An interview with James TJ, founder & Director at Creativiti Council, and Project Director of Innovation Science Technology Enterprise Development (i-STED Project), a collaboration of the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST)

John Hoffmire:  Tell me about Creativiti Council, the organization you founded.

James: We are a non-profit organization addressing the needs of two marginalized sections of the society. Our first mission is to address elderly/bedridden/palliative care. With gradual deterioration of abilities, the aged population faces extreme difficulties to meet their daily needs. It has been noted that with loss of autonomy and freedom of movement, life becomes miserable for the aged. The situation is even worse for palliative care patients (bed ridden patients). It has been noted that the majority of the technological needs of palliative care patients are yet to be identified and catered.

Our second mission is to develop and make available affordable assistive products to low-income communities. We identify how rural communities, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and individuals address their local needs through indigenous innovations. We then provide an end-to-end support system to help develop and scale up these innovations.

John: Give me an example of how you address these primary missions.

James: One of our more recent projects is called Elevar, an innovation that is an affordable self-operated bed recliner for bedridden patients. The project is a collaborative effort with the Technology Business Incubator for medical devices and Bio-materials of Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology and Thiruvananthapuram with the support of Nidhi Prayas at the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology. Other collaborative efforts include an automatic toilet seat commode raiser for elderly patients and a drinking water dispenser for bedridden patients.

In addition, Creativiti Council facilitates workshops designed to encourage students to think creatively and develop skills in innovation and entrepreneurship. During our workshops, students identify pressing societal needs, brainstorm for innovative ideas and convert these ideas into prototypes with available scrap materials, thus learning practical processes that are part of innovation and entrepreneurship.

John: Your organization is aptly named. What was the main impetus for Creativiti Council?

James: The first impetus is that I have over 25 years of comprehensive experience with national and international innovation management with special reference to rural, grassroots, agriculture and health care sectors. I wanted to put this experience toward encouraging more social enterprise and social innovation where there is neglected focus and where it is needed.

Second, my brother, Dr. Jose Babu TJ, is a medical practitioner in the field of pain and palliative care and he helped me realize that the majority of the technological needs of palliative care patients are yet to be identified and created. Lack of assistive and affordable technology has made the life of palliative care patients extremely miserable and their dependency on others for their day-to-day activities make the situation worse. The available technologies in India are mostly imported and many of them are not affordable to lower or middle class people. In some cases these imported technologies are not adapted or customized to Indian conditions. Since the market for people who can afford products is limited, major industries are not much interested in developing such technologies. We aim to change that – partly because we think we can develop less expensive options.

Myself, along with Mr. Bobby Issac, my co founder, felt we could harness our years of experience and create a nonprofit enterprise that addresses the neglected needs of society through innovation and entrepreneurship and along the way encourage students toward social innovation. That is how developing affordable technologies for elderly and palliative care and providing a support system for local innovators and the SME sector became our prime interests.

John: You also works with other organizations in the area of science and technology innovation. Tell me more about that.

James: For some years now I’ve been the Project Director for the Innovation Science Technology Enterprise Development 5-year project (i-STED Project). This is an endeavor of National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to work with organizations that specialize in scaling up and translation of various market feasible technological innovations by promoting entrepreneurship and innovation-led enterprises.

The i-STED  program is a focused effort to bring about inclusive socio-economic development by addressing the challenges associated with a specific region/industry/cluster by connecting interventions of science, technology and innovative solutions with entrepreneurial opportunities. Our target is to promote 5-10 innovations with potential to create 100 scalable and sustainable enterprises that generate nearly 1000 jobs directly and 2000 indirect jobs.

John: Among your many awards and achievements, you were a Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Leadership Scholar (CRISP) at Oxford University in 2011. Tell me about that.

James: Back then it was called the Chevening Rolls-Royce Science and Innovation Leadership Program supported by the foreign and Commonwealth Office, British Government and Rolls-Royce. It was aimed at India’s brightest scientists, business people and public servants to explore innovation, science, and policy – all from an academic, practical and personal perspective. It offered a wide range of modules include lectures, workshops, visits and interactions with high profile companies and scientists. These experiences bridged pure research, business, science, entrepreneurship, innovation, commercialization, and technology transfer. It was an exceptional experience and learning opportunity and connected me with fellow colleagues who inspire me still to this day.

John: Well, you still inspire me. It’s been a pleasure to reconnect with you and to learn of all the great work you’ve done since your time as a CRISP scholar at Oxford.

James: It’s been a pleasure to talk with you too, John. Thank you.

James TJ is the founder and director at Creativiti Council, Project Director for the Innovation Science Technology Enterprise Development Project (i-STED Project), and an alum of the Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Leadership Fellowship (CRISP) program at Oxford University (2011)

Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty, the Director of Employee Ownership at Teamshares, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business 

For more information go to: http://www.creativiticouncil.org/ and Science and Technology based Entrepreneurship Development (i-STED)