The Bhubaneswar City Knowledge Innovation Cluster (BCKIC) has its genesis within the broader programme of the establishment of science and technology (S&T) clusters across India by the Office of the PSA. BCKIC’s guiding principles aim to create inclusive S&T infrastructure in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, identifying key regional challenges and working on strategic areas of national importance. We spoke to Dr. Prashant Singh, the CEO of BCKIC, about BCKIC and his roles and responsibilities.
Dr. Prashant Singh outside the BCKIC office at Bhubaneswar.
Image credits: Bhubaneswar City Knowledge Innovation Cluster
Ever since Dr. Singh became a Ph.D. student at the Delhi-based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), innovations have been a centre of his attention and enthusiasm. He recollects his fascination with adopting next-generation sequencing technology during his early research days in 2006. Later, he moved to the industry in the field of molecular diagnostics and clinical sequencing at Roche diagnostics, where he honed his skills and scientific expertise in a commercial setting.
It was while working with industry that he learned the fundamentals of academia–industry interplay across diverse technological innovation domains. His experience at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) gave him a 360-degree view of the synergy between knowledge innovation and societal needs and the deployment of these innovations across communities. With this experience, Dr. Singh chose to enter into his present role at BCKIC.
In conversation with us, he talks about activities unique to Odisha, technology innovation projects, and BCKIC’s evolving relationships with knowledge partners and stakeholders.
BCKIC has six verticals spanning environmental innovation, societal innovation, industry, and business integration. These cover everything from food and nutrition to waste-to-wealth, wetland management, advanced materials, biosciences, and polymer sciences.
BCKIC’s waste-to-wealth activities revolve exclusively around mining waste, which can be used to create value, thus giving a huge impetus to the growth of the region. To circumvent the problem of chromite overburden, the cluster plans to develop processes to recover nickel and cobalt and remove chromium via the treatment of mining effluents. Along similar lines, the process and technology for extracting rare materials from bauxite residues and using fly ash (from power plants) to create ceramic wall tiles are being worked out.
The wetland vertical focuses on understanding the microbial diversity of Chilika lake. Chilika is battling anthropological and cyclonic issues, and about 150 squares Kilometres of the lake is covered with a reed called Phragmites karka which has affected its water holding capacity, resulting in its gradual shrinkage and posing livelihood challenges for the fishermen. BCKIC’s efforts are targeted at managing the reed as biomass to create value-added paper products and providing employment opportunities to local fishermen.
Local Water Body Rejuvenation Project in partnership with IITians For Influencing India's Transformation (IIT–IIT)
Image credits: Bhubaneswar City Knowledge Innovation Cluster
The biosciences vertical is working to create a diagnostics innovation hub and introducing components of commercial manufacturing to deliver technologies that may impact human health. This sector is less capital intensive because Bhubaneswar is home to established medical institutions, technology incubators, start-ups, and knowledge experts. Dr. Singh believes that together these can conceptualize multiple diagnostic devices and solutions. Here, the cluster’s role will mostly include helping these entities receive the right assistance for regulatory clearances and secure platforms for prototyping, validation, and clinical trials.
BCKIC operates with a multi-sectoral and multi-project approach
BCKIC takes a multi-vision, multi-project, and multi-sectoral approach, where it works with diverse stakeholders with different needs, wants, and challenges. The cluster functions based on a cross-collaboration model between academia, industry, philanthropic organisations, and the state government, to look for inclusive solutions and to seek technology support for solving the problems that have been identified in the region.
Dr. Singh informs, “To start with, we have performed a granular mapping of the resources and infrastructure, available technologies, the centres of excellence flourishing in the region, the knowledge expertise on hand, industry strengths, and start-ups with TRL6 potential. Second, we identified problems that are need-based, region-based, industrial, or societal, and prioritized them for sustainable solutions that will be helpful for everyone.”
The cluster’s ideology is to start with R&D activities on solutions that are ready to be commercialized or to initiate product development for innovations with potential commercial value, and end with the deployment of the same, thus connecting the whole loop of technology development and translational think-tank aspirations.
“BCKIC is spearheading efforts to empower the industry with newer, viable, scalable, and environment-friendly solutions that align with their current needs. We also work with start-ups to promote new products and prototypes in the market. Through these efforts and in this process, BCKIC tries to emulate major thrust areas of the government,” noted Dr. Singh.
Generating employment, integrating marginalised populations
BCKIC is the knowledge partner of the Jajpur district administration and is providing the local artisans of Jajpur access to technology that can help increase the shelf life of bamboo. Further, a ‘Bamboo Academy’ to train these local artisans to better their products and on reaching out to national markets, is also being conceptualised.
Another area of future attention will be creating opportunities and imparting skills and knowledge to forest dwellers/tribal groups, and generating value around Odisha’s indigenous resources and produce. Dr. Singh explains, “Our projects align with the local resources. At the same time, we try to integrate marginalised sections so that success is shared among research institutions, industry, and businesses, along with the people. Unless you have people’s participation, the chances of success and sustainability are lower.”
Team and capacity building at BCKIC
From innovation managers to intellectual property managers, business development managers, and programme managers for outreach and other activities—BCKIC is building a very strong team to facilitate the cluster’s work. In addition, experts from academia and industry are onboard for guidance and consultancy. The cluster’s team is a good combination of senior expertise and young enthusiasm and dynamism.
Dr. Singh adds, “We are not only recruiting competent people, but also constantly working to upskill our team members through participation in policy workshops, techno-commercial workshops, and other training programs that enable them to understand the vast S&T scenario and its interface with society.”
The Bhubaneswar cluster has had capacity-building initiatives mostly for its waste-to-wealth vertical through workshops on bioplastics, promoting environmental technologies, and organizing international conferences focused on this area. Several interesting programs are underway to boost the start-up ecosystem across the state of Odisha. BCKIC works closely with Odisha’s S&T Department, Odisha Bigyan Academy, and the Odisha State Higher Education Council to propagate the start-up culture, with emphasis on innovation, design thinking, etc., and attract more youth to the innovation enterprise. Recently, the cluster organized a ten-day boot camp for students across 12 cities to teach, guide, and motivate them to take up entrepreneurship and join S&T business enterprises. In the future, the cluster plans to strengthen its capacity to support the national missions in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
When asked about the challenges he has come across in his short and new journey as the leader of BCKIC, Dr. Singh says, “Think of BCKIC as a conglomerate which is working in sync with many organizations. A common challenge has been when you have to pick one out of four possible solutions coming from different stakeholders.” He shares that these decisions have to be taken while keeping everyone aligned and on the same page. He adds that such tricky situations often demand that the stakeholders have a shared vision, and so far, BCKIC has been able to build that trust with the right approach and has garnered support from all stakeholders.
A more difficult part of Dr. Singh’s job is not only managing projects that have been approved but at times denying projects that don’t align with the larger vision and mandate of the cluster. “While interacting with stakeholders, we have to keep things simple, generate trust, highlight our strategic focus, and present a foolproof implementation plan,” he adds. He emphasizes the importance of developing good networking and conversation skills, as one has to interact with domain experts and experienced leaders within the cluster.
Dr. Singh describes himself as a person who prefers to keep things simple, supports constructive ideas, gets along well with partners, and endorses critical thinking over criticism. He is optimistic that some of the tech solutions at BCKIC will be on the ground with the help of the right people, the right networks, and the right outreach. His goal for BCKIC is to be able to integrate technologies on a common platform using the strengths, resources, and capabilities of the state of Odisha.
Adita Joshi is a science education and communication consultant, and a freelance science writer.