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The knowledge industrialist

Bala S. Manian is an achiever with an impressive record. He is an educator, inventor and entrepreneur who even has a Technical Academy Award given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

COMMITMENT PERSONIFIED: Bala S. Manian — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

HE IS perhaps one of those numerous Indians who went in search of new pastures in the United States and carved a niche for himself.

One who rose up from being a student to be part of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial community. Dr. Bala S Manian left India in the 1960s. Acquiring a NRI status was not difficult but to make a mark was not easy either.

But Bala's list of achievements in the course of three decades is impressive including a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

When he came to attend a conference organised by the ICICI Knowledge Park, which also saw the inauguration of the second phase of the Park one caught a few moments with Bala Manian.

After finishing his graduation in Physics and Diploma in Instrumentation he obtained a MS in Optics from the University of Rochester and a PhD. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Purdue.

His successful career in Optics took off where he became an achiever all the way - from being a research associate and assistant professor he became an independent consultant, company founder and venture capitalist specialising in high technology start-ups.

He has started several life science companies. An expert in the design of electro-optical systems, Bala Manian holds more than 30 patents, many of which have resulted in successful commercial products.

Author of many scientific publications, he has been recognised through several awards for his contributions as an educator, inventor and an entrepreneur.

Around 1974-75 , while employed at Spectra Physics Inc, he helped develop the first compact Barcode laser scanner for supermarkets.

From 1975-76 as an independent contractor at the Defense Mapping Agency he developed several laser scanner based stereo mapping instruments and subsequently developed image quality control instrumentation for photoreconnaisance systems in 1976-78.

Later on, he worked as an independent consultant in the area of computer vision for on-line quality control for major companies including Ford, IBM, Kodak, Corning and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Among these impressive achievements is the Technical Academy Award in 1999 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This award was presented to him at Beverly Hills. Bala founded Digital Optics Corporation, an optical instrumentation and systems development company which developed the first three-colour laser, film reader/writer system in 1980.

This facilitated film-makers to insert or merge special effects into movies using computerised digital imaging. Working with David Di Francesco and Tom Noggle the technology was transferred in 1983 to Industrial Light and Magic - the special effects company created by Star Wars director George Lucas.

This technology has been used in the production of numerous movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Return of the Jedi.

Bala Manian describes himself as a problem solver - "When somebody defines an unmet need I try to solve it," he says and his achievements only prove this.

"I was driven towards academics - which is research oriented to solve problems and turned an entrepreneur long before it was fashionable." Despite his incredible credentials Bala humbly admits, "I am a non-relevant Indian. I have not done anything Indian and have jut begun to think like one. I am trying to analyse is my experience relevant and how can I make it relevant."

He has helped the ICICI Knowledge Park not only in conceptualising its role but also in putting together recently a well-attended Knowledge Millennium Conference on New Drug Discovery, thus demonstrating his commitment to the world of R&D in India.

His recent efforts have prompted him to look at Life Sciences and he is gathering information on the way to operate them in Indian conditions.

Primarily it will be a research-driven activity. Given his determination, dedication, hard work and sincerity of purpose, he is sure to succeed.


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