Dr Renu Swarup, managing director, BIRAC and senior advisor, DBT
Q: What made BIRAC to focus on university students for entrepreneurship? Generally it has been always the ones with experience in research?
Dr Renu Swarup: Our focus on students has been driven by the past experiences at the Biotechnology Entrepreneurship Students Team (BEST) that was initiated by the DBT along with the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) and the Stanford India Biodesign program. Both of them resulted in creation of really good budding entrepreneurs. When we looked around, we found that even IITs were organizing student competitions. The M Sc/M Tech level students were taking over. It was then we felt that the students too desire to be entrepreneurs. But somebody has to provide them with strong support system and encouragement. Therefore, we approached National Innovation Council (NIC) with a proposal for the student entrepreneurs in biotech arena. Since NIC had the experience in the business mentorship, we told them that here we will require the wet lab facility as well for the students as compared to the IT sector (which requires less space). The result was the University Innovation Cluster (UIC) that will provide wings to the ideas of students at university level. We decided to give them incubation with mentorship. It is not just a step towards entrepreneurship but also an opportunity to learn with the faculty and access the best facilities as well. It is like a post doctorate with their own set of ideas. At the end, they can develop the business ideas under the guidance of the mentors.
Q: How do you look at BIRAC's performance in last one year? What is your strategy while dealing with the budding entrepreneurs?
The performance has been satisfactory though there is lot more to be done. The Ignite grant is doing well. What we offer is Rs 50 lakh. We had three partners IKP Knowledge Park, Ccamp, FIIT but now we have expanded with NCL Venture centre and KIIT on board as well. We have already done three calls. We hope to get good response to the fourth call that closes on February 15th, 2014. Out of 50 grantees we had selected off the ground, close to 30-35 are there. Normally we receive 120-150 applications. However, it is not just limited to that as our partners do the required handholding. What we found interesting is that few of our partners are working actually to help them write the proposals. That is even before they begin. That is helping them to understand and learn. We are getting good quality but still have very stringent process for mentoring. If we feel that the proposal doesn't have the commercial value in the long run, we don't fund it. It is better not to go ahead if the chances are dim in the next phases. Besides ensuring accountability, we really don't want to give false hope. We follow the same principle at all the levels of our funding programmes. The company might feel rejected at that point and time but after self-revaluation, it may come up with a much better idea next time. That is really where the mentorship role comes into play.
Q: What makes BIRAC different from VCs?