3rd Year, MS by Research student, Enna Sachdeva is back from a 2-day weekend workshop at the Nexus Startup Hub at the American Center in New Delhi. She was part of a 16-member strong contingent of Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) chosen from across India based on their innovative ideas and capabilities to address the needs of the Indian and US markets. Enna’s application was chosen based on her motivation, her readiness to take the idea to market, and for the viability of the potential business.
In-pipe Climbing Robot
25-year-old Enna who is pursuing her research at the Robotics Research Centre was selected for the idea of developing a Compliant Omnicrawler In-pipeline Robot (CoCrIP). In-pipeline robots are highly favoured for inspection and maintenance of complex pipeline networks, especially those laid under the sea.
Under the guidance of Dr. K. Madhava Krishna and Dr. Abhishek Sarkar, Enna along with her colleague Akash Singh developed a robot that can climb inside really small diameter pipes. What is unique about this robot is it’s foldable crawler modules interconnected by links. The crawler modules enable it to negotiate not only slippery pipe surfaces but also sharp bends in such pipes. “The robot can identify blockages inside sewage pipes, clean AC ducts and detect leakages inside oil and gas pipelines. However, we have just developed the prototype of the design and have not yet worked on any of the applications described above. In future, we plan to make it robust to work on any of the potential applications, and take it to the product level”, says Enna.
Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs
In a unique programme aimed at addressing the needs ofIndian student innovators interested in starting enterprises, the US Department of State has collaborated with The University of Texas at Austin to provide entrepreneurship training, mentoring, and support to the students. And this is available to female students currently enrolled in Indian universities. As per their website, ‘ideas may be based on scientific or technological research undertaken at university, innovation created by the student independently, or innovation of others that students believe they could support.’
Explaining the nature of the programme, Enna says, “The aim of this programme is to promote female entrepreneurs to work upon their ideas and provide training to take it beyond research. In this programme, 400 candidates submitted their ideas, from several IIT and other top institutes, out of which only 16 innovators were selected for training and incubation. Other participants include BTech, MS, MSc, PhD students from diverse domains like Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Biotechnology, Food Technology, Architecture, Commerce etc.”
Design of Programme
There are three parts to this programme
- After an Orientation session, selected students are expected to complete a 6-week long online course on “Innovation Readiness”. They had weekly Skype sessions with their mentors who guided them remotely. Speaking about it, Enna says, “The online course was great. Unlike other online courses, it was not at all theoretical and included real life case studies. It further included many topics to be considered before developing a prototype for commercialization of a product, such as ‘What are the Key factors which determine its market value and how to protect the innovation before releasing it as a product’, among others.”
- Next was the recently concluded weekend workshop in New Delhi where students had an option of either continuing their work independently or collaborating with others on promising ideas. It is at this stage that practical next steps and analysis of potential market opportunities and challenges are discussed at length. During the workshop, Enna got a chance to work closely with instructors from the University of Texas at Austin, mentors from the Delhi community as well as experienced female entrepreneurs. “The 2-day workshop at Delhi was a good introduction to enable us to start looking from the market perspective of this product and what qualities in a product or idea investors value before providing the funds. And we got the opportunity to meet young as well as experienced entrepreneurs who shared their experience and learnings of their entrepreneurial journey”, says Enna.
- In June (19-29), Enna and the other selected students will join a 2-week programme in Austin, Texas, where they will work together in teams to explore commercial opportunities for the group’s Indian innovations – In India, the US, as well as other markets. Even after the completion of the programme, American students can continue to advise their Indian counterparts on opportunities. “We hope to meet investors and incubators to get funding for future development of our ideas, and learn to develop a product by considering the customer requirement. This could also help our juniors to develop it for a particular application that can be deployed. The case studies that we will be doing in USA will be useful to make modifications in our design so as to address the most important problems in the market”, says Enna.
When asked about her future plans, Enna says that her thesis is currently under review and she hopes to graduate by July or August. Enna has been accepted for a PhD programme at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute as well as Institut Pascal (France). “However I am not going for any of these and (am) waiting for other results”, she says emphatically. Besides tinkering around in the robotics lab, Enna can be found drawing, practising yoga or heard crooning to popular Bollywood numbers.
She signs off saying, “At the Robotics Research Centre, we wanted to take COCrIP beyond research, I think ..winning the AWE award could be a good opportunity to get funding as well as more ideas from the product development perspective.”