Updated on 5 March 2013
Ms Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, CEO and MD, IKP Knowledge Park, India
We were a large family with my parents, seven brothers and sisters, and our dog. Life was always busy - there was no way one could get bored - with studies, dance, music, painting, playing, reading aloud, chatting, gardening or simply playing innocent pranks on each other. If we asked anything to our father, he always said, "Mother knows best. Always ask her what to do". And we did. On the dining table, we discussed our day's exploits in school or college and sought her views. I was lucky to go to one of best schools and colleges in India - South Point High School, Presidency College and Science College in Kolkata and IIT Delhi.
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My first job was as an assistant lecturer at the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Department of BITS, Pilani. While I enjoyed teaching, I realized most students don't come with an understanding of science and math, and it is too late to develop that in college. I wanted to do something which had more impact. So, I left BITS Pilani after one semester and devoted my time to working on non-formal science teaching with NGOs. This was a huge learning experience for me and I got the opportunity to know the real India while working with NGOs in Delhi, Almora and Madhubani districts in northern and eastern India. Though it is oft quoted, I would still like to quote Mahatma Gandhi: 'You must be the change you wish to see in the world'.
I love taking up new challenges and try to understand various aspects of social development. So, when I got a chance to work with ICICI Advisory Services Division on telecom reforms in India, I could not refuse the offer, and in a queer twist of fate, one fine morning in October 1994, I found myself shifting gears from my academic and NGO life to the corporate world. It was the heady times of telecom reforms in India, and I consider myself lucky to be able to witness the process of liberalization and the impact of the telecom revolution from close quarters. I learnt about the various aspects of technology deployment, forecast and business planning, and thoroughly enjoyed my work at the telecom advisory at ICICI.
With telecom reforms well-entrenched by 1999, just as I was thinking, 'So now what', I got this offer to spearhead the ICICI Knowledge Park project, now called IKP Knowledge Park, and moved with my family from Mumbai to Hyderabad. This was the real turning point in my life. I could see how all the learnings in the various phases of my journey could now be distilled to build something concrete, to give shape to a dream of Mr N Vaghul, the then chairman of ICICI Bank and the chairman of IKP. I am really grateful that I got the guidance and support of some very eminent people on the board, such as Mr Vaghul, Dr Bala Manian, Dr Ashok Ganguly, Dr R A Mashelkar, Mr R Rajamani and Dr M K Bhan.
The IKP Knowledge Park was set up as a classical science park in a 200-acre campus with laboratory buildings where companies would lease space to conduct innovative R&D. Our initial companies were mid-sized Indian pharma companies, and we depended on lab rent to build sustainability. As IKP began evolving from a pure play space and rental model to an incubation and ecosystem development model, I had real difficulty convincing academic institutions, other stakeholders and even some of my board members about this shift. It took several years of dedicated work and perseverance of the entire IKP team before people recognized that innovation ecosystem and entrepreneurship development was our primary agenda.