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More room at the IIT lab for young innovators
Manu A B in Mumbai
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January 16, 2007
The Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), an IT business incubator supported by IIT Bombay is set to open its doors to more innovators sand entrepreneurs.

Buoyed by the huge interest and exceptional ideas that SINE receives every month, the incubator will be expanded to accommodate 50 companies.

"We get a serious application every month from a company keen to be incubated at SINE. If the company is being planned by the IITians at the campus, space is not an issue. But when it is from people who are coming from outside, then we have space constraint. We now intend to build a 50-company incubator to accommodate more firms," says Prof C Amarnath, professor-in-charge, SINE.

Currently, SINE hosts about 17 companies in varied domains.  From companies dealing with software in financial services, software for the Internet, hardware and software for the retail space, simulator to analyse fatigue and fracture in machines and their lifespan, robotics that aids education, companies that deal with geographical information systems, SINE is a testimony to India's innovative prowess.

"We have a company that plans to set up geo-thermal plants in India. They have done extensive research in this field and have identified sites conducive to geo-thermal power plants in Maharashtra and Kashmir. About 30 per cent of the companies at SINE are pure innovators. They are developing products based totally on new innovative ideas.  So it's not a 'me-too' factor," highlights Poyni Bhatt, chief administrative officer, SINE, who was instrumental in starting the incubator at IIT.

"Another interesting innovation is a human-powered charging device for mobile phones. There is a company developing an energy efficient AC system . These products will be launched in the market soon. So each company is remarkable in its own way," says Amarnath.

Companies have about 10-17 members working on various projects. "We get numerous applications every month. The quality of ideas has also improved a lot over the years. So we are planning to expand the infrastructure to accommodate more companies at SINE, says Poyni Bhatt.

SINE provides incubation for three years, provides all the facilities at highly subsidised rates for three years. It also provides the initial support, mentorship and visibility. After three years, they become mature and move out of the campus.

"We have a capital of about Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million) at our disposal from the government of India, which we help the companies with. This help is in the range of Rs 10-12 lakh (Rs 1-1.2 million), depending on the project," says Poyni.

So isn't there a budget constraint? "Of course, we do have a constraint, but we try to use the funds optimally. We don't offer funds to everyone by default," she explains.

SINE was established when there were no incubators, no role models to follow. Reflecting on the initial phase of SINE, Poyni says, "At IIT, we did not know how to form and manage an incubator. Yet, we wanted to attract young talent and popularise entrepreneurship. Initially, we used to talk to people and take them on if we found that their ideas were good. This gave us an insight into the entrepreneurial dynamics. We also got to network with venture capitalists. Soon the faculty also got interested -- they brought in technological expertise, students helped out too with their ideas and there was a lot of energy."

Later, SINE improved its model and asked entrepreneurs for market feasibility of ideas and a proper study was carried out before the company was taken on board. "This way we ensure that the quality of applicants is high," remarks Poyni. 

Giving a boost to the entrepreneurship boom, SINE makes sure that the ideas are exceptionally good and the products will satisfy the needs of the industry and the customers.

"We do a thorough analysis of the business plan, especially taking into consideration the industry's point of view as well as the customer's. All the companies have to be product-based. We do not admit service-based companies," Poyni points out.

Since its inception, SINE has incubated 28 companies successfully, and currently 17 companies are working at SINE.

"Our success is the ecosystem that we have created. We also have created a network of experts, investors, legal and technical professionals who visit the campus every month and help our entrepreneurs. We have own mentoring programme, where companies can seek help from the mentors so the entire set up has been very successful in encouraging young talent to give shape to their brilliant ideas and be successful in their fields," Poyni sums up.

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