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Circa 1998, Dr Vinay Vishwanathan, a faculty member of Indian Institute of Science, was enthralled with his novel project of creating a cutting-edge computer accessible to the rural population.
Vinay and his three colleagues embarked on a different path to develop Simputer, a handheld low-cost computing device. The product was embedded with an accelerometer that allowed user to move pages, zoom, or invert the screen with the flick of hand. But it did not pick pace. “If we have to execute a similar project today, I won’t touch it without getting investment of Rs 50-60 crore,” says Vinay.
Five years later, Apple‘s similar icon instantly became a hit. “It’s not enough to have only a technology- driven product. It is 5 percent of the story and the rest is marketing,” he adds.
Vinay received Sir CV Raman Award by the government of Karnataka for Excellence in Engineering Research in 2001 and won the Dewang Mehta Award for Innovation in Informatics for his role in developing Simputer.
Vinay has co-founded four tech-driven companies — Limberlink Technologies, Ati Motors, Strand Life Sciences and PicoPeta Simputers. “I have learnt something new with
each assignment. It has allowed me to explore not in the discipline of entrepreneurship but in terms of technologies,” he says. The company’s breakthrough came with the discovery of biomarkers which allowed it to foray into diagnostics. The firm also brought genetics into play for cancer patients. “It takes billions of dollars for sequencing genome but five years ago Strand had the facility in Bangalore to sequence genome of people with rare diseases and even put it to use,” says Vinay. Strand acquired the India medical diagnostics business of Quest Diagnostics in October 2018. In January, Healthcare Global Enterprises had merged its Triesta Sciences business unit with Strand. “I don’t think there has been a proliferation of faculty entrepreneurship even after 20 years. Typically, PhD students, or their peers have started the companies and the faculty has held stake,” concludes Vinay.