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What does your building do?
2 min read

What does your building do?

Whenever I am involved in a discussion that is related to "Innovation" or startups, the first thing everyone talks about is the building.

"We will have a space that....".
beep
You've lost me already.

"We should have something like T-Hub" - I've lost track as to how many folks in different state governments have actually said that.

Every building is a tool. It has a form and function and as such, the question to ask is "How will this building help me do my job, " and even better, "to do it 10x better".

The lack of not asking that question is why we are inundated with Centres of Excellence, with nothing noteworthy to speak of.

I remember when we were working in IIT, the teams that were building products, tinkering on ideas, building startups etc never got a building. We essentially moved into spaces that were created for some industry-academia engagement and reached the end of life. As such, the whole team was scattered around the Intel Lab, Media Lab, Electronics Lab etc (all of whom were ex-tenants) and we didn't even bother changing the name. We were all temporary squatters who had to reshuffle in case the space was needed for something else.


Often the case was that along with the project, the AMCs had also ended, so if you suddenly got a weird smell from the A/C, there was no one to call, you just used the fan for a few days and then hoped the smell had gone away.


There were no 3D printers and shiny new objects to be endlessly fiddling with. We hacked as much as we could, and when we reached the end of the limit, we found a cheaper alternative, and at times we got lucky with some other department buying fancy new equipment that we borrowed.


Truth is, knowing what we needed (and absolutely did) helped us understand it far better.


For Eg, for a project related to a soil testing kit, to build the prototype we needed a way to create plasma. An off the shelf plasma device would have cost a few lakhs. Till one day a tinkering student came along and said, isn't the concept of Microwave the same, why don't we just buy the highest-powered microwave and take out the plasma maker. It was 12K vs a couple of lakhs. There was no point in spending lakhs (and filling out endless paperwork) to test a theory.


Folks see the fancy IIT Research Park and think that they got there cause they had equipment. In fact, the lack of it was got them there, just that they didn't let it stop them.


So it's not going to be buildings and fancy things that will make innovation happen - and this goes for startups too (it's not the fancy office, or everyone getting a mac that changes things) but folks who have a deep understanding of fundamentals and have grit.


Or as Prof Jhun was so fond of saying "people who passionately go after a hard problem without knowing it can't be done". That's when breakthroughs happen. Scaling it is a whole different thing.

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