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How to mould great 'intrapreneurs'

Last updated on: February 27, 2008 16:33 IST
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Texas Instruments has proved that there is no substitute for innovation. At its Bangalore headquarters, a unique approach to innovation has encouraged its engineers to have an 'intrapreneurial' mindset -- moulding engineers with great ideas to design products that can make a huge business impact.

"Some of these creative ideas could lead to potential breakthroughs for the future," points out Dr Biswadip Mitra, Managing Director, Texas Instruments, India. A single-chip solution for ultra-low-cost handsets is just one example of  TI's many innovative products in making communications easier and affordable. 

Within the company, TI has also introduced a 'technical ladder' which encourages small teams of engineers with an 'intrapreneurial' mindset to work on creative ideas. Getting into the technical ladder is not just challenging but also a rewarding experience for young engineers.

In 1985, TI was the first multinational company in the technology domain that began operations in India. Today, it prides to have a record of 500 patents filed from India. The 'intrapreneurial' vision of making affordable communications and entertainment products for customers across the world has proven to be successful in the long run. 

TI has also built an extensive partner network of over 650 reputed Indian Universities, which are working closely with the company's think tank on many innovative programmes.

"We need an entrepreneurial spirit in every engineer and in every business person. In today's competitive world, the dividing line between an entrepreneur and a professional is getting blurred. Whatever one is pursuing, one has to be entrepreneurial 'and' professional in his or her mindset," Dr  Mitra says in an interview with Manu A B.

What is the innovation that won you the Nasscom award?

Texas Instruments (TI) received the award for innovations in the areas of wireless communications, video and imaging, infrastructure and surveillance products etc. Being selected for the Nasscom Innovation Award from about 200 excellent companies in India is a great achievement for our engineers; we accept it with humility and we are all the more determined now to continue making an impact to our customers through world-class innovation.

How difficult was the task? What hurdles did you face?

At TI, we work across complex product development functions spanning intellectual property (IP) development, standard analog and system-on-chip design, applications, embedded systems and software, systems development and validation. We work seamlessly with our global peers at Texas Instruments to develop these products.

How many people were involved in the project?

The number of people vary with projects and their complexities. But more than the number, it is about the calibre of people that Texas Instruments employs that enables us to undertake projects of this magnitude.

What are the major innovations that you have done in India? How many patents have been filed so far?

With about 500 patents today, we have the highest number of patents filed from India.

What are the challenges that you face?

Our key focus is to understand the customer requirements and come up with the right solutions that make them win. The core design of hardware and software for some of these complex systems that range from circuit design to video processing algorithms is an interesting challenge. Other challenges include the upfront verification and validation of
systems before creation of the devices, driving innovation for ultra-low power, high performance and high reliability products, etc.

Tell us about TI's growth in India?

In 1985, TI was the first multinational company in the technology domain that began operations in India. The company has grown over the last two decades in India in building a strong depth, both from a technology and an applications perspective. This allows us today to deliver several world-class products and solutions to our customers worldwide.

TI also considers India as a very strategic semiconductor market. We have established sales and applications teams across India to be close to our customers in all regions. This allows us to partner closely with our customers so that they can differentiate and win.

How does TI promote innovation? Could you tell us more about the technical ladder?

Innovation has always been the backbone of TI. We work very closely with our customers to innovate leadership products and solutions. We have a strong technical ladder running in parallel with the management ladder. The technical ladder at TI is not just unique in its concept and implementation, but it is also a powerful endorsement of the
organisation's intent to reward and recognise outstanding technical leadership. The honour associated with being on the technical ladder is very high.

We also encourage small teams of engineers with an 'intrapreneurial' mindset to work on creative ideas and validate these with customers and our worldwide marketing teams. Some of these ideas could lead to potential breakthroughs for the future.

At TI, we also recognise that 'collaborative innovation' can have a powerful impact on our customers. This drives us to actively partner with several innovative companies, who develop applications on our platform. Over the last two decades, we have also built an extensive partner network of over 650 reputed Indian Universities - who are working closely with us on many innovative programs.

How do you select people to join the technical ladder?

We have a unique peer election process through technical councils and well-outlined parameters for evaluation. The rigours of the selection process notwithstanding, engineers are recognized not just through job titles or formal announcements and awards, but by supporting them with a mentoring and development process, encouragement and participation in various technical forums. 

The TI technical ladder has different rungs, starting from Member Group Technical Staff (MGTS) and moving up to Senior Member Technical Staff (SMTS), Distinguished Member Technical Staff (DMTS), Fellow, Senior
Fellow and Principal Fellow. There are clear norms and expectations at each rung that drive the peer election process. 

How effective is the technical ladder to promote innovative projects?

Being on the technical ladder is an honour for the TI engineer. The technical ladder enhances the credibility of the engineer when they connect with customers globally and work collaboratively on innovative solutions. In general, the technical ladder recognises an engineer for innovation, business impact and leadership in coaching and developing
other technical people. It also expects leaders to be active through presenting technical papers in conferences, filing patents, etc. All of these factors build a cascading momentum towards fostering the spirit of innovation.

Do you think becoming an entrepreneur is more rewarding than being a professional? Do you think India needs more entrepreneurs?

We need an entrepreneurial spirit in every engineer and in every business person. In today's competitive world, the dividing line between an entrepreneur and a professional is getting blurred. Whatever one is pursuing, one has to be entrepreneurial 'and' professional in his or her mindset. We need professionals with an entrepreneurial streak running
inside them if we have to move forward in our chosen path of technology development and business impact.

What are the qualities a good engineer must have? How do you attract more people for technical jobs?

Engineers need the basic skills of problem solving, and logical and analytical thinking. At TI, we also value engineers with an innovative spirit, and who team well with their peers not only in India but around the world.

We are happy that we are a sought-after company for many young engineers graduating from the best engineering institutes. We are able to provide a high quality research and development opportunity, and a highly professional learning and growing environment based on strong ethical values, trust and respect for the individual. We also give opportunities for young engineers to nurture their skills continuously so that they find fulfilment in what they do at TI.

Tell us about your career. How has your experience of working with TI been?

I joined TI in 1986, after graduating from IIT, Kharagpur with a B.Tech in Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering. While working for TI, I received my Ph.D in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT,
Kharagpur and also an Executive MBA degree from the University of Texas, Austin (receiving the Dean's Award for Excellence).

Prior to taking up the role of managing director of TI India, I was the director of Americas Wireless Communications Product Development at Texas Instruments Incorporated, based in Dallas. I also had the privilege of leading TI's ultra-low power digital signal processing cores as worldwide programme manager.

TI has given us the unique opportunity to play a leadership role for the India semiconductor market and to drive world-class research and development across multiple product domains. It is an honour to work with some of our finest engineers on innovative products and solutions for our customers worldwide. 

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs in India?

Be clear about what you want to achieve. Understand the problem or opportunity in depth, well before you look for a technical solution. Validate the solution early with the driver customers. Be clear about the long-term soundness of the business model.

What are your company's future plans in India?

Our strong focus on world-class R&D and innovation will be fundamental. This is our foundation and we will continue to focus and excel here.

We will also intensify our focus on the emerging India semiconductor market. Based on our leadership in analog and digital signal processing, we will work closely with our customers to understand and meet their needs.

What are your views on innovation in India? How important is innovation for a company?

There is no substitute to innovation. Only the companies that constantly innovate will survive and win.

Indian companies focus more on services than products. How important is product-based innovation?

Innovation is all-pervasive today. It applies to everything that we do. One has to constantly raise the bar, whether it's products or services or business models.

Why are Indian firms not as good at product innovation? What could be done to address this issue?

While the India semiconductor ecosystem is now getting to its full potential, the India electronic ecosystem is in the embryonic state today. However, what is unmistakable is the system engineering innovation that is happening in India today.  As we interact with several of our customers, we feel excited about the potential ahead in electronic system innovation in India across a wide suite of applications.

The opportunity for us to work with our customers to make an impact and change India through technology is very real.  Technology can play a major role to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people in our country and beyond.  For us it is once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that we must seize - now!

Could you tell us about your interests? How do you spend your spare time?

My twelve-year old son and I love playing chess on the Internet with people around the globe! I also try to not miss the dance programmes of my seven-year old daughter. My wife and I cherish the quality time we spend together with our children.


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