Chennai, 12thJune, 2023: He set up the Telecommunications and Computer Networking Group (TENET) at IIT-Madras that helped chart India’s telecom journey in many ways including the transition to 5G. He also launched the IIT-M research park that is being emulated everywhere.

But Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala is not resting on his laurels.In a free-wheeling chat with Sindhu Hariharan of TOI, he speaks about his 10X progamme, his personal desire to get away from the daily operational grind, and his love for Chennai.

Tell us about IIT-M research park’s 10X programme?

We have come up with, what many would call, ‘impossible’ goals to transform India by 2030. One is to create 1,000 incubations [of startups] a year at the IIT-Madras Incubation Cell from the current level of 40-45. For this, we have decided to take the message to colleges across the country. We have already tied up with 15-16 colleges. What’s happening this summer is also part of that – students gain an excitement toward entrepreneurship and develop a builder mindset.

The second goal, which is tougher, is to nurture around 25 R&D projects built out of India and take it to a scaled commercialisation level and have revenues of `1,000 crore a year.One more goal is to ‘build’ people – to take ordinary hard working talent across the country and make at least 500 of them into what we call ‘Ranchos’, people who will be among the top 2% in their field of expertise.

In another goal, we have selected four areas where India should be on the world map by 2030. Technologies that help India make Net-Zero, to improve lives of people with disability including a virtual assistant for sign languages, fintech for safe and secure inclusive payments cutting across various strata of society, and designing and making motors and controllers with sustainable tech. Many companies in the research park are now working on these aspects.

How is the research park working to get closer to these goals?

IIT is our pillar of strength; we don’t talk enough about it but it’s very important. The faculty at IIT are the ones going to do big things for the country in many futuristic areas. We are not stopping at that. We are also engaging with various stakeholders — be it the state or industry and others. When it comes to the government, we have to remember these things take time, and I don’t think we should try to hurry.We [the research park] don’t stop at anything and don’t let anything stop us. That’s what has helped.

Are you happy with the progress in 10X?

When I see these young kids, sit with them and chat with them, we can best see what we have achieved. Two years have gone by; reasonable progress has been made, but we must remember that these impossible goals take time. We started with a daunting task, but it now appears possible. EVs were unimaginable at one point in our country, but today they are reality.

Same holds true for energy management, battery technology, wind [energy], solar, etc. Most importantly, 10X has to go beyond me, and does not depend on me alone.

So, does this mean you are hanging up your boots?

Yes, I am planning to retire from the research park in a year’s time. I will continue to be a mentor; whether I sit in this room or among others, doesn’t matter. I am going to be 70 this month, people retire by 65. I want to get out of day-to-day executive management. I think it’s an unnecessary strain on my body, and I don’t want it.

How did you end up in Chennai, and will you continue to be based here?

Yes, I will continue to be here. I will continue to mentor 10X and be on the board of the research park. We have people to ensure it goes in the right direction, and it’s too important to compromise on that. I am here to help, not interfere. This is a transition everybody has to go through.

I am a mappillai of Tamil Nadu. TN and IIT-Madras adopted me as one of their own. This is my karma bhoomi today and I can’t think of being anywhere else. I am most comfortable here!

Publication: Times of India

Author:Sindhu Hariharan

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