneurship (say, in cyber security, e-commerce, medtech etc)
  • So, what would be a knowledge cluster? Perhaps one that focuses on research and new knowledge creation; one that builds synergies between various organisations to produce much higher quality knowledge outputs/ new insights about the world. In that case a knowledge cluster needs to attract and retain the best researchers/ talent, create and maintain unique and leading facilities for research, build creative synergistic partnerships in research and funds to support such research. So, for example, if Pune is to be a top knowledge cluster is say Astrophysics, one needs to find ways to attract the best talent (ex:  build institutions like IUCAA to house them), build unique facilities (ex: LIGO, NCRA),  develop creative partnerships (ex: with IT and engineering companies) and attract adequate levels of funds (ex: from the Government, international organisations etc). The end point may be to “become the go-to place for astrophysics in the world” and produce the top research findings in the field (as seen from quality of publications and global recognitions).
  • Who could be knowledge cluster ingredients? a) Research institutions (academic, government, non-profit, industry), b) academic institutions creating the talent pool, c) funders (government, charities, multi-lateral agencies, industry), d) entities that demand or create the need for new knowledge including hospitals, entrepreneurial ventures and forward looking industrial entities, e) entities that create/ build new tools/ methods etc for exploration.
  • And, what would be an innovation cluster? One that focuses on innovation — coming up with new ideas and effectively converting early stage ideas with foresight into leading products/ services/ business enterprises, and thus value and wealth for society. The cherished goal will be to be identified as the place which gives birth to exciting new ideas and then nurtures them to build great companies, deliver impactful products and services. (For example, the Boston area and its reputation for   inventions and invention-led enterprises.)
  • What could be ingredients of an innovation cluster? This list can be very long and  depends upon the focus area/ theme. The innovation process spans idea creation at one end and delivery of products and services on the other. And innovation can be relevant to all aspects of human endeavour. So, the ecosystem needs for innovation can be very diverse, multi-dimensional and specialised for every sector. (Incidentally, this is what makes like both interesting and challenging for all ecosystem builders like Venture Center.)
  • Will knowledge clusters and innovation clusters always coincide? I do not think that is necessary. It is possible that a knowledge cluster catalyses an innovation cluster but will not happen always. It seems logical to think that since innovation relies on original thought and foresight, one would expect a knowledge cluster to be an asset to an innovation cluster. But what if there is no cross-talk or overlap in pursuits between the knowledge cluster and innovation cluster.

I will stop here for this blog and continue with some thoughts for Pune city in the my next blog.

(26 Oct 2019) What should India’s strategy on indigenous API manufacturing be?

I recently had a chat with Satya Sivaraman (Journalist) on what could be India’s strategy with regards to API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) manufacturing.
First of all, here is a list of the problem at hand.
India is a leader in pharma manufacturing, especially generics. I understand that 1 out of every 3 medicines in the world is made in India.  Many of these manufacturers buy the APIs they need as raw materials from API manufacturers. The so called Drug Product manufacturers focus on formulation, product manufacturing, packaging, regulations, marketing and sales. The pharma companies in India not only represent an important industry and economic sector but also are one of the reasons for low cost of medicines in India (compared to the world).
In recent years, China has been stepping up its industrial activity in the broader pharma space. In particular, it has been producing APIs at unbeatable prices (perhaps due to various subsidies, support etc that their Government provides). India drug product companies are also sourcing a lot of APIs from China (Note: This translates to better profitability for the product companies since raw materials are available cheaper.). Consequently, the Indian API manufacturers are either closing down or suffering considerable losses.
The Government of India has been worried about too much reliance on China for APIs. There is a concern that this can create risks for a) the stability and competitiveness of India pharma industry, b) the the people of the country at large via foreign control (especially of a not so friendly country) on prices of medicines and c) the survival of the API industry. The Government os trying to find ways to mitigate these risks.
More context
One must note here that Indian companies and investors are moving away from API manufacturing because the industry does not seem to be producing the returns comparable to what they are expecting or happy with. Clearly there are better avenues available for investors to make better returns than APIN manufacturing in the current context of China supplying APIs at low prices. I think it will be naive to think that Indian companies lack adequate technology capabilities for API manufacturing; they know how to manufacture APIs, but they just do not find it as attractive as it used to be.
On the other had the product companies are happy getting cheaper raw materials from China and thus increase their profit margins.
Strategy for India:
So, what should India do?
Approach 1: Diversify supply chain.
One can ask the question —- Does India really need to produce every API indigenously? After all, we do rely on so many other imports.  And every country cannot be self-reliant in everything. So, it appears that the real problem is not the import of APIs per se, but the dependance in China in particular.  This immediately suggests that one solution could be to diversity the supply chain out of China. One approach is to have manufacturers in India but if that is not viable, why not manufacturer APIs in other countries  that can beat China’s prices.  My suggestions:
  • Actively build supply networks in other countries around the world. Diversify risk by having multiple sources.
  • Encourage and support Indian companies to become Indian MNCs with supply manufacturing at many different locations.
  • Consider the middle east as an alternative location for API manufacturing by Indian companies by leveraging low raw material cost and possibly investment from gulf countries especially in context of recent efforts by Middle Eastern countries to diversify away from Oil.
Approach 2: Improve IRR for Indian API manufacturers
Indian API manufacturers are not manufacturing APIs in India because their IRRs (Internal Rate of Returns) are not attractive enough. They can get better IRRs in other initiatives.
Why is IRR low? a) Price of the API is low (because of Chinese competition). b) Costs and risks of manufacturing in India are relatively higher.
If we want to improve IRRs for them what can we do?
    • Increase selling prices. How? Tariffs on imports? (I am not for tariffs because lower input prices for drug product companies because of low API cost will be affected)
    • Find ways to reduce costs and risks. What are the costs and risks?
      • Cost of capital. What can we do here?
        • Provide capital at lower cost or subsidised capital or grants
        • Help medium companies source cheaper foreign capital more easily
        • Help Indian companies improve their credit rating and reduce risks
      • Cost of technology. What can we do here?
        • Provide subsidies related to R&D and technology licensed. R&D grants
        • Allow easier import of technology and without any cess
      • Cost of raw materials. What can we do here?
        • I do not know!
      • Cost of regulations. What can we do here?
        • Make regulations very predictable and processes fast
        • Reduce cost of compliance
      • Cost of overheads
        • Can consider shared facilities or rented facilities (like parks) to reduce costs
I would bet on just reducing the cost of regulations, reduce corruption and bureaucratic delays and reduce other overheads.
Approach 3: Innovation and branding
  • Focus on innovative technologies and business models to reduce costs or build a premium (image and track record of quality). For this the GoI can help build technology strength in selected institutions on sleeted topics
    • Ex:  More efficient processes of synthesis
    • Ex: Continuous flow technologies
    • Ex:  Use of IOT, big data etc to ensure data driven process control, optimization and continuous monitoring including for audit and data integrity.
  • File patents in many parts of the world including China and defend it aggressively.
    • Subsidise Indian companies to file and defend patents in China relating to the pharma industry. GoI can pay for patents filed in China by Indian companies.
    • Use patents for tactical negotiations and creating some bargaining chips for negotiations.
  • Create areas when China will feel a pinch if we withdraw our products from China in retaliation to them withdrawing their products from India.
  • Strengthen brand perception of India as a source of high quality products in the US and EU.

The above approaches are all possibilities. The knee-jerk reaction of the Indian Government agencies is to assume that technology development and investment in process development research alone is going to solve the problem. I hope the Govt can think beyond it!

(23 Sep 2019) Farewell to Guru

Guru’s farewell

23 September 2019

Dr Guruswamy (Guru) is leaving CSIR-NCL and joining IIT-Bombay as Professor of Chemical Engineering.


I am here today with a lot of mixed feelings. On one side, I feel sad that NCL is loosing yet another excellent scientist, thinker and leader. He will also be away from his family in Pune. And I will not have an old college friend and colleague by my side. (While we could never really get down to recreating our old sporting days, I will still miss his exhortation to try doing it again!)  On the other hand, I am happy for Guru since this looks like a good time in his career to build new programs at IIT-Bombay, leverage the brand, ecosystem, academic community and alumni networks at IIT-Bombay. I am also happy that Guru can now focus on new things with help of new leadership. I am also happy for IIT-Bombay (alma mater of Guru and me) and its students who will benefit from his knowledge, talent and energies. Outstanding individuals with vision and courage shape the world —- NCL is losing one such individual today because (unfortunately) we have not learnt how to help such people flourish and reach their full potential!

I will not talk about his wonderful scientific work and accomplishments today but I want to use this occasion to highlight a few of his traits and efforts that I really admire:

  • Guru is one of the most rigorous and thorough scientists I have known. If he has led a project, carried out a piece of work or trained somebody, one can just close one’s eye and trust the quality!
  • For him, there are no short cuts, no fads and fashions to ride on, no gimmicks, no mincing words, no pretense, no sucking-up to, no space for “grey” between black and white and no lobbying!  He knows that it comes at a cost but then there is an internal compass that one has to live up to — and that internal compass is very strong in Guru.
  • Guru has been phenomenal network in academia and industry — all built on foundations of respect and credibility and not just on immediate convenience.
  • Guru’s contribution to setting up and implementing systematic mechanisms for hiring Group IV scientists through almost a 10 year period at NCL cannot be under-emphasized. He kept the process on track and all of us honest!
  • We have done many things together — hockey at IIT Bombay, Asha for Education in Pune, Exciting Science Group — and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In particular, Exciting Science Group was fantastic idea nurtured with patience by Guru for more than a decade. The impact of this decade long activity will be visible in the years to come when the young people who attended those sessions flourish as scientists and engineers. A couple of years back, a bunch of kids ran to meet me at the Pune Airport and told me that they had seen me at the Exciting Science Group event and how it has influenced them — what a wonderful feeling!
  • The Complex Fluids and Polymer Engineering Group (CFPE) was such an interesting experiment that Guru, Ashish and I tried.  Here were multiple PLs truly working as a group (especially remarkable when each of us a very different world view on what is worth pursuing!). The earliest pitches we did for projects and funds together, the aeroplane/ train/ road journeys we did, the projects we ran together, the people we trained together and the group celebrations and treks were remarkable experiences.
  • Many people may not know that Guru also developed some nice plans for the NCL Library based on global best practices and foreseeing the future. His viewpoint was crucial when we developed the PSE Roadmap document — in fact, I knew upfront that I will get the most critical comments from Guru but I also knew that is what would make it special. Unfortunately, we could not translate these plans and make them happen in practice!
  • Guru was also key in setting the norms and standards for the Featured R&D articles on NCL’s website. He himself would edit those articles and each piece became a reference point for others writing such popular write-ups on science. He also mentored several young people on popular science writing and presentation of their work to the common public.

I hate to see valuable colleagues leave! I am sure this decision to leave NCL was a difficult decision for Guru! I hope he will look upon his time at NCL with some fondness as well.  I only want to wish him the very best for the future and I hope we can keep interacting, discussing and collaborating irrespective of who employs him formally!

(25 Aug 2019) Science, engineering and technology

Recently, we had a very enthusiastic and excited bunch of undergraduate students from Mumbai visiting us at Venture Center, Pune. They were pursuing degrees in Biotechnology. In their introductions, some said they were doing a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology while others said that they were pursing a Bachelor of Engineering in Biotechnology.  I decided to pick on that theme to discuss with them and explore what they understood by those terminologies — Science, Engineering and Technology!  Was there any difference between the degrees that they were pursuing or was it just a matter of words? (I do realise that several universities in India carelessly name degree programs based on what say AICTE will allow etc rather than truly structure the program to fit the name or -vice versa- chose the name that fits the program design.)  I feel that students should be aware of what their degrees mean. So here is my attempt at clarifying the nomenclature —

 A disclaimer — degrees and tags mean nothing eventually; they merely indicate a certain type of training and orientation. Everybody can change their training and orientation at any time in their careers or have multiple orientations.


People trained in “Science” are trained in the “Scientific Method” — a certain systematic way of constructing a view (theory) of the world based on experiments and known facts. ( I will not get into the Scientific Method here.) Scientists are explorers and discoverers of new knowledge. They do not necessarily want to design or control the world around them. They will explore the world with curiosity, try and build understanding of the phenomenon and wish to share that new knowledge with everybody. Scientists are explorers who discover new knowledge!


People trained in engineering are trained to develop mastery (in the sense of being able to design, control, optimise etc) over complex systems (like machines, factories, computers, electronic equipment, bridges, dams, aeroplanes, now even cells and tissues etc). Engineers are taught to develop quantitative understanding of systems, equipped with tools to model and analyse such systems, and therefore be able to design, predict and control the behaviour of such systems. Engineers are “masters” of complex systems and their behaviour!


You will note the difference immediately if you think of say flying on an aeroplane. You do so with confidence because you think that there are people who have designed it with care, have thought through various possibilities and planned for it, have put in place measurements and control systems etc. That is to say, you know engineers have been at work ensuring the system works with reliability.  Imagine yourself agreeing to fly on an aeroplane made by a scientist (who is keen to experiment and learn new things all the time) — very unlikely !!   Actually, engineers need to make their systems very very predictable and thus boring — and this turns off scientists!  (I find this amusing!)

Similarly, engineers can find the elegant simplicity that physicists strive for or the chaos in which biologists operate very unsettling!  Scientists are at ease exploring the world around — with all its “chaos” — and teasing out facts and insights.


Technology is an entirely different thing. Technology is all about problem solving. This is a different orientation and may often need a different training. Somebody, somewhere at some point has a problem or a need that needs to be solved. A scientist or engineer may have explored the problem (such as a disease for ex) and discover new ways to tackle it.  Somebody, somewhere and at some point has tools to address the problem. A technologist wants to solve the problem, is resourceful in finding the tools he/ she needs, sees the connect and acts to demonstrate a solution.

Scientists discover the world around you, Engineers design and control the world around you and Technologists build the world around you.

You will note that there can be scientists who are excellent technologists or engineers who also excel as scientists and so on. Boundaries exist only to the extent you allow them to exist.

So coming back to the young Biotechnology students from Mumbai —- if their degrees reflect what they learn, one could probably say that:

  • All of them were studying Biotechnology. So they are focussing on learning to solve problems using living systems (bio) or in living systems (bio). For example, producing a biopharmaceutical molecule using cell lines and bioreactors.
  • The folks studying towards a science degree are probably learning how to discover new insights and knowledge about living systems that can be useful for biotechnology. For example, discovering pathways in cell lines that influence the yield of a certain biopharmaceutical product.
  • The folks studying towards a engineering degree are hopefully learning how to design, predict and control living systems that can be useful for biotechnology. For example, being able to quantitatively design a bioreactor, predict how the reactor will perform under different conditions and situations, predict yield and control the system if it does not perform as required.

Some personal opinions and hypothesis:

  • You will note that the ability to design, predict and control gives a certain advantage to “engineers” in incremental innovation.
  • The fact that “scientists” are first to reach new knowledge, gives scientists an edge or a lead in path changing or radical innovation.
  • The fact that most large organisations today are complex systems, I believe that an engineering training is a better preparation for managing larger organizations. One often needs to put predictable and reliable processes and systems in place in large organisations and not keep experimenting with ad hoc ideas — something that engineers (in orientation)  probably understand better than scientists (in orientation).


(2 Sep 2019) Disruptive innovation at the interfaces of the drug industry

Guest Editorial: Disruptive innovation at the interfaces of the drug industry
(Journal: Indian Drugs, Aug 2019 issue)

Link: https://www.indiandrugsonline.org/issuesarticle-details?id=OTU5

Dear Reader,

I am delighted to contribute this Guest Editorial for the current issue of Indian Drugs. I was very happy to interact with industry leaders at the Indian Drugs Annual Day 2019 and share some of our learning on innovation and entrepreneurship in medical products. In this Guest Editorial, I wish to focus on how innovation at the interface of the drug industry and other industries serving the healthcare market will shape the drug industry in the future.

The drug industry is a supplier of solutions for the global health market. There are many other industries that serve this health market as well – other therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, nutraceuticals, preventives, sanitation and hygiene, delivery health care and diagnostic services, digital systems in health, healthcare financing etc. In the past, the drug industry could afford to operate in a silo, but it is clear that the future of serving the health market lies in blurring boundaries between various industry sectors and in finding value creation opportunities at the interface of industry sectors rather than operating in silos.

One can already see how IT and mobile computing is transforming the pharmaceuticals marketing, sales and distribution channels. In the last decade, the largest Venture Capital investments in India were reserved for IT enabled platforms in healthcare delivery and pharmaceutical distribution. While the initial focus of these startups is on drugs and medical services, it is clear that their sights are set much higher — on a future of integrated product and service delivery platforms with platform loyalty and patient/ user/ customer data being the key value creators. (This is akin to the early days of Flipkart or Amazon starting with books and expanding to many other domains. Today, the data they own is invaluable.)

The drug industry will be immediately recognize how IOT (Internet of Things), data analytics, cloud computing and mathematical models (including AI/ML) is going to transform production environments (ex: continuous manufacturing), regulatory compliance requirements (ex:  live data and continuous audits) and clinical trials tracking and in-use performance monitoring. Wearable diagnostics and technical textiles promise the change the way health is monitored, medication decisions are taken by clinicians and how drug performance is quantified and observed. Recent advances in novel sensors and diagnostics (such as the ingestible pill sensors) will have a deep influence on formulation design and drug delivery systems.

The interface between diagnostics and therapeutics is again blurring as innovators try to build a closed loop between health parameter measurements and therapy (say, for example, glucose measurements and insulin delivery). Similarly, many innovators are exploring opportunities at the interface of medical devices and therapeutics; for example, implants that also control local infection/ inflammation or drug eluting stents.

Yet another mega-trend is the transition towards precision and personalized medicine. So far, the largest hindrances to personalized medicine were lack of personalized data and data trends, methods to conveniently and accurately capture data, the inability to handle large, varied and fuzzy data sets, and convenient correlational models for multi-parameter population-wide analysis. But this is set to change. Imagine, for example, a population of iWatch (that tracks cardiac performance) users who also allow tracking of data on their physical activities (say, with a FitBit), nutritional information, other medical and diagnostics reports, medication and drugs purchase data etc. This data set could possibly be mined for trends and correlations and captured in the form of a ML algorithm which could then be used predict actual or potential conditions for a given person and may be even suggest personalized guidance and therapy. In such a scenario, the implications for the drug industry are large and extensive.

The drug discovery process (as practiced currently) is just too cumbersome, cost intensive and risky, and therefore has become hegemony of a few who can afford to take such risks.  It is clearly a broken process that is awaiting a disruption. Just as Elon Musk and SpaceX have turned the expensive space industry on its head by demonstrating reusable rockets, the drug industry is waiting for an innovation that will transform the drug discovery process entirely and thus make it more accessible and productive. India has tried new ideas like the Open Source Drug Discovery or Reverse Pharmacology approaches in the past. New ideas like the MANAV-Atlas program of DBT also hold considerable promise for leads. It is my opinion that the advances in biological engineering which aim to apply engineering principles and math modeling to living systems combined with the emerging capabilities in data handling and computing are probably going to increase productivity in drug discovery in significant ways.

In conclusion, it is important for the drug industry to rise above narrow industry boundaries, get comfortable with blurring interfaces and focus on the ultimate goal of address issues of health. It is time that the Indian Drug Manufacturing association organize task forces to discuss, research, foresee and understand how new technologies will impact and transform the drug industry and what actions the industry can take to remain relevant.

V. Premnath, PhD
Head, NCL Innovations & Director, Venture Center
CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, Pune

About the Guest Editor

Dr V. Premnath is currently the Head, NCL Innovations – the group within National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) charged with the responsibility of championing the cause of technology innovation within NCL. Dr Premnath is also the Director of the Venture Center – a technology business incubator on NCL campus. Dr Premnath is also a Scientist, Polymer Science & Engineering Division at NCL with an interest in technology development for medical products.

Dr. V. Premnath holds a B.Tech. from the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. He has also been a Chevening Technology Enterprise Fellow with the Centre for Scientific Enterprises, London Business School and Cambridge University, UK. Dr Premnath’s experience with medical products development is focused on polymeric implants and has resulted in two families of commercial products and two startups.

(22 May 2019) Lessons from Sweden in Innovation Management

My Linkedin Articles on my Sweden Tour:

Sting and Propel Capital: Example of an angle investment activity coordinated by an incubator
KTH’s Innovation Readiness Levels
Astra Zeneca BioVenture Hub: An example of open innovation by a corporate
Why does Sweden do so well in innovation and entrepreneurship?

(25 Dec 2018) So you want to be rich?

October-November-December: This is the season when many students are forced into some soul searching and career planning as they take important decisions about their future. Very often these are triggered by thoughts on which program they should apply for and if certain choices will close certain doors. Often, it is a “Statement of Purpose” or similar essay that forces them to think.

I have been talking to young people who approach me asking me for inputs and advise. In this blog, I am picking up one theme that comes up quite often —- do certain career choices align with a person’s financial aspirations?  Here are some observations and simplistic points.

The framework to think

You will notice the following:

  • Level 1: The richest people in the world are owners of scalable businesses or owners of property (financial, land, building etc or intellectual). Example: Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas, Trump, Saudi kings, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, JK Rowling, etc. Occasionally, a prolific inventor like may be Lemelson. Can include rich land owning farmers.
  • Level 2: The next rung are business people with relatively smaller business (but fairly big businesses), folks who leverage their skills/ talent (including entertainers like actors, sports people, successful artists etc) beyond looking at regular employment
  • Level 3:  Highest level managers, professionals in various companies. CXOs. Presidents. Vice Presidents etc.
  • Level 4: Middle level employees in high paying sectors/ MNCs. Ex: In india, mid management IT jobs or bank jobs, finance / consulting jobs etc. May be successful small business people including doctors, consultants etc
  • Level 5:  Government employees, civil servants, defence employees, teachers, professors, scientists (unless they own any property) etc (many public service roles)
  • Level 6: Skilled labour/ workforce; small marginal farmers; Lower level IT work
  • Level 7: General labour; Farm labour


Each Level is associated with certain preparation, certain risk taking, having access to certain resources (including funds, networks, knowhow etc). For example, it is easy to prepare to be in Level 1 for second generation entrepreneurs whose parents have already put them in Level 1 orbit. A classic example is Mukesh Ambani who was put in Level 1 by his father (Dhirubhai Ambani) who moved from Level 7 to Level 1 in one generation.  Dhirubhai Ambani had ambition and took immense risks. Mukesh Ambani has the benefit of resources at his command, knowhow, networks etc.

Many of us in the Indian middle class, belong to Level 5 and often try to push their kids to Level 4 and Level 3 via (for example) the rat races called IIT-JEE, NEET etc. Occasionally, one first generation entrepreneur makes the jump to Level 1 and 2; and we celebrate those cases. (ex: Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Sachin Bansal of Flipkart etc).

Some of us are content being at the Level we are at and others are not. JK Rowling was at Level 5 or below as a teacher. But she believed she had a talent which will take her to the top league. Fortunately for her, she created intellectual property that was valuable and  she has been propelled into Level 1.

You will also notice that:

  • When the government or large companies or even some foreign governments promote skill development activities, they are just trying to populate Level 6. This may be okay for people in Level 7 (unskilled labour)  but what if they are aspiring to be in Level 5, 4 and above. Of course, there will be unhappiness. Classic example is of a lower middle class urban family or a middle class rural family wanting their children to get “high paying IT jobs”.
  • You will also notice how many middle class families in India want their kids to become IITians so that they can graduate into Level 3 and 4 jobs. Many kids are quite unhappy in those roles (which can be mundane line functions) but they do meet the aspirations of their family.
  • And then you have those who were left with no option (that is did it not because they were very keen on public service careers but because they had no other option!) but  become government employees/ professors etc, and then feel envious  about the guys who chose to go to Level 1, 2, 3,4.


Now, if you wish to be in the top bracket (Level 1), you cannot be preparing for roles more suited for Level 5. And if you have chosen to do Level 5, you have to find satisfaction in the role and its contribution to society and not constantly compare yourself with Level 1 folks.

For students, here are the implications:

  • In school and college, choose the right path for yourself. If you are increasingly focusing singularly on academic excellence and seeing your teachers/ professors as you role model, you may head to Level 5.
  • If you wish to reach Level 1, you will need to learn things to take you there and select those activities which help you build resources, networks, knowhow etc to take you to Level 1. For example, for many first generation entrepreneurs, the ticket to Level 1 is creating, owning and exploiting valuable intellectual property. (Note — I am saying “owning”! ) . Then clearly you need to know how to create and exploit intellectual property.
  • Many young people with entrepreneurial aspirations, need to often steer clear from Level 3/4/5 careers and actively move towards Level 1/2.
  • Do not confuse entrepreneurial training (for Level 1/2) with skill development (Level 6).
  • If you find great satisfaction in public service, research, teaching and the general glory/ respect/ fame it brings or can bring, be comfortable with the idea of being at Level 5. And also convince your family that is where you wish to be.

(25 Dec 2018) Pune Startups: Review and Outlook

Review for CY 2018

  • This year, investors have shown interest in investing in startups with new ideas rather than just India execution plays. This is a good trend. That said, majority of investments (by value) were in sectors where there is no technology innovation but mostly business process innovation and execution challenges (mainly in IT enabled businesses of various kinds such as food delivery, education, commerce, etc etc).
  • Early stage investments in non-IT enabled sectors are primarily happening in healthcare products, mechatronics/ IOT and certain agro and social innovation sectors. The investment size is not that large because these are early stage startups. However, they are very important to the sectors and make a huge difference in encouraging entrepreneurs. This is being driven by seed funds associated with incubators, Angel investors, early stage venture capital funds and impact investors.
  • Investments in sectors such as energy and environment are happening but using traditional models of financing (not really VC) and in late stage deployment of solutions. Not much investment is happening in early stage tech development. So the startup pipeline for investors is likely to be weak in coming years.

Outlook and emerging opportunities

  • IT enabled services/ sectors (commerce, food delivery, ride hailing, education, agro, finance, payments etc) will continue to draw the largest funding.
  • I think CY 2019 will be a good year for healthcare products startups.
  • I am also hopeful that algorithm intensive areas like cyber security will throw up new opportunities for India.
  • I am not hopeful about early stage funding in energy and environment sectors.
  • I am hopeful that the Government of India will create a vehicle like BIRAC for other sectors. If that happens, a lot of pipeline creation for future investments in knowledge intensive and IP rich startups will take place. This will create good candidates for investment say 3 years hence.
  • This year might see a boom in waste management companies. Since funding in this sector is a problem, large players with strong balance sheets will eventually dominate and probably squeeze out startups and first generation entrepreneurs.
  • The focus on startups will reduce in the election year of 2019. The government will focus more on rural areas and probably de-emphasize startups.
  • As usual, this should be a good year for corporate ventures and family businesses.


  • First generation entrepreneur interest and availability of financing always go hand-in-hand. Lack of early stage financing to spur startup creation and empower first generation entrepreneurs is still limited to only very few sectors in India. That remains the greatest challenge.
  • The funding landscape is not continuous in India and has gaps. Which means that Indian startups will either a) raise money from foreign funders or b) move overseas to raise money. This is especially likely in knowledge intensive areas where the appetite for Indian investors has been low.
  • Again a missed opportunity will be inability of the Indian ecosystem to draw upon academia and R&D institutions for new technical capabilities seamlessly to build new technologies.

(16 Dec 2018) The Perfect Librarian and “Cool” Lady: Remembering Saroj Krishnaswami

The Perfect Librarian and “Cool” Lady: Remembering Saroj Krishnaswami

My colleague and the Venture Center Librarian, Saroj Krishnaswami, passed away on Friday, 14 December 2018. She had been ailing for some time with a weak heart and a bothersome lung. She passed away peacefully. She lived a long, good and proud life, and will leave us all with happy memories.

Saroj—the Librarian

Saroj was the perfect librarian; she took great pride in her profession! In a day and age when we meet so many people who take up professions without a passion or love for their work, she stood out in her deep love and respect for her profession. She knew that libraries are important for any civilized society and that she was doing important work!  She made sure that the library celebrated “Saraswati” (Goddess of Knowledge in the Indian tradition) both directly and indirectly — one of her first acquisitions was a painting of Saraswati done in Warli painting style. She promptly put up a picture of SR Ranganathan (Father of Library Science in India; His birthday is remembered as National Librarian Day in India; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._R._Ranganathan ). She followed his five(simple and elegant)  laws of Library Science: 1) Books are for use.2) Every person his or her book. 3) Every book its reader. 4) Save the time of the reader. 5) The library is a growing organism.

Saroj read widely herself and made sure she knew every book in the collection in some measure. She often recommended sections and books to readers – a dying art in current times. Once in a while, she would politely admonish my colleagues who did not visit the library. She goaded people to read via her monthly “Must read” or “New additions” emails. Many of us will definitely remember this because she made it such attractive reading for all of us with a brief summary, a link to a recent book review from a reputable source and then some related cartoons and limericks. I always enjoyed these emails enormously!

Times are changing and the role of libraries is also changing very rapidly. The Internet has made information easily accessible online and so libraries are not anymore the primary source of reference information. Books have also become quite accessible and affordable with online bookstores and rising affluence. There are now online platforms for bookworms. Various people seek book recommendations and curated lists online and in social media.  These are clearly testing times for physical libraries. But, in my view, there is still a role for old-fashioned libraries and librarians.  Physical libraries are still the place where you can sit at leisure and browse through pages without straining your eyes or too many distractions. One gets lost in the words. One gets into a different world. There is peace. All said and done, people crave human contact and physical gatherings that stimulate their brain, heart and soul – what better place for this than a library. Saroj herself embodied that spirit and aspiration for many of us.

In a recent email, Dr Vijay Kelkar (Padma Vibhushan) so aptly put it –“She was an ideal Librarian: a lover of books and also of their readers!”.

Saroj – the person

In Venture Center, Saroj was unique in many ways.

She joined Venture Center almost after crossing retirement age (whatever that means). She was in the midst of a much younger group of colleagues but amazingly at ease with all of them. She happily joined all the celebrations and get-togethers. She joined in the non-strenuous parts of the staff outings or picnics. She made sure she was savvy with computers, phones, email, social media etc.  There would be friendly bantering between colleagues and she was not one to be left out. I hear that her nickname was “Colonel” amongst some of our team members – perhaps a name she earned because she could assert herself when she wanted!

Saroj for recognized and adored for her gentleness, politeness, kindness, generosity and helpfulness. After getting some requests from local students (especially from the poorer areas in the vicinity), she started a reading room service for these students. If there was someone in need, she found ways to accommodate that person. Saroj was also quite passionate about many other themes affecting society especially the environment. She was keen on solving the plastic littering menace. She knew that I work with polymeric materials and wanted to understand more on what could be the right ways to go about it and enquired about what I thought of government/ judicial initiatives. In all this, she kept a surprisingly open mind.

Saroj enjoyed her travel and visits. She made sure she visited some place new every year.  Occasionally, I would see her holiday pictures in jeans, t-shirt and straw hats and be surprised by the transformation. Interestingly, Saroj was also a keen follower of the financial pages and the stock market.  I think she did this more as a hobby — but with considerable knowledge and reading. She had read Peter Lynch’s books and the investor’s bible “The Intelligent Investor”. With all this, I can easily say that she was the “coolest” 60+ lady I have ever met!!

We will all miss Saroj dearly but I am glad she chose to share some of her journey in this world with us and be part of our family!


16 December 2018

(12 Oct 2018) Open Innovation: Excerpts from CII CTO Summit

On 12 Oct 2018, CII ran a CTO Summit at Taj Palace, Mumbai with a focus on Open Innovation. I moderated a session on IP Strategy for Open Innovation. Good to see the CTO Forum of CII come up with such relevant themes.


For those new to the topic, see a short introduction at http://www.openinnovation.eu/open-innovation/

My panel focused on IP strategy for Open Innovation.


Some points from the panel :

Interestingly, the patent system was created when inventors were encouraged by the kings to disclose their ideas (so that society would not loose the invention along with the inventors when they die) in exchange for a period of time when they could prevent others from copying their ideas. The whole idea was to “open” out the invention for larger social good while ensuring that the inventors are given some time to secure some rewards for their creativity.

Open innovation takes “open” to a new extreme. In my view, open innovation may actually reshape the IP profession in entirely new ways by posing the most complex and largest challenges for IP professionals in the coming years. With no single entity being able to fund all aspects of the innovation process or control the entire innovation ecosystem, collaboration is inevitable. More importantly, the complexity of the collaboration process is bound to increase many folds — with multiple partners (such as large companies, startups, academia, individuals etc) all vying for a share of the rewards. The frameworks which will enable such interactions will invariably be open innovation frameworks and the key enablers will be open innovation architects.

IP strategy in open innovation will invariably require greater trust between multiple partners. This will mean that the leadership at the highest levels will have to get involved in initiating open innovation programs. It will be necessary to keep the focus on the larger goals and objectives and not get bogged down by policies, procedures, existing power structures etc. Champions of open innovation programs will have to push for a culture change which understands limitations of closed innovation and encourages open innovation strategically. The anchor entities in any open innovation program will often need to be generous in sharing rewards with smaller partners. Companies will need to think deeply about which innovation programs they wish to pursue in open innovation mode and which innovations in closed innovation mode. Companies will need to do some deep thinking on what is the core of their business and what is the periphery. Companies will need to carry out intense technology foresight exercises to define the roadmap for the future. Companies will need to rethink their policies and strategies on IP ownership and rights. As multiple partners will each jostle for a greater share of rewards, companies will need to creatively rethink their models of risk-reward sharing, rights and responsibilities in collaborations and how they control the advancement of technology towards the market. Companies will need to rethink their philosophies around confidentiality and evolve ways to firewall and insulate open innovation and closed innovation programs.

We can learn more by studying some cases where open innovation seems to work well:

  • Open innovation seems to work well when all partners are working towards a socially important goal. These goals encourage people to put their private interests into the back burner and focus on doing well for society. And this simplifies the complexity in the agreements and understanding between parties. Several open source and open access initiatives fall under this category. An effort to develop drugs for neglected diseases or a diagnostic for reducing misuse of antibiotics or an open source bionic arm project etc will fall under this category.
  • Open innovation seems to work well when a group of entities are collaborating to build a common ecosystem or platform which will be a public good or social good on which they can then build their private goods. This could include base level platform technologies, industry standards etc. An example would be EV companies collaborating on building battery technologies so that advancements in battery technologies could help their own EV businesses to flourish.
  • Open innovation seems to also work well when companies collaborate to build technologies against a common threat. For example, companies at different parts of the plastics value chain collaborating to develop plastic waste management solutions so as to contest possible bans on plastic by governments.

It is clear that companies that can master open innovation strategies and make them work to their advantage will gain tremendously in the future.

(2 Sep 2018) My memories of my grandfather

I have recently been requested to write up my memories of my grandfather, Mr B Venkatachalam Pillai of Ariyalur for a book being written on him. (More info on Mr BV Pillai is available at http://premnath.org/bvpillai/ ) Here are some thoughts and memories.

My personal memories and impressions of my grandfather come from two sources — my father (late Mr V Venugopalan) and my own interaction with my grandfather.

From the many things my father told me about my grandfather, I have gathered that Mr BV Pillai was special and different from his contemporaries in the towns and villages where he grew up. He was clearly an independent thinker who could step outside and beyond the thinking of the people around him and his times (He was a lawyer, freedom fighter, administrator and politician while most of his family during those times must have been agriculturists). He valued education. He thought about the social issues of his times and felt deeply about the people and their sufferings. He followed the speeches and writings of the leaders of his times including Gandhiji. He had the courage to not flow with the crowd. He joined the freedom struggle and social upliftment movements of his times. He did not hesitate taking up public positions (for ex, in the Madras State government) to shape the future. He joined many other leaders in willingly making sacrifices during the freedom struggle. And once, India attained independence he promptly stepped away from politics and turned his attention to taking care of his family responsibilities.

My grandfather was my father’s role model. If there was any one person whose approval my father sought, it was that of my grandfather. My father held my grandfather in great respect.  My grandfather was somebody who supported my father’s pursuits on both the professional and personal fronts. He was always willing to look at my father’s pursuits with consideration and wisdom. He encouraged my father to work hard, to achieve, to be ambitious and to think longer term. He understood that it was important to allow my father enough space to grow and achieve fulfilment. My father always felt that my grandfather “understood” him. My father consulted my grandfather at key junctures in his career and personal life, and invariably my grandfather provided advise and support with always the longer term happiness and success of my father in his mind. My father always knew that the person who was proudest and genuinely happy of his achievements was his father; so when my grandfather passed away, my father lost his greatest champion. My father shared these warm memories of his father with me till his very last days.

I also think my grandfather was very important in seeding and nurturing some key value systems in our family. Key amongst these were the importance of education, the importance of serving your nation, finding joy and satisfaction in empowering people especially the underprivileged, the emphasis on drive and efficiency (everything had to be done quickly without wasting any time!), the Gandhian tradition of saving all resources (my grandfather used to use all empty spaces in every piece of paper before disposing it) etc.  I also think my father’s interest in public works, sanitation and water supply must have come from my grand father’s experiences and interest in public works activities during his stint in Trichy and Madras.

My own memories of my grand father are those of a respected family figure who was always nice to me (all though he was known to be a disciplinarian). As a child I would run into his home office and he would try to keep me busy by asking me to write something. He was always keen to know how me and my brother were doing. In the days well before good and convenient phone communication, my father would record my messages to my grandfather in a tape recorderr and then play it out to my grand father. My grandfather would respond with a similar recording always encouraging us to do our best and assuring us of the support and  love of the family.  Around 1980, when I was in boarding school, I would write inland letters to my grandfather reporting on all that I was doing in the school. My grandfather took great pride in the fact that I could live alone in a hostel and write letters in English to him. Such simple and genuine exchanges are what give many shades of colour to one’s life.  While I could not spend a lot of time with my grandfather, his influence in my life has been very large and his “value systems” have guided me at critical points in my life especially my decision to return back to India after my PhD and to join a National lab and later in stepping away from the crowd and doing what I thought had greater social impact.

My grandfather lived a life of honour and larger purpose. He did his best for his country, his state and his region on one side and for his extended family on the other side. More importantly, he left behind a legacy and value system for his future generations. What more can one ask for in a life?

Premnath Venugopalan, PhD
Son of Mr V Venugopalan
Grand son of Mr B Venkatachalam Pillai of Ariyalur

(11 Aug 2018) Convocation address, Dept of Chem Engg, IIT-Bombay

Convocation address at the Department of Chemical Engineering,  IIT Bombay, by Dr V Premnath on 11 August 2018.

Good afternoon everybody. Good afternoon to the IIT-B Chemical Engineering family!

Class of 2018: Congratulations to you and your families!

To those who have done very well in class: Congratulations. You have excelled and definitely demonstrated consistent and focused hard work. May you keep shining in your endeavors and may you make wise choices.

To those who have NOT done so well in class: Nothing to worry. Nothing is lost. Some flowers blossom a little later in the season. I can tell you that some very successful classmates from my batch ended the IIT-B journey as 5/6/7 pointers.

To all: The conclusion of your IIT degree just marks the beginning of a much longer journey. Do not stop to relax now. Do not feel satiated and satisfied. Make wise choices for your future and pursue your dreams.

The expectations (from various quarters) from you will be high. There will be pressure to conform to the “ideal” of what an IITian is expected to do. People may want to gauge you on a scale of Return on Investment.  People may want to compare your salaries, your car, your home, your MNC tag and your trophies!  My advise to you would be to ignore all that!  Focus on that one thing which you will be happy pursuing day and night without feeling tired! That one thing that will make you happy, give you satisfaction and where you can be truly excellent.

All of you are IITians! I have always wondered, what, if anything, distinguishes us as IIT-Bombay alumni.  We are all probably fairly bright. We are capable of incredible hard work when needed.  But most importantly, we are all usually brimming with a quiet confidence nurtured by the stunning successes of the many people who have walked these corridors over years. That confidence makes us cocky! And that is a good thing. That confidence makes us believe that we can do the impossible. That confidence inspires us to pursue dreams. That confidence makes us set the bar high for ourselves. I want each of you to not let go that confidence!  Find your mission in life and pursue it irrespective of the hardships you face.

I graduated from this very department almost 25 years ago. That is a long time to gather some lessons.  I want to share some selected lessons with you today.

  1. This graduation marks a beginning and not an end. Give yourself a mission for your life, chart your course, have a plan and you will be surprised how much success and joy you will see over time.
  2. Till now, your life has been fairly structured. The education system set down the rails and you ran on the rails. You will be shortly seeing the rails disappear. You will have to shape your own course and more importantly make important choices. Choose strategically and not merely opportunistically.
  3. Do not follow the crowd and do not always sway to the winds. Each of you is unique, then how can your path not be unique?  Seek that which you are so passionate about that you will not stop for rest or sleep while pursuing it continuously.
  4. Pursue excellence and not jobs. If you are the best in the world in something, the whole world will chase you to give you jobs.  Excellence is not just about scale, numbers, scores, ratings, indices etc. Remember that you only have to do one piece of world beating work to win a Nobel prize.
  5. Always be a learner! Know your limitations. Understand that in many fields India is still quite far behind in the level of expertise. Go abroad to learn from the very best you can find. Do not get satiated with your IIT degree!
  6. It is important to contribute to this country that has made you what you are.  Abraham Lincoln once asked “what good is it to have lived and not left your country any better”.
  7. India has made enormous progress in the last 70+ years. We can hold our head high in the comity of Nations.  Despite all its problems, it is clear that India will be the poster child of growth in the coming decades. There will be immense and unique opportunity for many of you to solve real world problems and thus create value for society. I hope many of you will see the promising Land of the Golden Sparrow and an Emerging Phoenix in front of you and NOT a Sinking Ship.  I also hope many of you will contribute to India’s rise and success while also ensuring your own success.
  8. It is okay to aspire to be rich! Wealth allows you freedom to pursue your ideas and dreams.  But be careful that you do not get trapped into becoming a slave of money.
  9. It is okay to aspire to be powerful but remember to exercise power to serve a larger, inclusive and generous purpose.
  10. My last piece of advice — Be proud to have been trained as chemical engineers!  Chemical engineers are taught to be masters of matter and transformations. As chemical engineers, we are the most versatile of engineers. As chemical engineers, we can contribute to the largest number of industries and the most pressing problems of the world be it health, energy, environment, food, nutrition, water etc etc. It is only Chemical Engineers who have the privilege to dabble in and apply all natural sciences – chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics. As chemical engineers, we can, in principle, wield enormous power — see how the Shale Gas revolution in the US has entirely changed the world politics by making US the largest gasoline producer in the world. As chemical engineers, we can understand many more industries and most importantly are ideally positioned for spotting future opportunities. That means that we hold enormous potential to build new industries and create wealth for society.  Chemical engineers and technologists have pioneered various industries — pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices, conventional energy, alternative energy, nuclear power, energy storage, environment, waste management, materials, water, FMCG, food, dairy etc. It should not be surprising that chemical engineers today hold the position of Principal Scientific Advisor to the PM, Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, Chairman and MD of the largest company in India and the Director of the number one IIT of the country. Chemical engineers have made important National contributions and have been recognized by Padma Vibhushans – including Homi Sethna, MM Sharma, Raghunath Mashelkar. But beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.  If you insist on regretting not making it to a higher JEE rank, nobody can help you. Irrespective of whether you remain in the chemical engineering profession or not, this training and community will be an asset for you. Embrace it. Be proud. And make the most of it.

I want to thank Prof Gudi for giving me this honor and opportunity to speak to you today. He has asked me to speak on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, which I will do now. It is my view that technology innovation and entrepreneurship is going to shape India’s rise is the coming years — a rise, which I am convinced, will be the hallmark of the next 100 years! All of you will have an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride this wave. It is time to be prepared and ready.

What is technology? Technology is merely the act of providing a solution to a problem. A technology with key novel ideas and elements is an invention. And when such a technology is taken through progressive stages of de-risking and translation to finally a product or service in use, you have an innovation.

So, when Bob Langer (a chemical engineer who is referred to as the Edison of Medicine and is probably one of the most heavily decorated chemical engineers of all times, pioneered the field of controlled drug delivery and tissue engineering and founder of companies worth billions) noticed a pressing health care need, he looked for solutions and then came up with new inventions that are today in use — and hence are considered a technology innovation that changed the world.  Notice that you have to be passionate and deeply concerned about problems in order to start work on them or to recognize a solution for them when you come across them. Notice that you cannot always be only focused on “solving” (which is what we are trained to do in school, for JEE, IITs etc or any other exam focused activity), but have to explore, seek out and work on new problems that matter – something very different from what you have done so far as students.  Notice also that people who come up with the best inventions often have new and unique insights into the problem (ex: new pathways causing disease) and/or are developing new materials, methods and techniques to fill up the solvers’ toolkit; so you have to be in touch with the “new” and be open –minded.  Notice also that inventions do not happen unless a problem and solution meet each other — and that connect (so to say, connecting the dots as Steve Jobs said!) is the art of an inventor and technology developers.  But stopping there is not enough — you have to take it all the way! Remember that the inventions you remember today are the ones that went all the way and were put into use. You remember Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell today because of their inventions that found extensive use.  An innovator cannot afford to say that his/her job stopped with inventing — well, the job isn’t over till the problem is solved. And it is my firm belief that as Chemical Engineers you have an unparalleled opportunity to excel in the innovation process. I am of the opinion that Chemical Engineers are ideally suited to “connecting the dots” (you need versatility for that) and are perfect for the translation process and journey to market!  You are all trained in chemical engineering but remember that your degree is in Technology!

Let me turn your attention to entrepreneurship now! Entrepreneurship is all about creating a sustainable and scalable “engine” that will create value for end users, who acknowledge the value that they are receiving and hence pay for it, thereby creating a virtuous circle for sustenance and growth.  What distinguishes entrepreneurship and makes it interesting is the following: Very often you have an entrepreneurial team that is seized of an opportunity which is futuristic — one that the team is convinced about but most of the world probably laughs at or thinks it is too small to merit attention and resources. If the opportunity pans out, the team will have an incredible story of growth and scaling. The team is ambitious and looking at an opportunity that needs resources far beyond what is at their immediate disposal — and so the teams needs to communicate their vision and arrange resources.  The team also needs to have a built in innovation capacity to develop the ideas continuously and respond to the emerging challenges and opportunities in a creative and timely manner. I want you to notice a few things here:

  • The entrepreneur needs to be able to spot an opportunity well before others and be convinced enough to pursue it. For scientists and engineers, that ability to spot an opportunity early comes from their ability to understand where science and technology is headed. You as technologists and engineers have a natural advantage in “technology foresight”.  Nurture your technology roots.
  • For all entrepreneurs, the initial journey is very lonely. You are often the only believer! Have courage. Draw upon that “confidence” and “cockiness” that I mentioned IITians seem to have.  Remember that if others (especially those with a lot of money or established businesses) were all chasing the same opportunity, you would not have the opportunity to pursue it yourself in that crowd — so it is a God sent opportunity for you. Find fellow believers and supportive home bases  (incidentally, I run one of them in Pune called Venture Center)!
  • In fact, interestingly, most entrepreneurs start on their journeys pursuing a passion or to give purpose to their life fully realizing that while money is essential to the story, it is only a by-product of a happy ending. If money was the central focus, most people would either not get started at all with the daring ideas (that look small initially) and/or give up at the first disappointment in their journey.
  • What an incredible opportunity that entrepreneurship presents to you? Your ideas. Your vision. Your convictions. You are rallying the world to support your cause and direct resources to that. Your sweat and sacrifices directed at what you are passionate about – something meaningful and useful. And finally you would learn and may be succeed. What an exciting journey!
  • You will notice that innovation and entrepreneurship seem to be close cousins. That is true. They are. Both aim at solving problems.  In fact, entrepreneurship is the vehicle that mobilizes resources to deliver innovations.
  • The journey of entrepreneurship draws upon so much more than just your formal education. You will need to be resourceful. And this where you will find all your experiences in life and at IIT very valuable — your friends, you alumni network, your professors, what you learnt or who you met at PAF, E-Summit, Mood Indigo, Inter IIT or Night Outs.
  • One particular type of entrepreneurship that I am very passionate about is social entrepreneurship! We are indeed lucky to have exemplary case studies in social entrepreneurship in India.  To me the benchmark for social entrepreneurship is Amul and Dr Kurien. It is impressive to see the scale and scope of impact Amul has had while also being very profitable. Social entrepreneurship is entrepreneurship (sustainable and scalable) directed towards socially important needs. These ventures have multiple bottom lines – not merely profits but social and environmental impact. These ventures pursue topics that appeal to your humanity and therefore attract a lot of good will (which the entrepreneur needs to leverage to raise support and resources).  Many (but not all) social enterprises are based on frugal innovation and are inclusive in nature (not exclusive). As Dr Mashelkar says it strives for “More for less for many”!

There is so much more I would like to say to you all. But today is not the time and place. In conclusion, I commend to you a life pursuing innovation and entrepreneurship, while drawing upon the spirit and legacy of chemical engineering!

Thanks to Prof Gudi for inviting me. Thanks to all of you for your patient listening.

Congratulations to all of you.

I wish you good luck and all success.

(25 June 2018) Selected reports on startups and VC investments in India

A few reports recently being added to Venture Center Library (http://www.vcenterlibrary.org ):

The Fourth Wheel 2018: Private Equity in the Corporate Landscape: http://www.grantthornton.in/globalassets/1.-member-firms/india/assets/pdfs/the_fourth_wheel_march-2018.pdf

Startups India – An Overview: http://www.grantthornton.in/globalassets/1.-member-firms/india/assets/pdfs/grant_thornton-startups_report.pdf

India’s Startup Landscape: https://www.yesbank.in/pdf/indias_startup_landscape.pdf

Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018: https://startupgenome.com/all-report-thank-you/?file=2018

(25 June 2018) Selected Readings on Incubation and Acceleration

On Venture Center’s site for the Incubation Practice School, I have collected a few reports/ readings for fellow and budding incubation managers: http://practiceschool.venturecenter.co.in/workbooks/

Selected books and reports on incubation for the benefit of other incubation managers:


o  CIIE’s “Handbook for Not-for-Profit Incubation Managers”: http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Handbook%20for%20Incubator%20Managers.pdf

o  Nesta’s “Startup Support Programmes: What’s the difference?”: https://media.nesta.org.uk/documents/whats_the_diff_wv.pdf   (comparison of various startup promotion activities)

o  Nesta’s “Incubation for Growth” report: https://media.nesta.org.uk/documents/incubation_for_growth.pdf (Appendix C has some useful reference data)

o  iNBIA’s “Put it in Writing”: https://inbia.org/product/put-writing-ii-guide-incubator-policies-procedures-agreements/ (Available in Venture Center Library; http://www.vcenterlibrary.org/ )


o  Nesta’s “A look inside accelerators”” https://media.nesta.org.uk/documents/a_look_inside_accelerators.pdf

o  Selected reports from GALI: https://www.galidata.org/publications/accelerating-startups-in-emerging-markets/ ; https://www.galidata.org/publications/accelerating-the-flow-of-funds-into-early-stage-ventures/  ; https://www.galidata.org/publications/landscape-study-of-accelerators-and-incubators-in-india/ (This landscape is OK for a high level overview but weak in details and perspective. It is a little tilted!)


(20 May 2018) Interesting comments in Blink article on Memes

Thoroughly enjoyable article title “Meme in India”  on Blink, Hindu Business Line, 19 May 2018. See https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/cover/meme-in-india/article23924380.ece

Some excerpts that caught my interest:

  • Interestingly, it was back in 1976 that evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, coined the term ‘meme’ to describe small units of culture that spread from person to person by copying or imitation. Like many Web 2.0 applications — which have users generating the content — memes reflect and shape the general mindset, writes Limor Shifman in Memes in Digital Culture, a comprehensive work on internet memes.
  • Additionally, there is the risk of satire failing to find its mark, and being taken at face value, she says. Visvanathan is among those who believes that perhaps the country isn’t ripe for such mature forms of subversion, as “the information revolution in India is not complete. We are a downloaded culture,” he says, adding that there is very little to differentiate between Macaulayism and the current wave of information revolution. “We get information but we don’t know how to process it. Internet has become a source of rumour, which is not a potent source of knowledge.”
  • However, there are far too many people, especially those aged 30-plus, who see memes and social media as potent sources of knowledge. This gullible population generally attributes ‘knowledge value’ to anything that is written, printed or produced. “IT is Macaulay 2.0. Macaulay made us secretaries, and Bangalore made us electronic secretaries,” says Visvanathan.
  • Meme-making is in no way comparable to knowledge creation. “We are not inventing knowledge. Internet gives you converging knowledge, rather than diverging knowledge. Internet has been good at some low-level of information creation. It has not been able to excel at real knowledge creation,” explains Visvanathan.


(22 April 2018) New book on Med Tech Innovation by Prof Ravi, IIT-Bombay


Prof B Ravi of IIT-Bombay has recently published this book “The Essence of Medical Device Innovation”.
This book is an excellent introductory book for aspiring med tech innovators and entrepreneurs.  The book stands out because of the real-world and relatable stories of  med tech innovation that aim to share the deep and practical insights of the BETIC team in medical device design and innovation.  This brief and concise book packs in a lot of concepts, information, inspiration, insights, advise and case studies all inter-woven into an eminently readable text.
This book is being published by Crossword’s publishing arm “The Write Place”.  It should be available soon at Crossword stores online and offline.
It is available in Venture Center Library: http://www.vcenterlibrary.org/

(20 April 2018) Dr Padmanabhan’s new memoir

Recently (20 March 2018), Dr G Padmanabhan (Formed Director of IISc Bangalore and a leading biologist from India) celebrated his 80th birthday. He was felicitated by BIRAC/DBT at BIRAC’s 6th Foundation day. (http://www.dbtindia.nic.in/press_release_birac-celebrates-its-6th-foundation-day/ )

More about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Govindarajan_Padmanaban

On the occasion of his birthday, he also released a memoir titled “Doing Science in India: My Second Innings”.

This is a short book and written in an informal and anecdotal style. What stands out is the sincerity, honesty and forthrightness of the stories and messages. Such a book can only be written by somebody with great humility.

I found Chapter 2 very touching. The chapter is about Dr GP’s efforts to leave a legacy and how he struggled to give it some stability and his distress at seeing it crumble. This is something many of us can relate to —especially those of us who have made our own sacrifices to work towards building something of lasting value and wider impact.  The fact that in India we often neglect to build on previous initiatives is also worrisome.  Anything that has been accomplished in this world is clearly something built over many years/ generations with cumulative efforts. Are we not wasting efforts and disappointing our pioneers by abandoning their hard fought gains and achievements.

This set back aside, Dr GP has of course done enormous work and achieved many things.  He will definitely leave a legacy behind to be proud of.

The book makes you think — and think deeply!


(20 April 2018) Using Rallly for scheduling meetings involving multiple busy people:

Using Rallly for scheduling meetings involving multiple busy people:

If you are setting up meetings, especially Board meetings, you can consider using Rallly. Rallly has a simple and nice interface. It also has a version where you can send people a link where they can just say which dates they are available.

See http://rallly.co

My preferred way of using Rallly.co

  • Go to http://rallly.co
  • Schedule an event
  • Organizer to fill up form. Fill up text well and fully explaining the event since the same text is used in the scheduling site/invite email.
  • Do NOT add email addresses of recipients
  • Create event
  • The site will first send you an email to confirm if your email address is genuine and whether you only have initiated the scheduling request. You have to confirm by clicking on the link you will receive in the email.
  • On doing so, it will take you to a event scheduling site. Copy the URL (web address)
  • Use that URL in your email asking people for suitability of dates.
Your email to the meeting participants will as follows:Dear XYZ:

I am trying to schedule ABC meeting. I am planning to use Rallly.co ’s meeting scheduling platform for scheduling the meeting. This is basically a website that allows multiple people to indicate their date preferences for a meeting and then allows the organizer to arrive at a date that works for most peopl


  1. Please click on the link <Add LINK or URL here>  and please respond by selecting the dates that suit you. Title will say “ABC Meeting ”
  2. Click on the green button that says “View event” And “Save”
  3. You are done.

(You can leave a comment at the site if none of the dates suits you, or you want to suggest other dates or you wish to point to timings when you are not available)


  • They have to respond by clicking the link.
  • Then notification will come to you when they have responded.

(21 July 2017) Learning from Ashish

My colleague and friend, Dr Ashish Lele, shall be leaving NCL soon and taking up a career in the industry. Ashish Lele was inspiring to many of us and my young friends. There are many things to learn from him. I am blogging here my brief speech at his farewell for the benefit of young students.

Thanks Ashish!
By, V. Premnath
Date: 21 July 2017

  • We are also using today as an occasion to recall AKL’s 24 years at NCL and thank him for his contributions to S&T, NCL and the country, enriching his students, peer-group and colleagues personally and professionally, and also being such a wonderful, friendly, down-to-earth, no-nonsense colleague and HOD who was always a joy to work with.


  • I wish AKL would have continued at NCL and provided leadership for this organization. But I can understand and imagine the kind of issues he has been thinking about before taking the decision to leave NCL. I can only wish that one day he will come back to provide leadership at NCL and also for the country in pursuing strategic technology objectives. I hope NCL or CSIR will rise up to be a deserving place. I can only pray that NCL and other Government institutions shape up to provide inspiring, achieving and happy work places for talent at all levels.
  • I have known AKL from 1997 when I first joined NCL as an ad hoc scientist. Those very were turbulent times for me on all fronts.  I was seeking purpose in my work and life, and it is very important to have somebody to talk to who is at the same wavelength as you — or at least is generous enough to make you believe that!! Ashish and Ashwini were my sounding posts for me! I would walk to their house every now and then. I would never be turned away. I would always be received warmly. And the discussions would be meaningful and happily distracting at times.  It was so critical for a new scientist to find such a welcome — I hope we can learn that from Ashish and Ashwini.
  • I want to tell some of our younger friends here of some things I have learnt from observing and interacting with Ashish :
    • Generosity: I have hardly ever seen anybody more generous than AKL. He never hesitated in helping others. He generously gave his time to many. He is a generous teacher. He is generous in giving credit.
    • Humility: AKL is clearly the most decorated scientist in NCL.  And that has never made even the newest student hesitate in talking to him!
    • Excellence: It is such a joy to have people around you who excel — it pushes you to do more. On a personal note, the only time I managed to get the highest score in the training programs we used to run for industry was when AKL was not around!
    • Passion of engineering: You need to learn the excitement of seeing “engineering at work” from AKL. He was so excited seeing the Kalpakkam facility.  We went to see the tunnel under the Pir Panjal when it was being built — and AKL was thrilled like child with the latest candy!
    • Joy in little things in life: Something, which I have never been able to imbibe enough of but have always admired.
    • Not getting stuck, not getting hung-up, changing and moving on: Very relevant in the current context of AKL moving out of NCL 😉


  • For all of us at PSE, we are aware that AKL did pioneering work in hydrogels, rheology, nano-composites, engineering plastics, biodegradable and natural polymers, fuel cells etc. He mentored several excellent students. He provided leadership for PPC, CFPE, PAML and PSE amongst other things. He set very high standards for projects, research training, continuing education and everything else that he laid his hands on. I hope our scientists, in future to, can live up to the standards AKL has set.


  •  I have to conclude now. Ashish, we wish you all the best in your future endeavors! We know that you will excel in what you do. I hope you find what you are looking for and that gives you immense satisfaction and happiness — I think you deserve that and more! Needless to say, we are with you. We thank you for your immense efforts you have put in for CFPE, PAML, PSE, NCL and CSIR. That was invaluable and irreplaceable. At the end of the day, we enjoyed the journey with you over the last several years!

AKL - before 2007 AKL - after 2007 AKL - when not at work Farewell AKL


(10 June 2017) Mission Admission — A reality check!

Mission Admission:  A reality check!

By, Dr. V. Premnath

It is (once again) that time of the year when students (10th, 12th) and parents are all breathing heavy carrying the weight of hopes, aspirations, worries, hyper-competition, lack of information, too few choices or too many choices, decisions and (of course) long queues! It is time to take one step back, do a reality check, put things in perspective and then jump back into the ways of the “real” world!

Taking a step back:  The general belief is that the choices we make or feel compelled to make in 10th or 12th are going to be the most important turning points of one’s life. It is true that these are important milestones but are they the all-determining decisions? How many global leaders in their own chosen professions (except perhaps in academia), are known or remembered for their excellence in winning the education “rat race”? Narendra Modi, Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan, Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Saina Nehwal, Deepak Parekh, Verghese Kurien, APJ Kalam, Devi Shetty, and so on? For many, these moments will be deeply disappointing and appear as if doors are closing for them forever. While keenly watching doors close, are you forgetting to notice the doors that are opening on the other side? Is moving with the “crowd” blind sighting you to your (or your children’s) unique strengths, gifts and the immense potential to contribute to this world.  If for example, you want to contribute to global health, is being a medical doctor the only way to do so? How about being a scientist studying causes of diseases, or an inventor developing new drugs and devices, or an entrepreneur building a company that makes and sells drugs and biological, or an government official administering an national program in health, or public health professional overseeing major health initiatives, or a social worker in a non-profit working on rural health activities etc etc.

Reality check: Here are some observations and questions to get you thinking. Why are we educating our children? Is it to train them to be part of the labor force (however white collared it might be) or is to help them achieve their fullest potential? Will they be confident and passionate young people shaping the future? Are we providing them tool sets to survive the world or thrive in this world? In the process of running the race, are we sure we are running the “right” race?  Has winning the race become the end in itself? Is the journey worthwhile and the destination desirable? We know that every body’s journey in life will be different and personal; then why should our choices in education not be personalized? It is made out as if there are only a few career tracks worth considering —- is that really so? If you look at the people who made the most difference during the year or decade or who influenced the world or contributed to happiness and success, which professions did they come from? I am often reminded of Mark Twain’s story of Tom Sawyer painting a wall. Tom Sawyer is given a punishment to paint the wall and he “sells” that as the coolest thing to do for a young boy amongst all his friends. Finally, all his friends are competing to paint the wall while Tom Sawyer sits back to watch the fun. Have we made careers in engineering and medicine the metaphorical equivalent of “painting the wall”?

The opportunity: I firmly believe that these milestones are important opportunities for young students to break away from the usual instructional mode of learning (which they get constantly from schools, tutorials and even parents) and ask questions about what interests and excites them. What is that one thing in life they would love to do? What would be satisfying? What will keep him or her working day and night on the chosen task till the goal is achieved without seeking all alternative hobby or holiday? What is that they would love to excel in —however, small in scope — and excel in such a way that the world will seek them out for their excellence and reward them rather than they having to seek jobs?  This is also a great opportunity for parents and those guiding young students to really rethink what they see as the future! The future is being shaped and reshaped with much greater speed.  Are we responding to change fast enough? I am reminded of the 1967 movie The Graduate featuring Dustin Hoffman where he is advised – “I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”  Plastics probably still have a future but the one foreseen in 1967 has already history and has been tapped (for ex, by Reliance). Are we being wise in foreseeing the future for our children and guiding them in that direction? Does IT represent the future? Or will themes in health, energy, environment, food security, water, materials, electronics etc be more important? If so, are we preparing our kids for the future?  Would it not be fantastic to see our kids bring new energy to bear on the most pressing problems of the day?

Some advise for youngsters: Find time to explore your dreams. Identify people who you admire and respect, and study their career path and choices they made. Anchor your self in your interests and passions and build unique capabilities in those areas. Find places that excel in those domains. Systematically develop excellence in your chosen field!  Remember it is a marathon and not a sprint. Developing excellence takes time and consistent efforts over years. Success will come automatically and making a living will not be an issue — you will not have to chase jobs, they will come to you!

Final words: I keep in mind Robert Frost’s memorable words –“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”


Dr Premnath is Head, NCL Innovations and Director Venture Center. He writes blogs for young people at blog.premnath.org 

Notes to editor: High-resolution photo can be found at http://www.premnath.org/images/Dr-V-Premnath.JPG

Excerpts from “Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike” by Phil Knight.

Excerpts from “Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike” by Phil Knight.


I have just finished reading the memoir of Phil Knight about his journey as an entrepreneur – the story of creating Nike. The book does a great job of giving a glimpse of an entrepreneurial journey – the genesis, the humble and lonely beginnings, the commitment and persistence, the ups and downs, the surprises etc. In particular, Knight gives the readers a peak into what happens inside the mind of an entrepreneur that I found very interesting and helpful. Essential reading for entrepreneurs and incubator managers!

For those who wish to reflect, I am compiling some excerpts from the book:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”  — Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Knight’s teacher about venturing into the trails in Oregon– “The cowards never started, and the weak dies along the way – that leaves us.” Us. Some rare strain of pioneer spirit was discovered along that trail, my teacher believed, some outsized sense of possibility mixed with a diminished capacity for pessimism – and it was our job as Oregonians to keep that strain alive.

But deep down I was searching for something else, something more. I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all … different. I wanted to leave a mark on the world. I wanted to win. No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.

There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.

The world was so overrun with war and pain and misery, the daily grind was so exhausting and often unjust – maybe the only answer, I thought, was to find some prodigious, improbable dream that seemed worthy, that seemed fun, that seemed a good fit, and chase it with an athlete’s single-minded dedication and purpose. Like it or not, life is a game. Whoever denies that truth, whoever simply refuses to play, gets left on the sidelines, and I didn’t want that. More than anything, that was the thing I did not want.

History is one long processional of crazy ideas. The things I loved most – books, sports, democracy, free enterprise – started as crazy ideas.

For that matter, few ideas are as crazy as my favorite thing, running. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s risky. The rewards are few and far from guaranteed. When you run around an oval track, or down an empty road, you have no real destination. At least, none that can fully justify the effort. The act itself becomes the destination. It’s not just that there’s no finish line; it’s that you define the finish line. Whatever pleasures or gains you derive from the act of running, you must find them within. It’s all in how you frame it, how you sell it to yourself. Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death. So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy … just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.” — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass


But first I’d need to change my whole approach. I was a linear thinker, and according to Zen linear thinking is nothing but a delusion, one of the many that keep us unhappy. Reality is nonlinear, Zen says. No future, no past. All is now.

Self is the bald-faced lie we tell ourselves daily, and happiness requires seeing through the lie, debunking it. “To study the self”, said the thirteenth-century Zen Master Dogen, “is to forget the self.”

In Zen and the Art of Archery, “Perfection in the art of swordsmanship is reached … when the heart is troubled by no more thought of I and You, of the opponent and his sword, of one’s own sword and how to wield it … All is emptiness: your own self, the flashing sword, and the arms that wield it. Even the thought of emptiness is no longer there.

“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path yourself”, said the Buddha.

“Expect nothing, seek nothing, grasp nothing” – Japanese poets

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” – Confucius.

MacArthur –“You are remembered for the rules you break.”

“All are proud of their craft. God speaks of his work; how much more should man.” – Eleazar ben Azariah, First century rabbi.

“Don’t go to sleep one night. What you most want will come to you then. Warmed by a sun inside you’ll see wonders.” – Rumi, thirteenth-century Persian poet.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” — General Patton.

“You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory …. Without victory, there is no survival.” — Winston Churchill

But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.

I wanted what everyone wants. To be me, full-time.

Life is growth. You grow or you die.

Each of us found pleasure, whenever possible, in focusing on one small task. One task, we often said, clears the mind.

“Because,” Woodell’s mother said, “if you can’t trust the company your son is working for, then who can you trust?”

No news was bad news, no news was good news – but no news was always some sort of news.

Shoe dogs were people who devoted themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes. Lifers used the phrase cheerfully to describe other lifers, men and women who had toiled so long and hard in the shoe trade, they thought and talked about nothing else. It was an all-consuming mania, a recognizable psychological disorder, to care so much about insoles and outsoles, linings and welts, rivets and vamps. But I understood. The average person takes seventy-five hundred steps a day, 274 million steps over the course of a long life, the equivalent of six times around the globs – shoe dogs, it seemed to me, simply wanted to be part of the journey. Shoes were their way of connecting with humanity. What better way of connecting, shoe dogs thought, than by refining the hinge that joins each person to the world’s surface?

It was dark as I walked out of the office building, into the crowded Tokyo street. A feeling came over me, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I felt spent, but proud. I felt drained, but exhilarated. I felt everything I ever hoped to feel after a day’s work. I felt like an artist, a creator. I looked back over my shoulder, took one last look at Nissho’s offices. Under my breath I said, “We made this.”

Sometimes I thought the secret to Pre’s appeal was his passion. He didn’t care if he dies crossing the finish line, so long as he crossed first.

When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete, and in that convergence, in that transference, is the oneness that the mystics talk about.

Pre said as much himself. “A race is a work of art,” he told a reporter, “that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding.”

“No brilliant idea was ever born in a conference room,” he assured the Dane. “But a lot of silly ideas have died there,” said Stahr. — F Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon.

Pre was most famous for saying, “Somebody may beat me – but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.”

Like most companies, we had role models. Sony, for instance. Sony was the Apple of its day. Profitable, innovative, efficient – and it treated its workers well. When pressed, I often said I wanted to be like Sony. At root, however, I still aimed and hoped for something bigger, and vaguer. I would search my mind and heart and the only thing I could come up with was this word –“winning”. It wasn’t much, but it was far, far better than the alternative. Whatever happened, I just didn’t want to lose.

This question of winning and losing. Money wasn’t our aim, we agreed. Money wasn’t our end game. But whatever our aim or end, money was the only means to get there. More money than we had on hand.

If watching Shorter go off in shoes other than mine could affect me so deeply, it was now official: Nike was more than just a shoe. I no longer simply made Nikes; Nikes were making me. If I saw an athlete choose another shoe, if I saw anyone choose another shoe, it wasn’t just a rejection of the brand alone, but of me. I told myself to be reasonable, not everyone in the world was going to wear Nike. And I won’t say that I became upset every time I saw someone walking down the street in a running shoe that wasn’t mine.

“Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment.” – Nike advertisement.

But instead of cherishing how far we’d come, I saw only how far we had to go. My window looked onto a beautiful stand of pines, and I definitely couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I didn’t understand what was happening, in the moment, but now I do. The years of stress were taking their toll. When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly. At just the moment I needed to be my sharpest, I was approaching burnout.

When you hired an accountant, you knew he or she could count. When you hired a lawyer, you knew he or she could talk. When you hired a marketing expert, or product developer, what did you know? Nothing. You couldn’t predict what he or she could do, or if he or she could do anything. And the typical business school graduate? He or she didn’t want to start out with a bag selling shoes. Plus, they all had zero experience, so you were simply rolling the dice based on how well they did in an interview. We didn’t have enough margin for error to roll the dice on anyone.

In time we all agreed to pretend it was no big deal. We’d learned a valuable lesson. Don’t put twelve innovations into one shoe. It asks too much of the shoe, to say nothing of the design tea. We reminded each other that there was honor in saying, “ Back to the drawing board.” We reminded each other of the many waffle irons Bowerman had ruined.

It seems wrong to call it “business.” It seems wrong to throw all those hectic days and sleepless nights, all those magnificent triumphs and desperate struggles, under that bland, generic banner: business. What we were doing felt like so much more. Each new day brought fifty new problems, fifty tough decisions that needed to be made, right now, and we were always acutely aware that one rash move, one wrong decision could be the end. The margin for error was forever getting narrower, while the stakes were forever creeping higher – and none of us wavered in the belief that “stakes” didn’t mean “money”. For some, I realize, business is the all-out pursuit of profits, period, full stop, but for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood. Yes, the human body needs blood. It needs to manufacture red and white cells and platelets and redistribute them evenly, smoothly, to all the right places, on time, or else. But that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic processes of living – and at some point in the late 1970s, I did, too. I redefined winning, expanded it beyond my original definition of not losing, of merely staying alive. That was no longer enough to sustain me, or my company. We wanted t, to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is — you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.

In one sense our campus is a topographical map of Nike’s history and growth; in another it’s a diorama of my life. In yet another sense it’s a living, breathing expression of that vital human emotion, maybe the most vital of all, after love. Gratitude.

I thought of that phrase, “It’s just business.” It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.

I keep thinking of one line in The Bucket List. “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.”

To study the self is to forget the self. Mi casa, su casa. Oneness – in some way, shape, or form, it’s what every person I’ve ever met has been seeking.

International trade always, always benefits both trading nations. Another thing I often heard from those same professors was the old maxim: “When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will.” Though I’ve been known to call business war without bullets, it’s actually a wonderful bulwark against war. Trade is the path of coexistence, cooperation. Peace feeds on prosperity.

“I was a professor of the jungle.” —General Vo Nguyen Giap, Vietnam.

Mr Hayami nodded. “See those bamboo trees up there? he asked.


“Next year … when you come … they will be one foot higher.”

I stared. I understood.

Phil Knight to students –“ I tell them about the untapped resources, natural and human, that the world has at its disposal, the abundant ways and means to solve its many crises. All we have to do, I tell the students, is work and study, study and work, hard as we can. Put another way: We must all be the professors of the jungle.”

On a plaque next to the entrance will go an inscription: Because mothers are our first coaches.

God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials or ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on, It’s all the same drive. The same dream.

It would be nice to help them avoid the typical discouragements. I’d tell them to hit pause, think long and hard about how they want to spend their time, and with whom they want to spend it for the next forty years. I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.

I’d like to warn the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels, that they will always have a bull’s-eye on their backs. The better they get, the bigger the bull’s-eye. It’s not one man’s opinion; it’s a law of nature.

And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.

Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome.

Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart.

Defining technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship!

What is technology?

Technology is solutions to problems and needs. Technology represents human being’s aspiration and desire to control nature and ones own environment and circumstances, and unwillingness to accept and be content with status quo.

What is innovation?

Innovation is a novel solution to a problem that has been implemented successfully.

What is entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is a vehicle to deliver innovations in a scalable and sustainable manner.

What is social entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship is a form of entrepreneurship that focuses on solving the most pressing problems of society and leverages goodwill to ensure scalability and sustainability.

(Copyright) Premnath Venugopalan, 2017

(2 June 2016) Success is defined by your choices

Article for Times of India, 2 June 2016

By Dr. Premnath V (CSIR-NCL, Pune) (www.premnath.org )

This is the time of the year when school students of Class 10 and 12 would be awaiting or have received their results from the Board examinations. Many students and parents will experience bouts of anxiety, worry and fear of the future.  My message to students is to not worry but use this opportunity to explore your interests and chart the course for your future. My message to parents is to wholeheartedly support this exploration by their children and help them excel in whatever they choose to do.

If you are unsure about which career to pursue, do not despair but go and learn about diverse careers. Meet people, understand their professions, and see if it suits and excites you. It is only after the confusion of the dawn that the morning sun rises.  It is better to find your passions and then pursue it rather than follow the crowd and take up a career that you will regret later in your life.

If you have not done very well in your exams, do not despair but commit yourself to working hard for the future. Remember that people like Albert Einstein and Sachin Tendulkar did fabulously in life but did not do very well in school. Many of the most successful people in life were not necessarily the best students in school. They probably bloomed late or discovered their passions late in life or their school education did not nurture their interest.  I often tell my young friends that you must try and find that career for yourself, which will interest you enough that you will be willing to spend your nights and days pursuing it and excelling in it. If you do so, you will invariably succeed in life.

Yet another temptation to avoid is to compare yourself and your scores with others.  Also, do not get swayed by what is celebrated by the crowd and everybody around you.  Remember that most outstanding people you can think of pursued goals which most of the crowd around them did not even see as an opportunity. Look at your heroes in sports, arts, law, politics, invention, entrepreneurship etc — how many of them were Board exam toppers? Success in life is defined by the choices you make and the efforts you put in over decades; it is a mistake to consider your board exam results as all determining.

Why do we work?

While you are planning your future and career, you may wish to think about what motivates you to work or what will motivate you to work.

Why do people work? Here are some which I have been thinking about.

  1. (Survival motivation) They work for making a living, to provide for their family’s needs and wants, etc
  2. (Enjoyment motivation) They work to keep themselves busy, entertained, occupied, to stimulate their minds, to learn etc
  3. (Fulfilment motivation) They work for self fulfilment, find a greater purpose in life, give meaning to their life, satisfaction etc
  4. (Achievement motivation) They work to satisfy their ego/ aspiration for power, prove something to themselves and others, peer recognition, social/ economic status etc

Survival motivation:

  • This is the dominant driver in many people at the lowest level of the economic pyramid, people carrying out laborious/ tedious/ mundane/ risky tasks.
  • In many of our families, we might find that there were older generations which struggled through their life with the survival motivation being the key driving force throughout their lives.

Enjoyment motivation:

  • This is seen often in the case of spouses of well to do families (with considerable financial security) where one family member prefers to explore work as a source of keeping one self busy.
  • This is also seen in many retired people.

Fulfilment motivation:

  • This is often seen in the case of people seeking to do something useful for society with their lives. Often seen in people pursing non-profit organisations and social causes.
  • This is the key driver often when one finds a person highly successful in their professional field quitting and pursuing a larger and socially more important cause.

Achievement motivation:

  • Ex: a sportsman striving to be the fastest man on earth.
  • Ex: a scientists wishing to be the most decorated scientist in his/her field. The motivation to stand above other fellow scientists.
  • Ex: A desire to challenge oneself and prove that it is possible


  • There is nothing right or wrong in any of these motivations.
  • To each his own. Each person may value each aspect differently and be driven by each motivation in different proportions and combinations.
  • You might also notice that succeeding in one motivation and failing completely in another may also lead to a lot of disappointment in life.
  • An ideal job or career may be one that provides the employee an opportunity to “feed”  each of the above motivations to the right extent and proportion as desired by the employee.
  • Of course, the great HR challenge for organisations is a) to hire employees whose motivation are aligned with what the organisation can provide and b) to find ways to help employees continuously “feed” their motivations.

Personally, I find my fulfilment motivation very dominant in me.

How can startups attract and retain talent?

This is a common question I get from several start-ups. Start-ups feel that they are competing with large companies for talent and that this is a un-winnable battle.

Not true — in my opinion. But it does require a lot of hard work of  entrepreneurs to attract and retain good talent.

Here are some thoughts, suggestions and ideas:

  • In my opinion, monetary compensation is not the only or most important driver for people deciding about which job to take up. Start by not playing-up the role of money beyond reasonable limits. Yes, there is a base level but beyond that most team members will seek something more! It is for you to seek out what those are.
  • Look for people who do not measure their self-worth by the salary they earn or the vehicle they drive or the phone they own. Look for people who value their creative talents and wish to feed and nurture them. Look for people who are not carrying too much “baggage” — “baggage” which forces them to focus only on short term monetary gains. “Baggage” could be heavy loans, a high-cost and aspirational lifestyle, a social network that encourages comparisons with others etc.
  • Start-ups need to communicate a vision and purpose for the organisation as well as future for their team members that is convincing and something with impact that is worth pursuing. Fortunately, there are many people who aspire to contribute to changing the world — the question is if you can help them do that.
  • Start ups must leverage their strengths. One strength is flexibility and ability to act fast. So can you structure an employment arrangement that is customised to suit the employees other life choices? Can you offer flexibility in the job? Are you willing to listen to the employee’s needs and explore ways to tailor the job for them? Can you act fast to close the deal? (Big companies will not be able to do this beyond a point.)
  • Many people leave their jobs because they have a difficult boss. Can you be the best boss in the world?
  • Many people leave jobs because they do not like the work environment and culture. Many will stay on because they like their team and work environment. What kind of a work culture and environment are you building? Is your team getting along together — do they constitute a great peer group?
  • Can you spot talent in young people without track record (and before they are spotted by others) and offer them responsibilities that a big company would never offer?
  • Can you identify certain talents in people to take up a responsibility when they do not have the necessary formal background or experience to do the job?  Big companies will use software, HR consultants and HR managers to screen through applications — and they will typically use key words to screen applications. They will not dig deeper. Can you beat them at it?
  • Especially in India, family members influence the career choices of employees in a big way.  Have you made the effort to communicate to family members what your company does and the great future that awaits you and your team?
  • Are you fair and transparent on matters relating to compensation, recognitions etc? You should not only be so but also appear to be so.
  • Do you take interest in the career growth of your employee? Do you offer them opportunities to grow intellectually or professionally? Are you a good mentor?
  • Many young people will look for safe, clean and happy work places that they can feel good about coming to everyday and also showing off to their friends and family. They should not feel ashamed to show their workplace. They should also feel proud to show off their colleagues. Does your workplace and their team make them proud?
  • Have you taken the trouble to plan their work profile an responsibilities so that it is an appropriate balance of routine work, learning and stretch goals, and opportunity to excel?
  • Can you offer unique learning and networking opportunities? Can you offer an opportunity to enter a new industry segment?
  • Can offer opportunities to people who have had career breaks and are getting back to work?
  • Big companies will often offer narrow jobs with very well defined roles which basically offer them the benefit of  efficiencies that comes from repetitiveness. So, many people people will feel that they are mere “cogs in the wheel”. Can you offer them a bigger role and purpose?
  • Can you leverage your school and college network or alumni network or personal friends circle? These networks typically show greater trust and faith in you.
  • Request people in your personal networks to suggest or refer potential employees. They may suggest or refer people with the right orientation given their deeper knowledge of you and perhaps respect/ support for what you are doing.  The candidate may show deeper interest because of a referral from somebody they know or respect.
  • Can you create a work environment where employees feel that they are growing continuously and not stagnant. Growth can be in terms of intellectual growth, growth in responsibilities, growth in monetary compensation etc.
  • What are you doing to to make the team members own up to the company’s goals? Do they get a chance to represent the company on various internal and external forums? Do they feel they know everything about the company and that the  company is transparent and does not keep them out of certain things?
  • Do they trust that the leadership team will ensure that everybody will get their share of visibility and rewards when the organisation succeeds?
  • What are the things you can do to reduce uncertainty? Are you visibly taking steps to reduce the risk to your team member’s jobs?  Are you working to develop buffers? Are you prioritising that ahead of other risks?

Career development: Growing in responsibilities

In my experience, typical progression of responsibilities in work environments:

  1. Carrying out tasks under supervision (TRAINEE OR ASSISTANT)
  2. Carrying out tasks independently; Taking ownership and responsibility for a task that can be done independently with thoroughness so that no further supervision/oversight is required. (INDEPENDENT CONTRIBUTOR)
  3. Carrying out complex tasks involving multiple people — in coordination and cooperation with several others but takes ownership for the task. A key distinction here is the ability to get others to participate and contribute towards taking “your” (owned by you) task to completion (TASK MANAGER)
  4. Taking ownership and responsibility for project execution — including managing resources (people, funds, infra, etc) at hand, meeting project obligations/ timelines etc; One needs to be able to plan the project, assign tasks to others, orchestrate the execution with multiple parts. (PROJECT MANAGER)
  5. Taking ownership and responsibility for “functions”  in an organisation including managing resources (people, funds, infra, etc) at hand, meeting commitments in timely manner, delivering services satisfactorily etc (FUNCTION MANAGER)
  6. Conceptualising, planning, pitching (to raise resources) and executing new projects (PROJECT LEADER)
  7. Providing leadership for a division/ program including setting up a roadmap to achieve goals, arrange resources, motivate the team, set goals, operate multiple projects towards decided goals. (DIVISION/PROGRAM HEAD)
  8. Taking ownership and responsibility for key organisational strategic objectives and chart the course towards the goals. Organise divisions/programs, set goals for the divisions/programs and facilitate/enable/empower them towards their goals. (LEADERSHIP TEAM)
  9. Setting the organizational mission/core purpose, vision and values. Championing the “offering” and purpose of the organisation. Building the core leadership team. Raising the foundational resources. Motivating and driving collective action. Setting priorities. Takes ownership and responsibility of choices made.  (FOUNDER; TOP MGMT; CEO)

Note: The above is only a typical progression for discussion purposes. In actual practice there will always be differences based on each situation. Very often the same person will be carrying out many different roles — this is especially so in start up environments and small companies.

Some interesting observations:

  • Most young people will immediately notice that they like it when they are growing in responsibilities steadily. A job that is stagnant in responsibilities can get limiting even if the tasks keep changing regularly.
  • However, the common mistake its to assume that responsibilities are “given”. They are “earned”. People who are given greater responsibilities are those who have shown that they can handle smaller responsibilities very well.
  • In some specialised professions, people may choose to remain Independent Contributors but only grow in technical excellence but not in range of responsibilities. That depends on your personal orientation. So, some organisations may have a separate career track that recognises technical excellence instead of increasing responsibilities.
  • Interestingly, there may be no correlation between the nature of responsibilities and the compensation you get. For example, in NGOs or in small companies, you may have much larger responsibilities  but with much smaller compensations.
  • It is often because of the opportunity to take on larger responsibilities that many people may chose to either quit larger companies and create startups or choose to work part-time or moonlight or volunteer with NGOs.
  • Since larger entities drive efficiencies by streamlining tasks, they tend to reduce as many activities as possible into well defined tasks. Consequently, people are hired for  executing specific tasks well. Larger companies can pay well for execution of these tasks.
  • In general, smaller entities give young people a better chance to take up larger responsibilities.
  • You will immediately notice that for students, selected volunteering opportunities with NGOs or organising large events or taking on institutional responsibilities or club responsibilities or being  team captain etc are great ways to learn about and test your abilities in taking different types of responsibilities.
  • Once you have tasted blood in terms of taking on larger responsibilities, it is often hard to slide down to roles with limited responsibilities.
  • If you are on career growth track, it is important for you to realize that you need to show ability to handle larger responsibilities progressively in order to grow. Also, you should not reject opportunities of greater responsibility thrust on you since these are mechanisms to prove your worth. Sometimes, young people seek promotions without trying to build their ability to handle greater responsibilities or build in technical excellence in their roles.
  • If you are a student, you may wish to think about what your jobs and internships will teach you in the context of the above frameworks. Do not shy away from opportunities that stretch your abilities and help you test your strengths.

You may wish to use this framework to think about:

  • Where do you stand today? What kind of responsibilities are you taking up?
  • What is your personal orientation — growth in responsibilities or technical excellence?
  • Where (in terms of responsibilities) would you like to be next and what can you do to prepare for that?

Tips for writing a Statement of Purpose (SOP)

If you are applying for further studies in universities, you will most probably be required to write up a “Statement of Purpose” (SOP).

Some people find writing a SOP a pain. I found it very interesting because it helped me think through my plans and refine it as I wrote the SOP. It helped me think through what I liked to do and what I did not. It helped me build a working plan (note: working plans are subject to change but good enough to bet your resources for the moment) for action. It also felt good to communicate my aspirations to somebody. So, my first suggestion is that start developing an SOP by thinking in the right spirit.

The best SOPs are those that are honest and sincere, and reflect quite a lot of prior soul searching, exploration, research etc by the writer so as to get to a decent “working plan” headed in the right direction.

SOPs are documents where you have to state what course of action you wish to pursue and why you wish to pursue that certain course of action. While there is no particular formula to writing SOPs and I do not like formulaic SOPs, typically, the story line goes as follows:

  • Here is my plan for the distant future (for example, be an industrial researcher and inventor who develops healthcare products) — perhaps why you are passionate about that particular future.
  • Here is what I have done so far to prepare for that distant future (for example, an undergraduate education in engineering and biomedicine, and internships with health care companies, and clinical immersion at hospitals, etc etc)
  • Here is what I need to do in the near future (probably, attend a study program or seek a certain qualification) so as to be ready or be propelled towards my longer term goals (for ex: a PhD program in biomedical engineering)
  • The study program in XYZ college in PQR city is my best bet towards those goals and fits perfectly in my working plan for my career.

Clearly, writing this storyline is easiest and most credible when:

  • It is true and honest
  • you have done all the soul searching for it
  • you have done your research on the program and institution you wish to join

Some dos and donts:

  • Use simple, short sentences and simple language. (The SOP is not meant to test your vocabulary or your command of english literature or your knowledge of quotations) Avoid flowery language.
  • Make sure the SOP reflects your true level of maturity. (Do not ask somebody else/ senior/relative to write it for you. It will invariably not reflect your maturity levels and is clearly a dishonest beginning to a career.  By the way, it is easy to spot SOPs that have been written by somebody else —- one can make out from the quality of writing, the maturity of thoughts etc)
  • It is okay if you do not have all the answers or your plans are unclear. Build a working plan to the best of your abilities. It is also okay if you are going to use the opportunity of the program to explore options and finalise your plans.
  • Do not use templates. Customise each SOP using the research you have done on the program and institution. Everybody including the institutions like to see themselves as special and having been specially chosen by the candidate. If sufficient research was done in choosing the right program and institution, then it can help your SOP convey your specific reasons for preferring the given program and institution without making artificial and superficial statements.
  • Provide a copy of your SOP to your referees. If they get a chance they may be able to back up some aspects of the SOP and thus strengthen your case.


Does poor academic performance in school/college matter to my prospects?

The answer is yes and no. Let me explain.

If you performed poorly in school/college, it could send the following messages:

  • The person may not be hard working — perhaps a little casual
  • The person is not interested in the subject matter
  • The person lacks maturity and is irresponsible
  • The subject of study is not the person’s strength and the person does not understand the subject matter
  • The person does not think it is important to excel in school performance metrics
  • Or there was some event that distracted the person from focusing on studies

All of the above assumptions can hurt your prospects. So in that sense, poor academic performance can hurt your prospects — often short term prospects.

But that said, poor academic performance is not a good indicator of future prospects in a long enough time frame and clearly is unimportant. I often note with interest that many people who were considered poor students in school/ college go on to achieve excellence in a field of their interest and leave classmates who are academic stars far behind in life. For example, a young man may achieve excellence in sports and national honours despite doing poorly in academics at school as a child while his classmate who used to top class exams could be doing a boring job with limited growth prospects. For example, some of the weak students at school who were forced to chose arts for 11th and 12th instead of science may become excellent lawyers, judges, artists, writers etc while the science topper may be in a low profile job (albeit intellectually stimulating job) with limited opportunities to excel and shine. So over a long enough period of time, your school and college performance hardly matters if you do not allow them to matter.

So, if you have done poorly in academics at school or college, do not loose heart. You can do very well in life provided:

  • You find your passion in life and put all your energies into it
  • Identify your strengths and learn to leverage it
  • Make wise choices and do not follow the crowd (especially not the so called academic toppers)
  • Pursue excellence in whatever you are doing

You can remind yourself of the many people who have excelled despite poor academic performance — for ex, Albert Einstein, Sachin Tendulkar and many others.


Quotes from “I too had a dream”, by Verghese Kurien

I am excerpting some paragraphs from Dr Kurien’s biography. I encourage all to read about his amazing journey!!

Quotes from “I too had a dream”, by Verghese Kurien

“….choosing to lead one kind of life means putting aside the desire to pursue other options.”

“ I have often spoken of integrity as the most important of these values, realizing that integrity – and personal integrity, at that – is being honest to yourself. If you are always honest to yourself, it does not take much effort in always being honest with others.”

“Life is a privilege and to waste it would be wrong. In living this privileged “Life”, you must accept responsibility for yourself, always use your talents to the best of your ability and contribute somehow to the common good.”


“…failure is not about not succeeding. Rather it is about not putting in your bet effort and not contributing, however modestly, to the common good.”


“Most of us compare ourselves with someone we thin is happier – a relative, an acquaintance, or often, someone we barely know. But when we start looking closely we realize that what we saw were only images of perfection. And that will helps us understand and cherish what we have, rather than what we don’t have.”


“…. If we are brave enough to love, strong enough to rejoice in another’s happiness and wise enough to know that there is enough to go around for all, then we would have lived our lives to the fullest.”


“Working with Tribhuvandas and Kaira’s dairy farmers, I saw that when you work merely for your own profit, the pleasure is transitory; but if you work for others, there is a deeper sense of fulfillment and if things are handled well, the money, too, is more than adequate.”


“The greatest satisfaction and joy came from the priceless reward that comes when farmers whose lives depend on your efforts appreciate what is being done for them.”


“I began to see then that when the government enters business, the citizens of India get cheated. The greatest repercussion of the government entering business is that instead of safeguarding people from vested interests, they themselves become the vested interest.”


“..with adequate support, confrontation at the right time pays off.”


“Our belief at Anand has always been: let the people’s energies be unleashed.”


“What, therefore, is a government at its best? It is a government that “governs” least and instead finds ways to mobilise the energies of our people.”


“I opted to remain an employee of farmers all my life ….I did it because I realized I had a job which gave me the greatest pleasure, the greatest satisfaction. The idea of working for a large number of farmers translated itself into the concept of working for social good. I soon realized that money is not the only satisfaction that one can seek, that there are several other forms of satisfaction and all of these were available to me at Anand.”


“In every crisis, if you look carefully, you will spot an opportunity. My insistence on finding and seizing that opportunity has often been a source of annoyance for many of my collagues because it means that unlike most people, I never try to sidestep a crisis. Rather, the more monstrous the crisis, the more I am tempted to rush at it, grasp it by the horns and manoeuvre it until it gives me what I want!”


“The cooperative structure never encourages huge bureaucratic systems, for it knows that mammoth bureaucracies cannot be sensitive to the needs of people.”


“We need the bureaucrats to look after the interests of our people. The tricky part has always been: how do we educate the bureaucracy to be truly public servants – servants of the people – rather than the bosses most of them continue to be?”


On ICAR: “Then I would ensure that the researchers got not more than 5 per cent of their research funds from government coffers and the rest would come from the industry. This way they would be answerable to the industry and would also get rewards for their good work from the beneficiaries.”


“ Our bureaucracy today is too bloated and therefore it is burdensome.”


“Basic social and economic change needs to brought about gradually and the more carefully and thoughtfully it is effected, the more permanent it will be.”


“True democracy will emerge only when we allow the people to manage. And only when the people begin to take control of their lives will rural development gain momentum, when goods and services produced by rural areas will get better terms of trade than goods and services produced in the cities. Only when our farmers are involved in the processes of development will they be able to command their destiny. True development is the development of women and men.”


“The bottom line is that the government must govern, in every sector. The government need not nationalize banks but government must see that banks do not defraud people. The government need not run dairies but the government must ensure that the private sector puts out good quality milk at reasonable prices. That is governing. So, let the government get out from places where it should never have been in the first place.”


“I was just twenty-eight years old when Tribhuvandas made me the General Manager of Amul. It is an age when one believes nothing is impossible and one is ready to take on challenges. I believed in entrusting professionals with responsibilities at an early age, encouraging them to take initiatives, and correcting them when things went wrong, instead of penalizing or condemning them.”


“While integrity and loyalty are core values, there are other values, too, which are a prerequisite to achieve success in any field. For example, the leader has to set a personal example and make others understand in what ways “change” is going to be useful.”


“I believe that professionals working in our organisations must have clarity of though combined with a passionate pursuit of mastery of their subject. I have always emphasized that large endeavours are only the sum of many small parts and, therefore, we must keep in mind not just where we are going but how we are going to reach there successfully.”


I also believe that a person who does not have respect for time, and does not have a sense of timing, can achieve little.”


“What is the primary job of an efficient manager? In my book, it is to bring in and groom the right people on the team. Once this is done, the manager must then groom the successor most appropriate for the institution.”


“My attitude towards money has always been a very realistic an utilitarian one.  …. it is terrible to have too little money because you will not even have enough to eat and appease your hunger. But it is far, far worse to have too much money because then you will surely get corrupt.”


“I may be old-fashioned in my thinking but I have always believed that it is only when you get less than you are worth, that you can look for respect; if you paid much more than you are worth you will get no respect.”


“ It was only much later in life that I realized the tremendous benefits of this classic game of strategy. Chess has taught me the skill of how to always remain a few moves ahead of my opponents.”


“….my friend Vikram Sarabhai who often said to me: When you stand above the crowd, you must be ready to have stones thrown at you.”


“Pitroda is his address, that startled some of my colleagues, said, “In order to get things done you have to be a bit mad.” And then pointing towards me continued, “You have an example in front of you of a man who came with a dream – a bit mad – and today we are all reaping the benefits of his vision, his ideas. We don’t have to agree with him on everything or admire every little thing he does but the fact remains that what he has created is a dream that we all like to share. We need more and more people like him to create more dreams for our people.”


“ …each one of us has a responsibility, as a member of our nation’s privileged elite, to help bring about that stage. That responsibility is both to criticise and to correct. We must take responsibility for our nation’s future; we must hold ourselves accountable for that future. It means that we must act not only as advantaged individuals but as concerned members of our society. It means that in all that we do, we must be aware of its effect for he greater good.”


“ I have often claimed that I have had but one good idea in my life: that true development is the development of women and men.”


“… there is no doubt in my mind that as a people we stand second to none. Among us are people of great intellectual ability; people of the highest moral and ethical attainment; people of great tenacity and courage. The challenge is to put our talent, morality and courage to the right purposes, in the right direction.


Bureaucracies do not exist only in government. Tragically, most institutions, given time and allowed to grow big, tend to get bureaucratized. When employees begin to believe that the institution exists for them, rather than that they exist for  the purpose and ideals for which the institution was built, then clearly, that institution has mutated into a bureaucracy. The revolutionary in me would demand that such an institution be broken down unabashedly, and built again anew.”


Tips on writing good resumes

Typically, a resume is meant to excite sufficient interest and open doors for you or get you an interview call. It is not meant to be too detailed but needs to point the reviewer to all the reasons why you should be noticed. For example,

  • Somebody may feel that their academic performance is the highlight of their background
  • Somebody may wish to highlight the institutions where they have been trained because the reputation of these institutions might be very high
  • Somebody else may wish to highlight certain specific achievements and recognitions/ awards
  • Somebody else may wish to highlight their leadership activities

Here is the exercise to do when evaluating whether a resume has shaped up well and will do its job for you:

  • Give your resume to somebody who does not know you (preferably somebody who is representative of the kind of people who might be evaluating your candidacy)
  • Give the person 30 seconds (max 60 seconds) to scan the resume
  • Take back the resume and ask the person to write down (or tell you) what ever they remember from the resume.
  • If they put down all the points that a) you wish to showcase and b) are your strengths or that make you stand out, then your resume is headed in the right direction.

While there are points you wish the reviewer to notice, there are also points which you do not want the reviewer to assume, and for this some precautions are necessary:

  • Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors indicate sloppiness, laziness, lack of attention to details and lack of thoroughness.
  • Poor english and poor style of writing indicate not only poor communication skills but also lack of experience and depth  in english communication.
  • Poor structuring and formatting of the resume indicate lack of ability to organise your thoughts, lack of comfort with document processing software and computers etc. To me it also sometimes indicates lack of attention to certain aspects which will save the reader some time. It also indicates an inability to “sell” one self.
  • For scientists and engineers, lack of attention to how scientific  references are quoted indicate incomplete higher education and poor research training. Similarly, lack of attention to units and metrics while stating achievements may indicate lack of in-depth understanding.
  • Hyperbolic claims (especially with certain superlatives) and an excessive focus on certain indicators of success (ex: h-index, financial success etc) can back-fire depending upon the audience.
  • Emphasis on the ” wrong”  points may indicate lack of perspective and/or understanding of the evaluator’s priorities. For example, over emphasis of sporting talents or religious interests for an academic program/job.

That said, it is sometimes important to put down aspects of one’s background which can be relevant. Here is where good judgement is required. For example,

  • If you have excelled in anything at all, it may be worthwhile mentioning it. When I see somebody who has excelled in anything — be it sports, music, art etc — I take that into account because it tells me that the person knows that it takes dedicated and continuous (sometimes for several years) efforts to excel, is capable of putting in the necessary efforts to excel and the person values excellence as a value.
  • If you have done something which showcases your leadership qualities esp in taking initiative, conceptualising and initiating activities, mobilising groups around what one considers important, pro-active efforts etc, it is a good idea to point that out. I find this a useful indicator of the person’s abilities and interests in leading efforts.

Sending resumes to people:

  • Try to write a professional (means, no “hi”, abbreviations, slangs, sms-type of language) cover letter or email
  • Keep the letter very specific by addressing it to a specific person and keep the letter specific. Do not send bulk mail. Do not send email templates with obvious cut-pastes from websites. Write your own letter or email —- avoid copying your friend’s letter or email.
  • Sincerity, simplicity and seriousness is always appreciated in the covering letters.
  • Highlight a few key points about yourself that stand out in the letter itself.
  • Be sensitive to the reader’s limitations when sending out attachments. Nowadays, many people  use mobile devices to read email. So, it may not be a good idea to send a word file as attachment. Send text over email or attachment as pdf.
  • Have a professional email address from which you send out resumes. Avoid strange or funny email addresses.

How to choose a company name (in India)?

How to choose the name of your company? Here are some suggestions:

  • Chose a name that would be simple, short and memorable/ recognisable
  • Avoid the names of founders in the name of the company (It is easier for employees, other share holders etc to identify with the company if one person’s name does not stand out)
  • Avoid complex acronyms and abbreviations
  • Avoid narrowly describing scope of activities of the company by inserting text that describes nature of activities. For example, words like “trading”, “travel”, etc in the company name specify the nature of work or industry. What if your focus changes as the business idea evolves?
  • Check to see who else is using such names or has already blocked it. See links below.

Here are sites which new and budding entrepreneurs in India can use to arrive at their company’s name.

Websites to use for checking availability of names:

Update on 23 May 2018: See how Flipkart chose its name.


On choosing the name Flipkart

In 2010, Sachin and Binny spoke about the problem they were solving and why Flipkart was called Flipkart. They shared with YourStory:

“An attractive neutral name is what we looked for. Good domain names were hard to get. We were looking at names that did not just speak of books alone, but one that could suit any category of products that we may add in future. Also, we wanted to have a catchy name with high recall potential. Flipkart could, in simple terms, mean ‘Flipping things into your Kart’.”

Careers in intellectual property in India

I am providing here some guidelines and information for young people pursuing careers in IPR to help them plan their careers.

Here are different roles that people in the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) field (with emphasis on patents) play:

  1. Drafting (here, building a rapport with inventors, understanding inventions and prior art in detail, building strong “story lines”, strategizing protection strategy, articulating inventions and understanding nuances of language is very important)
  2. Filing, Prosecution
  3. Litigation
  4. Teaching/ training, awareness, popular writing
  5. Research, policy, philosophy, advocacy
  6. Running in-house IP offices within organisations (including developing efficient and transparent procedures, building awareness and momentum, mobilising resources etc)
  7. Literature search and reports; informatics
  8. Analytics and strategy
  9. Administering patent portfolios (focuses more on meeting legal requirements and costs)
  10. Strategic management of patent portfolios (focuses more on aligning portfolios and organisational strategic objectives)
  11. IP/ technology assessment and marketing
  12. IP/technology transfer/ commercialisation with an emphasis on structuring deals, developing commercialisation models, negotiations
  13. IP related agreements including those related to collaborative research, ownership, administration, exploitation, transfer etc
  14. Examiners and other roles in the Indian Patent Office
  15. The IP-IT interface: Software platforms for data and flow management

One person could be doing one or more of the roles above. In the Indian context, mosts Indian institutions are novices to the field of IPR and so role specialisation is rare. Very often, one person has to carry out several of the tasks above.

Roles can emphasise interaction with different communities:

  • Inventor facing roles  (ex: 1, 6, 7, 13)
  • Client/ licensor facing roles (ex: 11, 12, 13)
  • Examiner/ Indian Patent Office facing roles (ex: 2)
  • Top management facing roles (ex: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15)
  • Student/ scholarly community facing roles (ex: 4, 5)

If you are in each of these roles, it is important that you build credibility with the community you are facing and you understand the thought process of the community you are facing (and show empathy).

Different roles require different strengths:

  • Depth in science and technology (ex: 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12)
  • Understanding of the law and implications (ex: all roles)
  • Training in law (ex: mainly 3, 13 but also 4, 5)
  • Understanding of business planning, finance, strategy (ex: 6, 8, 10, 12)
  • Marketing skills and orientation (ex: 11, 12)
  • Excellent communication skills in English (ex: 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 13)
  • Negotiation skills (ex: 12, 13, 6, 2)
  • IT skills (ex: 15 and sometimes 8)

A couple of observations: It is clear that the field is multidisciplinary and often you need to be multi-dimensional to succeed. It is also clear that some roles are more specialised (and hence less commoditized).

So how should you prepare for a career in IP?

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Understand your motivations and orientation. Do not try to get into something where you are weak and have no or weak intentions to build as a strength. For ex, with weak or poor communication skills, it is hard to be good at drafting. For ex, with a poor grounding in science, it is hard to take up roles requiring an in depth understanding of the invention and prior art.
  • Unfortunately, there is no simple recipe. Your preparation depends a lot on which roles you wish to emphasise. If you still need a simple answer, I suggest start with a basic recipe of a grounding in science/ engineering  and strong communication skills, and then add to that an understanding of IP law and/or business.  A general rule I recommend —- seek out good programs and not the easiest to join (which by being easy get commoditized).
  • This is one field where mere academic preparation is not enough —- experience and self-learning is essential. I always recommend self-learning by compiling and studying classic cases in detail including the original patents, the case papers, news articles etc. This is one of the best ways of learning in this field — second only to learning from somebody with experience or in an organisation with considerable volume and variety, both of which are in short supply in India.



On social enterprises

In my view, social enterprises are a class of enterprises which:

  • Have business models that are sustainable (Note: Profits or surpluses are the simplest and cleanest route to sustainability and growth; but other ways exist)
  • Create value for society (or some part of it) by offering products and/or services that address certain problems or unmet needs of society, but in the case of social enterprises also: 1) create significant positive social and/or environmental impact and/or 2) serve marginalized, under-served sections of society; typically those who have limited ability to pay for products and services or have limited access or could represent an unattractive commercial market segment, and/or 3) create significant enhancement in quality of life, productivity, upward mobility of the economically weaker sections of the society.
  • Inspires considerable good-will in society and can thus enlist the support of the government, charitable organisations, employees, customers, suppliers, investors etc.

Social enterprises have to be sustainable initiatives like any other commercial enterprises. The basics of building a social enterprises are the same as for commercial enterprises. The key difference is only in how they arrange to secure their resources.

What constitutes a social enterprise is always contextual and changes with locations, times and specifics in each society.

Examples of social enterprises:

  • A company addressing societies most pressing problems like health, water, food, energy etc with an element of compassion such as a company delivering clean drinking water in rural India, a company building local distributed clean energy solutions in rural India etc
  • A company addressing needs of the disabled and aged.
  • Companies working towards addressing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by offering affordable solutions in the poorest regions of the world.

Examples of enterprises unlikely (note: I am aware that there are exceptions) to be social enterprises:

  • A cigarette company
  • A luxury fashion chain
  • A jewellery chain
  • A sports car company

What is entrepreneurship?

I am often asked about the word entrepreneurship. What does it mean? How is it different from doing business (if at all)? Here is what I have learnt so far.

At the very heart of entrepreneurship is an entrepreneur — a person who is seized of an opportunity to build/deliver a product/ service of value to people and is trying very hard to find and put into practice a sustainable way to build/deliver the product/service for the benefit of society (or some part of the society). Two important features of entrepreneurship are a) the often lonely belief of the entrepreneur in the opportunity (often against the trends and dominant thinking of the times; this grand vision of the entrepreneur is a very important element) and b) pursuit of an opportunity that requires resources (funds, people, infrastructure etc) beyond what is readily available and efforts to put together resources creatively to make the entrepreneurial effort possible. Entrepreneurship is merely the journey of an entrepreneur.

So how is entrepreneurship different from doing business? Entrepreneurship is not focussed on the daily financial transactions but on the grand vision of entrepreneur to create something of value. He/she cannot ignore financial transactions but that is not the heart of the entrepreneurship journey.  The overarching vision of the entrepreneur is the clear driving force and resource planning is done to accommodate that vision (and not vice versa where the available resources determine the goals). Yet another important aspect is to remember is that when the final goal is important, entrepreneurs will find creative ways to build the organisation that will realise the vision of the entrepreneur —- and that need not only be the traditional commercial businesses where the backbone of resource planning is arranging finance/ capital.  So, an entrepreneur will arrange resources whichever way he/she thinks is most conducive to the project….. that could include seeking in-kind contributions, appealing to employers/ suppliers/ customers’ good-will to arrange resources, seeking grants from government agencies and charitable organisations etc. Some entrepreneurs may even choose to work within existing organisations to give shape to their vision.

So, are you an entrepreneur? You can be one. You need to have the following:

  • A vision to build something of value for some part of society
  • Willingness and confidence to walk alone against the wind
  • An infectious ability to transmit your vision and passion
  • A commitment, plan and execution abilities to arrange and manage resources sustainably.

Can anybody be an entrepreneur? Yes, I think so.  First find your passion and purpose, and be convinced that it is worth pursuing against the odds. The rest can be learnt via practice and experience.

How should you choose a place to pursue undergraduate studies?

Undergraduate studies is a time for opening your mind, exposing yourself to a variety of professional and scholarly pursuits, actively exploring your interests and potential careers while also building soft and hard skills for the future. It is not about becoming skilled labour (as is often bandied about by politicians and bureaucrats as the greatest need of the country under the umbrella of skills development).

With this goal, clearly Universities with a wide array of offerings which students can sample and explore are desirable. It is important that education is not limited to professional courses but also includes subjects (like history, philosophy, sports, etc) that will widen one’s thinking, help shape good judgement, learn to build organised activities etc. It is important that students have opportunities to debate and champion their causes.  It is important to have some flexibility for students to change their courses as they learn more about themselves.  It is important for students to meet potential role models and learn to excel.  It is important for students to be in the company of a peer group that inspires excellence.

So, within what is available to you, seek out the best places of learning and excellence rather than looking for job placement records of Universities!

Seeking a job vs seeking excellence

It is my thesis that if you seek excellence, jobs will seek you out. If you seek jobs without seeking excellence, you will often be one among many and also struggle to find something satisfying.

So my suggestion to young people is to find something that you are passionate about and seek excellence in that.  Chances are that you will not even have to search and hunt for jobs.

I have also been using this thought in finding appropriate people who can be part of my team. Instead of looking for “appropriately”  qualified people (often people who have gone on to pick up qualifications and pad their resumes to meet job requirements), I often look for indications of passion and efforts to excel. For example, for a position managing a library, I think a person with a passion for books/ reading/ learning/ sharing may be more useful than a person with a B.Lib degree but no interest in books.  A person who has excelled in something –say, sports, music, dance etc — is more likely to have the basic values necessary to excel such as discipline, persistence, attention to detail etc.  Such a person may be able to actually deliver in certain roles where specialised training is not required.

I also find that this maxim works well when I am interviewing students who have expressed interest in pursuing an internship or project with me. It is so much more fun and satisfying training students who approach their assignment with passion, interest for learning and achieving. It is very easy to spot those willing to strive for excellence — look for indications of willingness to struggle, make sacrifices, and build patiently and systematically. The perfect test is a hardship test!

How do US universities decide on who to admit for PhD programs and offer scholarships?

This is a question I hear often from young undergraduates preparing to study abroad. I do not claim to be the expert but here is my take on the topic.

In the absence of any outstanding factor tilting the selection process, here is my list:

First level of screening:

  1. Bare minimum (note: not cutoff) scores in TOEFL and GRE

Second level of shortlisting (in that rough order)

  1. Reputation of undergraduate school/college/ university at the university (often based on good or bad experience with previous students they have taken or reputation or renown etc; can also depend on personal experiences of members of the admissions committee may think; note: admissions committee can include Indians) — this is the reason IITians may do better than others.
  2. Class rank and performance (and so toppers may get preference here)
  3. Reference letters and SOPs  (SOPs with clarity of purpose, and alignment of goals and program chosen may score high; references that are aligned to SOP may work better)

Third level:

  1. If everything else is similar, then they are likely to use test scores. (Note: The test scores universities quote may be what people who got in scored but it may not be that they used a cut-off to screen candidates.)

But there can be outstanding aspects that may give somebody an edge. These outstanding aspects keep changing with the times and are often specific to universities. Some examples:

  1. A reference letter from somebody who is known to and respected by the admissions committee.
  2. Outstanding initiatives, experiences and achievements aligned to the SOP. (Ex: International awards, outstanding research work and indication of leadership potential)
  3. A very strong reason to be at that university and strong reason for the university to bring you in to strengthen their important program.
  4. A reference by somebody respectable from the department itself.

Needless to say, something done extremely poorly can also change the process and tilt it to the wrong side — for example, extremely poor test scores, poor english skills etc.

No absolutes

One of the central tenets of Indian philosophy is that there are “no absolutes”. This is actually quite unique to India.

A good example that illustrates this is the position taken by Indian religions on right and wrong. Indian culture has taught right and wrongs to generations of Indians only through stories and epics, and most of these have shades of grey with no real black and white answers. Even gods had shades of grey. Ram and Krishna had their own failings. India probably never had an equivalent of the “ten commandments”. In fact, the Buddha in fact advocated good judgement but seemed to reluctantly prescribe some rules for simplicity. Even in Hinduism, my understanding is that most of the things which were perceived to be “transient” or changing with the times (like mores) were kept in the secondary texts and not part of the main spiritual texts.

To elaborate further and exemplify: One could say that to state a lie is wrong. That would be an “absolute”. But what if the lie will save a life (say for example, a lie that could save a jew from a nazi during world war two) ? Would/ should you lie? Perhaps you would.

These simple ideas have large implications for young people: 1) Read stories, epics, fables etc; read those with shades of grey; value the stories that your mom and grand mom told you; 2) be comfortable in shades of grey; do not seek absolutes; 3) learn to be tolerant of people with other very different ways of thinking; do not seek homogeneity; 4) do not mortify yourself and your conscience with notions of right and wrong, learn to exercise good judgement with ample consideration.

Fire in the belly

“Fire in the belly” — that is my latest fancy! I have been looking around to meet young people with “fire in the belly”.

Recently, I had a chance to listen to a talk by Dr Devi Shetty, the famed and visionary heart surgeon and social entrepreneur from Bangalore. In his talk he mentioned about his new initiative to catch young people from deprived backgrounds in West Bengal and train them to be medical doctors. His thesis — these young people will have the fire in the belly to work long hours as medical doctors in the service of the people (which he implicitly suggested that young people from well off backgrounds lack).

While I do not know if there is a rigorous correlation between “fire in the belly” and deprived backgrounds, I see his point and share his thinking. People who pursue goals with great vigour and obsession often need to be highly motivated and have a “hunger” for achievements. They cannot be seeking comfort and luxury. They cannot also have a philosophical view of “nothing really matters”. (Classic case being the case of ancient India which after years of global leadership, turned complacent in end of the first millennium to only be ravaged by “barbarians”  who did not hesitate burning our places of learning and centres of philosophy.) They need to be driven.

While one cannot say it is true for everybody, on average it does seem to hold that societies go from deprived and driven to complacent and content, and as this happens they go from growth to decline.  One can also see that refugees/ immigrants  seem to be excelling in most countries (while future generations of migrants do not seem to be very different from the natives). Even within India, one can see complacency setting in on well off states with the labour force not willing to take up certain jobs and the same jobs being taken up by migrants. One can see young people within one’s own families placing a greater premium on comfort, luxury and entertainment as India grows and becomes affluent.

It is in this context, that I would like to recommend to young people to be wary of complacency setting in. Seek the “fire in the belly”. The only way to create the “fire in the belly”  is to set the most challenging goals for your self and seek role models who have “fire in their bellies” —- basically identify the Mount Everest you wish to climb and be “hungry” to climb that and seek the Edmund Hillary to inspire you.

The curse of versatility

This blog posting is an opinion piece for young friends who find themselves versatile and good at many things but often find that the world seems to favour those who are specialised narrowly. Say, you are good at studies, sports, music and organising teams but everybody seems to only talk about the geeky topper in your class or the dumb sports star in your class.

One of my strengths is versatility — and I have always enjoyed it. I like learning/ doing many different things and combining them creatively in my work. For example, I can combine understanding of science, technology, business, finance, law, and philosophy in my work and use it creatively in the practice of technology management and entrepreneurship. But I can tell you that it is hard to build on your versatility (except in roles where you are in the driving seat and building/shaping the organisation’s agenda).

Most large organisations and societies like specialists.  They like people who conform to the ideal of that organisation/ society. For example, I work for a research organisation and the ideal is of a conventional scientist pursuing his/her narrow area of specialty over a career of 30 years with a solitary focus on peer recognition. In such large organisations,  versatile people are mavericks. And often such organisations are puzzled on how to deal with these mavericks.

Leaders of such organisations often worry how to recognise and reward versatile people and pen up opportunities for them. I was once advised by one of my mentors that I run the risk of “falling between stools”. What he meant was that my organisation had a “scientist”  career track and an “administrator/manager” career track and it would be suicidal for me to try to do both. He had a point! But then should I have chosen one “stool”  to stand on or follow my heart?

Based on my experience, I have the following recommendation for versatile people — if you wish to follow your heart and continue enjoying/leveraging your versatility, then build your own organisations (or work in small organisations)!  You have to be leaders who set the agenda so as to thrive as versatile people. Or else chances are that you will have to sell your soul to the specialists and conformists, and end up as a mediocre specialist!

The opportunity in front of chemical engineers today

Will the 21st Century be the century when chemical engineers will provide leadership for the world?  I think there is a good chance of that happening.


What are the biggest problems/ emerging needs of the Century? Energy (fossil fuel based, renewable), Food & water, Security, Materials, Health, Environment and wastes, Resource efficiency & optimization, Infrastructure products etc — all domains that will leverage chemical, materials and biological sciences; industries that chemical engineers operate in.

As we head into the future, everybody is operating on the assumption that humans will find technological solutions to the impending crises as we have in the past. That said, new technology solutions are increasingly interdisciplinary and complex. Chemical engineers often operate with comfort across disciplines and revel in complexity.

Technology innovation, invariably,  require advancing laboratory inventions through stages of de-risking, refinement/ scale-up, testing/ certifications etc and finally market-entry. This is a process that comes naturally to chemical engineers. Furthermore, technology orientation and pursuing “usefulness” in science is also a part of the creed of all engineers.

A lot of decision making on important global and national matters will need “systems engineering” approaches. For example, decisions and agreements on climate change, pollution control, energy security, resource efficiency etc. Chemical engineers can help make decisions more objective and based on facts/ data/ models  rather than whims of leaders.

(Excerpts from talk by V. Premnath at Azeotropy,  IIT- Bombay, 10 March 2013)

What is Chemical engineering?

What is Chemical engineering?

In my view, Chemical Engineering is all about an integrated/ holistic understanding and exploitation of underlying unifying principles in “unit ops” (or building blocks) in a variety of transformation processes in chemical, materials, biological (and others) systems leveraging physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and computational sciences (and others) to engineer/design/develop/ improve products, services and in general, solutions that deliver impact for society and the economy!

Key words:
  1. Understanding and exploitation
  2. Transformation processes (natural and man-made)
  3. “Unit ops” or building blocks
  4. Unifying principles, design, prediction
  5. Multidisciplinary (and hence the versatility of chemical engineering)
  6. Design, develop, improve, engineer, “synthesis”,  “Technology”
  7. Impact:  execution and delivery


  • Academic training in India emphasises 1-4 above but often 5-7 are neglected.
  • Industry (such as chemical industry) often emphasises the “routine” (something very important for efficient operation of plans and companies but quite boring for those aspiring for creativity)
  • It is important to note that chemical engineering skills are useful and used across many industries besides the chemical industry.  Chemical engineers contribute immensely in other industries such as energy and fuels, environment, materials, water and food processing, biotechnology, biomedical devices and diagnostics etc etc.

My opinion:

  • Early decades of 1900s saw the rise of chemical engineering with unifying principles relating to chemical plants being derived and used for designing and optimizing plants. The later part of the 20th century saw chemical engineering principles being applied to a variety of new fields and industry sectors. The character of chemical engineering departments changed dramatically.
  • It is my belief that this Century will be one where chemical engineers will need to re-invent themselves as technology innovators — people who will leverage their wide training to put together creative solutions for problems and unmet needs of society, and then help take them all the way to the market/ deployment. They will thus emphasize points 5-7.

(Excerpts from talk by V. Premnath at Azeotropy,  IIT- Bombay, 10 March 2013)

What is science? What motivates scientists?

(My objective in this article is not to go into the philosophy of science but take a simplistic view for a lay audience)

What is science?

  • a method of systematic thinking, and creating new and improved understanding, a method of pursuing knowledge?
  • a body of systematically accumulated knowledge?
  • a community of people ?
  • all of the above?

Characteristics of scientific pursuits and scientists:

  • Curiosity to explore, understand and explain
  • Desire to add to the body of scientific knowledge
  • Accurate, truthful and unbiased descriptions, statement of facts; measured words
  • Continuously improving and changing theories and models.  All theories need to be testable.
  • No authority. Nothing is sacred
  • Enjoyment of the process of science, and not merely focusing on the end point
  • Desire to strengthen and enrich the community of scientists (teaching, research training, conferences etc)
  • “Immortality”  via far reaching contributions to human understanding

Should you join a PhD program?

I am asked frequently whether pursuing a PhD would be  a good idea. Here are some of my personal insights –

A PhD is a degree that is very different from a bachelor or a masters degree:

  • It is not a structured, time bound program
  • It is an internship/apprenticeship program and not a classroom program
  • It requires you to demonstrate original thinking and work
  • It requires a “master” to certify that you are capable of independent research
  • A good PhD program teaches you to explore topics, identify and define problems, and then research those problems. It teaches you comfort with ambiguity and fuzzy information, and create structure and understanding in the midst of a “haze”. Very few programs teach that.
  • A PhD is a doctorate in philosophy (“love of wisdom”). I suppose some love and aspiration for wisdom is necessary to truly earn a PhD
  • PhD studies often require you to dip deeply into a cumulative body of knowledge with diligence and thoroughness
  • Often PhD programs require/teach considerable patience and a healthy tolerance for frustration/failure.
  • PhD programs are not meant for creating “skilled hands” but rather “thinking minds”. Developing skills (esp industry relevant skills) is not the objective of a PhD program  all though it can be a consequence. Similarly, familiarizing the candidate with the ways of career researchers (including the focus on publications, conferences, peer recognition, academic honors,  etc) is not the objective but a side effect.

So, should you do a PhD?

Competition and blinders

Competition for resources and opportunities is a reality we cannot escape.

But are we missing the big picture and many opportunities as we rush to compete and jostle along with the crowd? Do we have to all run the same races?

I firmly believe that blind competition blinds people to emerging opportunities. A healthy distaste for competition is good ( a lesson I first learnt in my school – Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Delhi).

Furthermore, you are a reflection of the choices you make. It is important to shape your own future and not necessarily follow the crowd.

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”  is something that reminds me of this regularly: (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15717 )

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost



Learning goals for primary school children

For a moment, let us leave aside what formal education contributes to a child. Here is what my wife and I had set as simple goals for our son:

  • Habit of reading
  • Writing as a means to think, clarify thoughts and communicate
  • Comfort with numbers/ maths and logical thinking
  • General awareness and information pool to draw from
  • Play team sports; aspire to excel; work as a team
  • Learn consistent practice, discipline and persistent pursuit in a few interest areas
  • Simple and direct experiences (not merely electronically or secondary)

Launch of the blog

This blog was launched on 3 Nov 2012.

I plan to compile some of the tips, suggestions and thoughts I have been sharing with young people (school children & their parents, undergraduate students, PhD students, early career professionals) in India.

The articles are meant to reflect my view and opinion.