Make in India — for the world

Dony Kuriakose | Updated on March 21, 2021

Title: The ventilator project Authors: Srikant Sastri & Amitabha Bandopadhyay Publisher: Macmillan Price: ₹599

The inspiring story of a lifesaving product developed in the fight against Covid-19

This inspiring little book brought back memories of what happened during a Delhi-Bengaluru drive in 2019.

It was our first time on the route and we packed all our ‘needs’ — from the French press for coffee to the cameras and binoculars for safaris, to appropriate spirits for the evenings. What about the route map? No problem, we had The app — if you can’t guess which one, try Googling. A friend suggested another app which we did download, but just to be nice.

Delhi-Agra was a cinch, but then we took a wrong fork that cost us two hours and soon led us down a dug-up road that seemed totally wrong. We got a blank from The app, so we turned to the other app and sure enough, it led us back accurately and thereon gave us an intuitive ride all the way to an early arrival at Bengaluru (including a safari at Pench!).

When I related this to my friend he laughed and told me about how the person who developed this app had travelled every one of the 35,000 km it covered with a little pad where he noted every big tree and small tea shop, which is why it lets you plan your snacks and stays too!

An Indian story

A similar thought hits you as you read The Ventilator Project and experience people “talking the walk” in retrospect and drawing a map with their footsteps. It’s the story of an unlikely set of people coming together in the middle of a global crisis to take on never-before odds and create a life-saving product that matches the best in the world for its specific needs.

The key players are Nikhil Kurele and Harshit Rathore, entrepreneurs from IIT-K, whose company Nocca Robotics, took on the challenge, guided by the authors of the book Srikant Sastri, senior alumnus of IIT-K and IIMC, an entrepreneurship evangeliser, and Amitabha Bandyopadhyay IIT-K professor and business incubator who jointly led the project team.

Willingly mentoring this team were industry stalwarts Saurabh Srivastava, Padma Shri, and Ajai Chowdhry, Padma Bhushan, and one of the founders of HCL.

In the fight against Covid-19, ventilators were at the highest end of sophistication and complexity — an invasive product that sustains and saves lives.

Given the situation, India needed its own option for its people. Competition included the biggest global names in medical technology and the world was in its harshest lockdown ever. Yet, this is how in 90 days this disparate and geographically dispersed yet tight-knit group of professionals went from concept to manufacture, helped by a proactive government.

The authors start with a brief primer on the technology that simplifies the complexity and aids understanding. Then comes the story of the 90 days, the plans, replans, and how they navigated through the bumps and the boulders — first-hand, from the trenches.

The book has a unique structure, with each chapter dealing with an aspect of the project — the coordination, design, sourcing, concept selling, regulations, funding and so on.

At the end of each chapter they have two interesting sections that are of great value, “key takeaways” in bullet points that focus on the learnings from the chapter and a “starter kit” as a step-by-step guide to entrepreneurs. The tone throughout is very matter-of-fact as opposed to the self-congratulatory tone one sometimes sees.

Once the tale has been told, the authors turn to an invaluable aspect — how to replicate at global scale. This project was unique, as it went with the flow that all of mankind was experiencing, which created some unique momentum despite the operational and practical obstacles.

Only headwinds

What of a time when there was no tailwind, but the headwind remained? Eight chapters at the end focus on this aspect, with a clear objective of “make in India — for the world”. This includes advice to individuals how to think world-class and dream big, insights on the new virtual Silicon Valley and very critical suggestions to the government on catalysing the possible metamorphosis.

We get to share the thoughts of a wide range of global Indians, from academicians to entrepreneurs to strategists and Indian managers who have run global companies, espousing key concepts like focussing on quality from the word go and not letting a small start get in the way of a big dream.

Audacious intent is a key must-have for achieving at scale and a surprising revelation is how small town India is giving rise to far more resilient triers, partly because of the greater hunger and partly because of the toughness they acquire fighting the odds on the way up.

In example after example, from technology to sport, there is a greater likelihood that the outliers will come from the less represented.

Some questions do remain, like this was a case when the cause was so great that everyone worked pro bono, but what would a team like this cost and would that be feasible? Possibly, if you bridge distances and shift timelines to reduce costs. Surely six hours on Zoom could be possible where 24 hours in business class plus fancy dinners and a trip to the Taj may not have been!

Other than a couple of places where the templating is a bit stretched, the book reads true to its cause and packs great value for such a slim volume, though a bibliography of acronyms at the end with one-line explanations would be a great addition.

You should read it if you are an entrepreneur or intend to be one, or a student of business, or indeed if you’d like to know how we marshalled our forces and matched the best in the world when the chips were down. Without taking the wrong turn at the fork!

The writer is Director – EDGE Executive Search

Published on March 21, 2021

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