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Nurturing Indian Entrepreneurs

Sid Burback and the IC² Institute educate for entrepreneurial wealth creation in India.

India is quickly becoming a global hotspot for entrepreneurship and innovation. The IC² Institute, an interdisciplinary research unit of The University of Texas at Austin, is doing its best to stoke that creative fire on a global scale.

Pronounced “I-C-squared,” the institute supports the work of international innovators as they create new technologies and companies. It also builds a broad support network of incubators, innovation centers and other organizations which can nurture growing companies toward long-term success.

The institute was founded in 1977 and has been active in India for the past decade. “We have an initiative called the India Innovation Growth Program,” says Sid Burback, director of the institute’s Global Commercialization Group. “We work with over 500 innovators and entrepreneurs in India to help them get ready to compete in both international and domestic markets, gain investments and take advantage of big market opportunities.”

The program receives support from the Indian government, which has “made it a priority to focus on small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in economic growth and job creation,” says Burback. “It’s just like in the United States, where over 60 percent of jobs are created by small enterprises. India has a mission of focusing on creating an environment where small enterprises can be successful.” Further support comes from the Texas-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, partners like the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, both based in New Delhi, and Stanford Graduate School of Business in California, which provides educational resources to the program’s budding entrepreneurs.

Indian innovators interested in working with the institute should keep an eye out every January for invitations to apply to the program. Over 1,000 companies submit applications annually, and each undergoes a series of screenings, interviews and assessments before Burback and his colleagues select the top 100 applicants for the next round.

“Many of the applications that we have to reject are just ideas,” says Burback. “They may be very good ideas, but if they’re not sufficiently developed and can’t really be commercialized at the time that we’re reviewing them, we unfortunately have to say no.”

After deeper reviews, the IC² Institute whittles down the group of applicants to the 50 “most promising ideas, in terms of what the market is saying about technology,” says Burback. These 50 winners are offered training programs on how to form and present their ideas, create the right kind of market messaging and more. “They get solid training from IC² and Stanford on how to get ready to compete,” he adds.

The program wraps up with a competition through which the top 30 companies are selected to spend over six months working directly with the IC² Institute to grab global opportunities. The real-world results, thus far, have been hugely promising.

“We’ve worked with some very creative biotechnologies, for example,” says Burback. “In one situation, we helped a company that created a device for detecting diabetic neuropathy through a table that people stand on. It’s gone on to many markets, including the Middle East, and is a very effective diagnostic tool.”

“We’ve also worked with [companies creating] antibiotics in India that have found licensing partnerships in South Africa and worked with companies that have devised new ways to separate, clean and process plastic waste in a sustainable way,” he continues. “There are so many wonderful technologies, so many great opportunities.”

The institute’s activities extend beyond the India Innovation Growth Program, to include, for instance, an incubator in Andhra Pradesh. “The incubator is a place where start-ups can go and actually reside in a very nice facility that is managed by the IC² Institute,” explains Burback. “It’s helping advance technological innovation in the region.” The Andhra Pradesh incubator currently supports 33 entrepreneurs. Burback and his colleagues expect this number to increase to 100 in the near future.

For those interested in getting involved with the IC² Institute in India, Burback recommends thoughtful research as the key first step. “Always research and try to find as much as you can about the potential market that you want your technology to go into,” he says. “Be very clear about what kinds of problems you are trying to solve and what your uniqueness is. You have to get a sense of the market and where you would be in the market, before you go anywhere further.”

Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.

New Connections in New Delhi

Among its other initiatives in India, the IC² Institute will soon launch a pioneering incubator program, to be hosted at the American Center in New Delhi. The institute’s Erik Azulay, who is supervising the program’s creation, sees great potential and a great need for it.

“The vision is to serve as a focal point for kickstarting the innovation ecosystem in New Delhi,” he says. “India has become a hub for worldwide innovation. But in Delhi and other cities, the overall ecosystem hasn’t really gelled and started working together yet.” This means that powerful players—investors, accelerators, entrepreneurs, industrial partners and more—all exist in cities like New Delhi and already work hard to support rising start-ups, but are yet to form the deep connections with one another that can foster a truly vibrant culture of innovation and success.

“Our incubator is based on showcasing best practices and serving as a center to attract everyone involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, so they can really start talking with each other,” says Azulay. “By hosting events and training sessions, bringing in partners from India and the United States, and other activities, we want to get different sections to talk with each other and work together. Once the ecosystem really gets humming, it would help everybody.”

Creating a cooperative culture of innovation, like those found in Silicon Valley and the IC² Institute’s home city of Austin, is no easy task. But Azulay has no doubt that the New Delhi start-up ecosystem will respond in kind. “Altruism in the world of entrepreneurship is extremely important,” he says. “Whether they’re investors or innovators themselves, people who have been successful often want to give back and be mentors. They also want to keep in touch with the next generation of entrepreneurs in order to keep their fingers on the pulse of the newest innovations and learn about new things that are happening. It’s very much not a zero-sum game and everyone can benefit from an active, connected community.”

The New Delhi incubator is expected to start operations in March 2017. —M.G.