New Delhi: In March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, it was a race against time to improve the country’s health infrastructure and ensure enough supply of ventilators in hospitals. It was then that seasoned entrepreneur Srikant Sastri, an IIT-Kanpur alumnus, and IIT-Kanpur scientist Dr Amitabha Bandyopadhyay came together to develop a world-class ventilator in just 90 days.
A ventilator is a device that recreates the process of breathing in a patient by providing oxygen to their lungs. During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, doctors around the world were of the belief that keeping an extremely sick patient on a ventilator will help keep their condition stable.
This increased the demand for ventilators worldwide and countries scrambled to secure as many of them as they could. The Indian government too put a ban on the export of ventilators from March 2020 to August 2020.
In a conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta at Off The Cuff, Sastri and Bandyopadhyay discussed how “no corners were cut” in the making of the ventilators and anything below international standards was not acceptable. They also mentioned that the ventilators developed by them are now in the process of getting US-FDA approval for sale overseas.
The two also wrote a book — The Ventilator Project — on their work.
Engineers behind the ventilators
Bandyopadhyay also spoke about the two engineers behind these ventilators — Nikhil Kurela and Harshit Rathod — and said that these innovators were previously involved in robotics, shifted fields and were able to create ventilators of top-notch quality.
“Both of these innovators graduated from IIT-Kanpur in 2016 and had been working on car racing and robotics. Nikhil Kurela and Harshit Rathod, the two IIT Kanpur alumni, then thought of using the same mechanics to make a ventilator,” Bandyopadhyay said.
According to Sastri and Bandyopadhyay, this Indian-made invasive ventilator performs the functions of high-end ventilators but at much lower cost since they don’t have the overheads of multinational corporations.
Startup infrastructure in India
Bandyopadhyay, while discussing start-up incubators and the government’s Startup India initiative, said, “The government is pumping a lot of money into such incubation centres, unfortunately, the centre in IIT-Kanpur is only one in UP. Those who are selected by the incubation centre are provided with facilities of the centre and are taught aspects from the business point of view by experts like Srikant guide them.”
On whether startups face difficulty in surviving in India, Bandyopadhyay said, “Startups are bootstrapped, so if approvals and checks take a year, nobody will fund them for so long. The process of certification needs to be quick and done in a month or so. In addition to this such startups should collaborate with reputed institutions and publish papers on their products. This will not only get the recognition but getting it peer-reviewed makes the product better known.”
On being asked if the government’s initiatives to support startups have materialised on the ground, Sastri said, “The government conceptually wants to support innovation but the message has not been penetrated down to the bureaucracy. Take, for example, the government is the biggest procurer for healthcare tech but when a tender is rolled out by the government it asks for a track record of 3 years, now how will a startup bring that?
“But the government is also learning quickly. Now with their e-procurement initiatives, they are giving concessions to startups. Hence, I would say that there is reason for optimism that the government is changing,” he added.
When asked how IIT-Kanpur has managed to remain untouched by the city’s mafia, Sastri said, “I graduated from IIT-Kanpur about 37 years ago and one thing, even now, has remained the same… the mafia respects IIT-Kanpur, they keep away from the institute and say that this institution will bring pride to our city. So this is how you become an oasis where talent and entrepreneurship can bloom.”
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)