I looked at my watch. I was already late for the meeting. I took out my phone and saw a text from him
“where are you da.”
“coming”I texted back
I entered CCD and looked around. He was sitting in a quiet corner, with a book in his hand. I went and said hi. He smiled and asked me to sit. I had gotten used to these informal interviews. Having been in E-cell since freshie year, I have been able to meet and interview a diverse set of people. It was always wonderful talking to people and getting to know the various facets of entrepreneurship.
“So, Let’s start?” I asked
“Yeah sure” he said
I had a notepad and a pen to jot down what he said. I started by asking him how he got involved with the project. He described himself as a Project associate.
“A Project Associate? What’s that?” I asked
“Well, IITs have many research projects which are funded by government bodies or other institutes. Each of these projects is managed by a Principal Investigator who is a professor from insti. The professor selects candidates who may or may not be students to work under the project. And those who are not already students of the IIT are brought under the title of Project Associate.”
He described the vision of the team:
“Everything we do, we aim at contributing to our society. We believe in thinking differently by developing products that are well designed, user-friendly and affordable. We believe in making the road transport-safe, pollution-free and pleasurable.”
He showed me some brochures of what they were doing. He had a certain glow in his eyes as he continued explaining what they were doing. The team initially started with five like-minded researchers, all working in the Mechanical engineering department – Jensen, Jino, Jubin, Nithin and Mithun.
“How did you people come across the idea of doing this?” I asked
“Well, the basic idea came from a casual talk with an alumnus in an automotive company. And soon we started a project which eventually ended up becoming a start-up.”
“Oh, that’s nice. What are all the projects you are currently working on?”
“One of our major products is ‘EngineSim’, a sensor emulator for the engine control unit. It is a device capable of emulating signals produced by the wide variety of sensors found in today’s state of the art engines. Some of the signals included are Crank, Cam, Manifold Pressure, intake air temperature, engine coolant temperature, Throttle position and the likes.”
“Okay, but how is your product different from the rest?”
“Well, our product is compact, portable and cost-effective. Most products in the market are costly; we offer a much cheaper option. Also, the interface is user-friendly.”
“Cool! What are the other areas you work on?”
“The other product we are working on is driver assistance. So, for example, if it’s drowsiness in the driver, we have cameras that will detect when the driver may fall asleep and notify the system. The sensors monitor how long the driver has been driving and sense how the steering wheel is operated. Similarly, we use a range of other sensors like GPS radar and other mechanisms and process the results. There is also a Lane Departure Warning (LDW) feature which warns the driver if s/he leaves a marked lane without using the indicator, or if the vehicle is drifting out of its travel lane.”
I noticed that he went silent for a while. He continued. He told me that one of them had met with an accident which is what made them develop this product for driver assistance.
“How did you get started with this? I’ve heard Nirmaan is where start-ups are first conceived, right?”
“Yes. We first approached Nirmaan and put our proposals for the engine simulator there. It got approved within a short span. The overall ecosystem here at IITM is overall welcoming, and there is ample space to innovate. We got the required infrastructure and capital support from insti bodies. We got funding of around two lakhs from nirmaan. We also got guidance from our professors at IITM. We have professors Ramesh and Pratyush Kumar who mentor and guide us.”
“How did you manage to get enough funding?”
“We were the runners up in the Bajaj Mach challenge and got around five lakhs funding from that. We also competed in Shaastra’s caterpillar IDP challenge and got some funding as part of that.”
“Are UG students part of your team?”
“We have a team at CFI, a group of around 20 undergraduate students. I might add that they are the backbone of what we are doing. They put enthu in what they do, and it’s good to see them come together and work to develop our product.”
“Nice to hear that. What advice would you give to the students who would want to embark on a similar start-up?”
“Hmm. Well, the idea you have need not be new or big, it can just be a simple idea. A small thought can bring about a big change. You should be open in your outlook. A single person can’t do Everything. It would be best if you are available to collaborate and cooperate with other groups and people. At the moment, we are associating with a company in the research park. Likewise, you should keep space for collaboration open. Only then will you be able to grow as a company. “
As I walked back to the hostel that evening, my mind lingered on that one thought. “A simple idea can bring about a big change”