AIT Camp February 2016 – Making Entrepreneurs out of Researchers

By Janina Keller, Junior Manager – Entrepreneurship and Innovation, February 2016

‘Intensive’, ‘insightful’ and ‘cross-pollinating’ are expressions that participants used to describe the Academia-Industry Training (AIT) programme between February 1-5, 2016 in Bangalore. swissnex India and SINE IIT Bombay brought together twenty researchers from all over Switzerland (10 researchers) and India (10 researchers) to validate their product ideas, create and reflect upon their business models and familiarize themselves with the Indian market. Let us look at the participant experiences and take-aways!

From Researchers to Entrepreneurs?
IMG_0621The week started on 1st February with three-minute pitches where the participants explained their business ideas. More than half of the participants’ product ideas were in the field of MedTech. They ranged from medical devices to more efficient diagnosis tools to novel materials that facilitate surgeries. Other researchers focused on Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and aimed to provide (smart) products, with focus on security, accessibility, the entertainment industry, etc. During the first pitch session, participants had a strong focus on research and scientific facts. After one intensive week of training, a clear shift and an emphasis on customers in final pitches could be seen. It is not surprising that a participant said: “AIT transformed me from a researcher to an entrepreneur”.

So, what really helped the participants make this transition so effortlessly?

On the one hand, the AIT Camp equipped the researchers in several workshops and expert meetings with basic business knowledge. On the other, it provided valuable insights into Indian culture and a platform to contact local researchers and potential business partners.

Becoming an entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur involves additional knowledge than having discovered novel and useful results while doing research. To inculcate a ‘business idea’ centric approach, Dr. Sieglinde Pfaendler from the Robert Bosch Center introduced the Business Model Canvas and the Value Proposition Canvas. These tools helped the participants to reimagine their business based on a clear value proposition that concretely matches their customers’ needs.
This knowledge was further complemented through development of a clear product strategy in the ‘Design Thinking Workshop’ delivered by Raghu Kolli of Nexten Growth. The participants were required to analyze their product category, the customer segment, the pain points they are tackling, the enablers, the core features and finally the value proposition of their (future) business.

Not only did the workshops help in awakening the entrepreneurial spirit, but also imbue valuable insight from past AIT participants. Ramada Babu (AIT 2014-15) explained how his mindset changed through AIT: “In the beginning I thought: ‘My technology is so cool that people will buy it.’ No! Don’t spend too much time in the lab, but spend time to put the product in a nice box”.

To stay competitive the product also needs to be protected, as Neeraj Gupta from Formulate IP pointed out during IMG_7589the IP and legal workshop. This can be done through a patent, if the product shows (1) novelty, (2) non-obviousness and (3) utility. A startup also needs to understand what an investor is looking for. Guhesh Ramanathan from Excubator informed the campers that a growing consumer market, a product that can dominate the market, team expertise and the return on investment are essential features when looking to raise money for your business.

Doing business in India
Doing business in India requires not only an entrepreneurial spirit but also knowledge about the Indian culture and business landscape.

Through the cultural workshop by Divyan Susan Varkey the participants discovered, for instance, the importance of relationships in the Indian culture compared to the Swiss. This indicates that an entrepreneur in India needs to spend time to build relationships and maintain them – business will only work out if the relationship is good. Furthermore, this also influences the way of communication. While the Swiss tend to be more direct (“I cannot do this”), Indians tend to communicate more indirectly (“I’ll try my best to do it”).

Through the course of the week, the participants were also connected to local entrepreneurs, accelerators, researchers and experts. While visiting the makerspace and startup incubator IKP Eden the participants had the chance to ‘speed date’ with 20+ Indian subject matter experts and get valuable advice for their businesses. Furthermore, the participants also got to visit world-class institutional research facilities in India such as the Robert Bosch Center as well as the C-Camp NCBS and Molecular Platforms and cutting-edge startup accelerators such as NUMA.

The AIT camp was truly ‘intensive’ as a participant stated; the days were packed with workshops, networking events and great food. It was ‘insightful’, the participants broadened their knowledge of entrepreneurship and dove into a new culture. And last but not least, AIT ‘cross-pollinated’ entrepreneurial ideas and connected people from India and Switzerland. We are looking forward to bring these 20 new entrepreneurs back together in Switzerland this April.


Watch the recap of AIT 2016.

Footnote / More info :
For more information on the Business Model Canvas see
For the cultural Workshop compare with Hofstedes Dimensions.

Academia Industry Training (AIT) is an initiative under the Indo-Swiss Joint Research Program (ISJRP) where the Swiss government body CODEV and Department of Science and Technology India (DST) mandate swissnex India and SINE (IIT Bombay) to run a one week startup training program for high-tech researchers from Switzerland and India. After the Indian CAMP during February 2016, the same group of 20 Indian and Swiss researchers then undergoes a weeklong training program in Switzerland during April 2016. For more information, visit: