Devices for the disabled, healthcare applications, energy conservation tools… innovations by individuals are now possible thanks to the Government's technological outreach programme. Sudhish Kamath reports

Aparna TA invented an insulin inhaler, entrepreneur Ajit Narayanan enabled children with cerebral palsy to communicate, Captain Rajesh PMK designed a security system that makes banks almost robbery-proof and, retired engineer Gopurayappa Srinivasan created star node circuit breakers for newly-invented midget transformers.

These are just some of the innovations that have come out of a small cabin of the TePP Outreach Centre operating from the Technology Business Incubator, currently lodged in the Animal House of the University of Madras campus in Taramani.

What's TePP?

TePP or Technopreneur Promotion Programme is an initiative of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (a wing of the Ministry of Science and Technology) that empowers individuals with ideas.

“While the government research labs and corporates have funding, there was no funding mechanism for individual inventors,” says Dr. G. Gangi Reddy, Managing Director, Technology Business Incubator (TBI) of the University of Madras.

The TePP scheme has funded 400 such proposals since 1999. TePP Outreach Centres were launched in 2006. While there are 31 such centres around the country, the three-year-old Outreach Centre at the University of Madras is the fourth in Tamil Nadu.

The only eligibility for the TePP programme is that you have to be an Indian. “Out of the 25 innovators we have funded, 90 per cent are not affiliated to any other institution. There's a screening committee that evaluates the merits of the proposal and the money is sent directly to the innovator,” he adds.

The government funds up to Rs.75,000 for proof of concept, up to Rs. 15 lakh for prototype development and up to Rs. 45 lakh for seamless scale-up support.

“We help innovators formulate the proposal. It could be a novel product or innovative integration of different technologies or import substitutes or substitutes that greatly reduce the cost of existing technologies,” Dr. Reddy says.

Aparna TA, who invented Maxhaler, the low-cost insulin inhaler, was just a student when she approached TBI three years ago. Aparna wanted to find a solution for those who, like her grandmother, were afraid of injections. “This is the 10th or 11th prototype,” she says, flaunting her plastic inhaler (which she says would cost only about Rs.120-150 when mass produced).

Captain Rajesh PMK, who works at State Bank of Travancore, was an electronics engineer who approached TBI about a year-and-a-half ago with his proposal for integrated security management systems. “I kept myself abreast of the latest technologies and saw that security systems at banks had a few inadequacies. I knew there was scope for improvement using microprocessors, but I needed guidance.” Rajesh's prototype has now been installed in his bank for testing for the last four months.

Gopurayappa Srinivasan, a retired engineer, has the enthusiasm of a youngster when he talks about his midget transformers. “The preliminary evaluation was done by professors at IIT and Anna Universities. These transformers have been adapted by solar plants throughout the country,” he says.

“We have a pool of over 60 experts who do hand-holding from concept to creation stage. As an individual, an innovator may have no access to professors of IIT or Anna University but once TePP funds them, they get two experts guiding them throughout,” Dr. Reddy adds.

The Avaz story

Ajit Narayanan, an entrepreneur, found the funding extremely useful to develop Avaz, the gadget that helps children with cerebral palsy. “In my case, it was a matter of Dr. Reddy finding us and pushing our proposal for funding because of the social angle to the product and that helped expedite the process.”

Ajit started developing Avaz in 2008 when he was working with kids at Vidya Sagar in Chennai. By February 2010, he was able to launch the product. Though the project cost is about Rs. 50 lakh, it was the grant of Rs. 10 lakh from TePP that helped him get started. Avaz is now awaiting its second round of TePP funding for scaling up operations (from producing 20-30 units a month to about 2000 units per month). TePP funds about 50 per cent of the cost for scale-up, up to a maximum of Rs. 45 lakh. Ajit will need to raise the other 50 per cent.

Innovations at TBI include devices for the disabled, healthcare applications, energy conservation tools, breakthroughs in biotechnology and textile technology, new mobile applications, etc.

“We have sent another 10 applications for consideration to Delhi. With our Vice-Chancellor G. Thiruvasagam taking a personal interest in TBI that provides working space, mentoring support and infrastructure facilities to deserving innovators, we hope to do a lot more,” says Dr. Reddy.

TBI can be reached at tbi_unom@yahoo.com

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