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A Silicon Valley-type lab for brainiacs

March 29, 2005 09:38 IST

Prashant Agrawal, 26, completed his engineering degree from the regional engineering college, Tiruchirapalli, and worked for a year at Wipro before he happened to attend a road show by Nirmal Labs.

The road show was for a three-phased entrepreneur incubation programme and an individual who passed muster could potentially become 'a global techno entrepreneur' in a matter of less than two years.

"I was working on radio frequency identification (RFID) at Wipro, a subject that interests me tremendously," Prashant said.

The road show ignited the entrepreneurial spirit in him and soon, he sought assistance for a project on RFID application cost reduction.

It was duly sanctioned by Nirma Labs, a venture of the Ahmedabad-based Nirma Education and Research Foundation that is structured under the 'groom-incubate-grow' model.

"Nirma Labs offers me more technical and business-related incubator assistance and I believe that I shall be able to start a new business after gaining from here," he said.

Nirma Labs says its 'ecosystem' is akin to those found in the famed Silicon Valley in California.

Prashant concurs: "This Silicon Valley ecosystem that Nirma Labs propagates is unique -- because at no other place does the entrepreneur and professor work together."

Pooran Prasad R, another budding entrepreneur, is working on a home automation systems project at the lab.

"I have always wanted to do something very different and always wanted to be known for starting a trend. This platform provides me with the opportunity to fulfill my dreams."

Pooran, who completed his civil engineering from BIET in Davangere, Karnataka in 1999, worked for a short time at Deepak Infotech and then for over three years at Itreya Software in Bangalore, before joining Nirma Labs.

"I did attempt to get into the incubator at IIM Bangalore and also at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, but they wanted a business plan. It was then that the Nirma Labs road show was held in Bangalore and it worked fine for me," said Pooran.

Madhu Mehta, chief architect of Nirma Labs, says, "The Silicon Valley ecosystem is a breeding ground for enterprising ideas. It provides the right stimuli, exposure, environment, opportunities and interactions that are instrumental in developing individuals who create capital. The habitat is successfully nurtured here."

"During the incubation the project team will evolve and develop its value proposition and transform it into a viable and fundable enterprise. The team will get an opportunity to interact with industry people besides getting angel funding and monthly sustenance." said Mehta.

Nirma Labs will provide Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) to fund their projects besides providing infrastructure and sustenance allowance of Rs 8,000 to each project member for a month.

The actual incubation period lasts from about six months to 18 months after which the incubatees get to meet venture capitalists to productise their dreams.

At present, three incubator projects are on at Nirma Labs involving six budding entrepreneurs -- in jewellery manufacturing automation, application cost reduction and home automation systems.

The proposals of budding entrepreneurs are evaluated by a panel of judges including K S Dasgupta of Indian Space Research Organisation, H K Mittal of the Department of Science and Technology, Rakesh Basant of IIM, Ahmedabad and Chirag Patel of Net for Nuts, an Ahmedabad-based software technology company that specialises in telecom solutions.

So all ye who have that great big idea or killer application and didn't know what to do, here's where you need to go.

How to make it big...

  • A graduate in any dicipline with 1-2 years experience in any of emerging technological field
  • Last date for application is April 11, 2005 (Application form costs Rs 500)
  • After screening of application forms, shorlisted candidates will be called for a test of general knowledge, technology, emotional quotient, adversity quotient and intelligence quotient. Each test will be of 15 to 20 minutes. The test will be held from the last week of April to first week of May
  • Only 20 selected candidates get admitted on June 2
  • After the admission the grooming period starts for six to seven months. Candidates have to pay Rs 96,000 in this grooming period

Meghdoot Sharon & Sumantra Das in New Delhi
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