The Audacious Journey
Updated: May 20
Today marks an important milestone of a two-decades long journey – an audacious journey as stated in the invitation. The translational bug bit us in the early 90’s when Guru, Manohar and I pooled our grant monies and set up the nation’s first 3D printing lab that became a hit with the mechanical design community in the city. President Kalam (at DRDO then) was presented some early 3D artifacts that were printed on the Stratasys machine.
Soon after, our former brilliant student Vinay returned to join the faculty and he found a sparring partner in our new faculty recruit Ramesh. We set up the Perceptual Computing Lab (PerCoLat) in CSA which gave us a platform to engage with industry and allowed us to explore hands-on deep tech innovations. High performance volume graphics, XML languages, NLP, the Simputer and bioinformatics for Genomics Collaborative Inc. were some of the audacious projects that we took up in the lab. It was a perfect springboard for faculty entrepreneurship.
Mr Ratan Tata opened a door for us – at his first address to the Court of IISc in 1999, he asked why IISc did not have a visible spinoff culture of private companies. Almost immediately Manohar sent a note to the Director Goverdhan Mehta to ask what the process would be for us to launch companies. Prof Khincha and Prof Mehta helped us move forward and in a little over a year with guidance from a bright young lawyer out of the National Law School – Rahul Matthan – we were off to the races. It was October 2000 and we had permission to launch Strand Genomics and PicoPeta Simputers. Strand had the resources (consulting projects) to launch right away. I joked with my wife that I was 47 years old and my response to a midlife crisis was Strand.
Ramesh has told you / will continue tell you the evolving story of Strand – India’s first AI company, the brilliant tool builder for molecular biologists to aspire to the fourth paradigm of science, agile enough to pivot to world class clinical genomics and now poised to deliver precision medicine solutions at population scale. With the support of a village of angels, venture capitalists and strategic investors, Strand has heralded the transition from the new machine age of digital tech to the age of living machines.
The embedding of a deep technology innovation company like Strand in a visionary, technology driven commercial enterprise that is the Reliance Group is the true realization of value that higher educational platforms like the Indian Institute of Science can deliver to the nation. It was not surprising then that the markets greeted this acquisition by Reliance with a strong positive response.
One conclusion from this journey is perhaps that IISc can be a very effective incubator of “deep tech” innovations whose impact on society and the nation gets realized when embedded in a commercial engine. This objective of the Institute has been enshrined in its founding. At the ceremony of laying of the corner stone of IISc, “Rajarshi” Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV the Maharaja said, “Mysore will, I feel sure, reap a reward for the liberality of H.H. the Maharani-Regent’s Government by having at her doors a University which will teach her sons (and daughters) to increase the material wealth of their country.”