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Anti-aging gel, blue cheese from IIT!
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi
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June 08, 2005

Question: What is common to the following?

Answer: Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Yes, IIT-Delhi has decided to monetise the research undertaken at its laboratories by taking it to the market for the benefit of consumers.

Henceforth the research at IIT-Delhi will not end up as mere articles in journals. Instead, the findings of these research projects will be converted into market-friendly products.

In July 2004, a Technology Business Incubator Unit was set up at IIT-Delhi under the name Sanmotech (Synthetic and Natural Molecular Technologies). The objective was to take the technologies developed in the laboratory to the market.

A brainchild of Prof H M Chawla, who was then head of IIT-Delhi's chemistry department, Sanmotech has finally started showing results.

Chawla told "Most of the research is confined to academic journals. There was no system to transfer that into useful products. So I thought of this plan."

"Ours is the only incubator in India in the field of speciality chemicals. Such programmes have earlier been done in the information technology."

He explained that it is basically a process to transfer technology to industries. Once the findings of a research are published in a journal and are proved to be correct, Sanmotech starts working on it.

"There is lot of work between the lab and the industry before it is accepted by the industry. We basically find how the research can be made market-oriented and useful products can be made out of it," he says.

"We cross-check the results, introduce required modifications and advice the lab and the industry accordingly."

Sanmotech prepares the profile of the project and then gives it to the industry for manufacturing of the products.

The unit's first major achievement is the industrial production of a chemical to coat fruits and vegetables.

Sanmotech has developed a chemical that can be coated on fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh for longer periods of time: in some case, the shelf life is increased by more than three weeks -- at room temperatures without refrigeration. The coating consists of 'natural products of Indian origin', as an alternative to traditional waxes used hitherto.

Fruit suppliers and shopkeepers can use the product. The prolonged life helps prevent losses of fruit and vegetables, which are currently estimated to be at around Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion) per year -- approximately 40 per cent of the total produce!

Chawla said: "We have signed an agreement with a renowned Indian company to market the product. They (the company) have set up a factory in Faridabad to process the fruits using our coating."

He did not reveal the name of the company 'since production is yet to start.' The product will be launched officially in a few months, he said. The IIT lab will not sell the technology to this company, but will assist it to process the fruits and vegetables for some years, as agreed upon.

Now Sanmotech is not only earning revenues from this but also building up a 'market image' for IIT-Delhi.

"We are earning enough to run the unit, but in the long run we will start making profits too," says Chawla.

Sanmotech will soon market an 'anti-aging gel' it developed last year. Sanmotech claims that the gel gives the user a younger look by 'reducing the process of aging.'

The unit is also working to market botanical pesticides and wastewater treatment technologies. The formulations are designed to address the problems of arsenic, fluoride, dyes and chemicals in water, and desalination.

Chawla is currently working on a project to market 'sweet tea' for diabetics. It is produced from a chemical called steviocides that is extracted from the Stevia plant. "We want diabetics to eat sweets without any tension," says Chawla.

And soon one would also be able to buy 'blue cheese' from the market.

Currently, Sanmotech is marketing findings of researches done only at IIT-Delhi. But the unit is willing to open up to other institutes and individuals as well. That will, of course, come at a price.

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