NirmaLabs: incubating a new innovation gameplan

Mar 19 2005, 00:23 IST
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IQ+EQ+AQ=wealth creation. IQ is intelligent quotient, EQ is emotional quotient and AQ is adversity quotient. No, this is not a new version of Newton’s formula or Einstein’s theory but a common business model of high-tech incubation to spawn global techno-entrepreneurs. ‘Giving wings to aspirations and making them a reality,’ is the underlying theme for NirmaLabs.

Located on the Nirma University campus at Ahmedabad, the incubator is on the look out for aspiring techno-entrepreneurs and after an initial focus on the ICT sector, now proposes to expand to bioinformatics, biotechnology and life sciences and other emerging technology areas.

‘‘For a promising entrepreneur to turn into a technocrat, the three important hand-holding exercises as felt by them are grooming, incubation and growing,’’ says Madhu Mehta, chief architect, NirmaLabs. With an initial corpus of Rs 5 crore along with a DST-approved grant of Rs 2.45 crore for the next four years, Mr Mehta said NirmaLabs was launched last year by the Nirma Education and Research Foundation, part of the Nirma group.

The primary objective of the incubator is to seek, identify and nurture potential entrepreneurs. “The program begins with identifying the right minds with technical knowledge, preferably with two to three years experience and an entrepreneurial attitude,’’ Mr Mehta said.

At present, three incubated projects involving six persons in the first year has given NirmaLabs the confidence to look at other sectors. ‘‘We expect to spin-off at least two of the incubated projects as start-up companies in the next 12 months,’’ he points out.

Says Mr Mehta: ‘‘We are on the look out for those entrepreneurs who are interested in developing bioinformatics or biotech products. Though biotechnology involves long gestation projects, many pharma companies, specially those located in the pharma-belt of Gujarat like Zydus Cadilla, Torrent, Troika and Cadilla Pharma, are interested in some kind of promising technology/products which can set the ball rolling for wealth creation.’’

To get the right kind of people, NirmaLabs is conducting roadshows across the country for the second batch scheduled in July. The focus this time: grooming bioinformatic or biotech projects depending upon their nature, It is also planning to look at universities where there is a huge research talent pool, according to Mr Mehta.To kickstart this effort, the incubator is trying to form teams. Besides pharma companies, institutions like IIM-Ahmedabad, the National Institute of Design, among others, are open to those synergies of interest emanating from tech-entrepreneurs.

The success of the concept is evident from the fact in its first year, out of four proposals, three were selected for incubation which include: developing automation for jewellery manufacturing industry; making solutions to reduce RFID application costs and home automation system to reduce energy costs and add more security to houses.

The incubator is a three-phase model. The first phase involves grooming of individuals and germination of an enterprising idea. Here starts a business plan for the high-tech venture which competes for incubation. The next phase involves incubation of ideas under a mentor. NirmaLabs will invest a seed capital of Rs 20 lakh to fund the enterprise providing infrastructure along with a support allowance of Rs 8,000 per month to each team member. The last phase is a ‘spin off’ of projects as start-up companies with external venture funding.

Venture funding

‘‘NirmaLabs will hold equity in the start-up company besides providing it opportunities for networking and exploring new horizons. Before venture funding, the project team will hold 80% equity and the balance by NirmaLabs,’’ Mr Mehta pointed out.

But who are the torch bearers for NirmaLabs? No prizes for guessing. They are none other than NR Narayana Murthy of Infosys; Sudhir Mehta, chairman, Torrent Ltd; Pankaj R Patel from Cadila Healthcare; Karasanbhai K Patel, chairman, Nirma Ltd; BH Jajoo of IIM (Ahmedabad); and Amit Shah of Artiman Ventures, US, among others.

Finally, Mr Mehta sums up the attributes of who makes a successful entrepreneur. Sound technical knowledge, competence in focus area, entrepreneurial traits, good business sense, global thinking, conviction and strong perseverance.

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