Ramesh Loganathan and a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Startup Galaxy
A pretty unusual upbringing and an uncanny ability to linking wires of industry, academia and product R&D are jumper cables in start-up guru Ramesh Loganathan’s arsenal, that makes him IIIT Hyderabad’s sought after Face of Innovation.
Prof. Ramesh Loganathan grew up on the island of Sriharikota, living among rocket scientists where a school field trip meant a ringside seat to a satellite launch. With his father working in ISRO, his early years were nurtured in an extremely engaging ecosystem that defined his world view. Thus, what followed was hardly an eyebrow-raiser.
Prof. Loganathan is perhaps the first faculty at IIITH without a research background. The eternal optimist wears several hats as faculty in charge of CIE (Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship) and plays an active role on the Academic Council, Technology Transfer Office and Co-Innovation Labs. “Though I’m not an active researcher, the value I bring to the Institute is my industry experience, product innovation and translating research from Labs into solutions”, he explains.
His stellar career would begin innocuously in faraway Coonoor, as Software Engineer at WTI Advanced Technology Ltd. He then moved to the US, working with Integra Micro Systems, a consulting company as Software Specialist on a DBMS Development project. Between 1996 -2000, a stint as Principal Engineer at Informix R&D, the second largest database server company in the world, would be an enriching experience.
A Java story and a charmed Journey to IIITH
“My relationship with the Institute happened through Pramati Technologies”, recounts the Professor. “At Informix in Silicon Valley, we were looking into the OEM Pramati app server and I was super impressed that a company from India, actually Hyderabad, had built the Java server, when Java itself was still new”. A chance meeting with the co-founder of Pramati in the US, would recalibrate his goals!
In June 2000, Prof. Ramesh would shrug off the American dream to return to India and take up a position at Pramati as VP-Engineering. “Professionally and beyond (industry, academics, startups and more), everything I am today is due to them, especially Jay Pullar who got me to IIITH in 2001 and later into HYSEA”, he maintains. An active proponent of innovation in the technical industry, product R&D and emerging technology, his 3 worlds would converge when he joined IIIT.
“In 2002, we started the Pramati Middleware lab at IIITH and that seeded one of the most cherished associations of my life”, he observes. It was in a relatively hot technology area but Pramati ran into existential issues in funding and had to step back. The inspirational pathfinder would continue his association and within a year, he was made adjunct faculty, taking 3 courses.
In 2008, when a part of Pramati was acquired by Boston-based company Progress, Prof. Ramesh would head the India Development Center. Within 4 years, the company had development labs in seven countries and the Hyderabad Lab was recognized to be the most innovative. In that time-frame, the city startup ecosystem was also revving up. When the incubator started in 2008, the professor was driven by a heady combination of Pramati, HYSEA and IIITH and offered the institute a strong external perspective. As the most visible face of industry, Prof. Ramesh would become an out-of-turn President of Hyderabad Software Industry Association (HYSEA) in 2014, anchoring the products/startup forum that he scaled up significantly.
With every passing year, more responsibilities got added, to the point that in 2011-12, he was the first go-to person, if Prof. Sangal, Prof. P J Narayanan, Prof. Vasudeva Verma or Dean of Research needed a sounding board. Even today, he is hailed as the point person on campus, known to be super helpful, approachable and ever ready to help.
Hyderabad’s Avengers and the Marvel-verse that built T-Hub
Very few people outside of the Institute know that it was IIITH’s MoU with the government that defined the original T-Hub operating model. Telangana’s Mecca for startup incubation and innovation hub was one of the most notable institutions to evolve from the confluence of industry-academia and governance. “The beginning of my term as HYSEA President coincided with the induction of the new Telangana state government in 2014. It was like the new government was on steroids,” he reminisces.
Prof. Ramesh was actually instrumental in the initial three meetings where the idea took shape. On the first day of the new government, on the Minister’s request, HYSEA presented an ambitious proposal with emphasis on R&D and innovation and Prof. Ramesh happened to mention IIITH. During the brainstorming session at the IIIT campus the next day, the decision would be taken to complete an unfinished shell of a structure on campus as the T-Hub building. It was all a day’s work at the office for the zero-footprint chaser who cycles to work!
“Around that time, we had an informal group called ‘Hyderabad for Innovation’, comprising of directors from IIT, IIIT and BITS who would meet in somebody’s house occasionally, spit balling on how we could amplify the start-up culture. My kids would call us the Avengers group”, laughs the academic. In early 2015, around hundred enablers and incubators from different categories were invited to a conclave and a directory of enablers was the outcome.
Two years later, when the State Innovation Cell was launched, Prof. Ramesh would steer the initial phase as Interim Chief Innovation officer. The group diversified their repertoire of activity, with Hyderabad Hackers, formulating four multi integrated networks for incubators, enablers and innovators. Around the same time, HeadStart network, a volunteer organization was founded to help build an early-stage startup eco-system in Hyderabad and pan India, with events like the popular ‘Startup Saturday’.
Today, Prof. Ramesh is a member of governing board of incubators at IIITH, IIT Hyderabad, IIIT Delhi and BITS. He anchors the industry outreach and research collaborations for Smart City Living Labs and is on MeitY’s empower committee on innovation and startups retrofit. He Chaired the ACM Hyderabad Chapter 2012-14 and was Regional council member at Nasscom.
How the Products Lab was engineered
In the early days of Prof. Sangal, they realized that technology being built out of research in IIITH’s Labs was not translating into industry collaborations. The premise was that by attaching a proper engineering team with the research group, better code and systems would evolve. “Now, with 5 years of additional experience, insights and grey hair, we no longer identify ourselves as an engineering group but as a Product Group. That is how the Products Lab was founded”. With Prakash Yalla at the helm, the Lab has seen about seven or eight startups in the last year, with up to 120 projects under consideration but their micro accelerators are actively working to enable 15-20 at a time.
Growing up in a space bubble
Prof. Ramesh’s early education was at Space Central School at Sriharikota (1974-84). “I grew up on an island with amazing scientists and it was a very surreal experience. At that time, we didn’t know how fortunate we were to be brought up in an environment where nothing seemed impossible”. Armed with a B.Tech in Electrical and Electronics engineering from Sri Venkateswara University, and M.E in Control Systems & Instrumentation from Anna University, he would go on to complete his Masters’ thesis at ISRO Satellite Center on Satellite Control Guidance.
The vibrant support system that nourishes
“Most people don’t know this but I don’t need to know much! What I cannot do in depth, I can do in understanding and connecting the dots very quickly. I spend most of the time in the canteen or CIE and those are special moments for me”, muses the Man whose brain is perpetually buzzing like a chainsaw. My strength is that I grasp things quickly and can translate fast and that’s the value I bring”.
Like with everything else, Prof. Ramesh built his house “in a way that connects with us”. His green home ticks all the boxes for sustainability; from a thriving rooftop kitchen garden to rain water harvesting, grey water recycling and solar electrification, complemented by a complete green envelope. His architect-wife Kalpana has been spearheading the discussion on water conservation, with initiatives like the Bansilalpet stepwell restoration, Kudikunta lake revival and rainwater harvesting that was lauded by PM Modi on Twitter and Mann ki Baat. Their older daughter is an architect who co-founded an Art and design incubator. His younger son, a BITS graduate interned with IIITH’s Prof. Manish on a project that was converted into a startup.
“I do yoga and meditation 2-3 times a week”, says the Shiva worshipper who has made two trips to Kailash Manas Sarovar. The itinerant power-couple make at least five trips a year, combining work with leisure, faithfully chronicled on Cloud in group selfies and we-fies. “My superpower is that I enjoy meeting people and in a quick conversation I can get the background on anything. The two things that I consciously remind myself is – ‘I don’t know enough’ and ‘I am not in the rat race’. Once you make that effort to distance yourself from the drama, you’re going to be more receptive and stay connected with everything that is going on”, says the die-hard Rajnikant fan. Legend on campus is that he had once taken his entire team in busloads, for a first-day-first-show of the Thailavar’s movie.
“Apart from the Innovation Champion award in 2017, what I cherish most are the letters from Prof. Sangal when I was announced as adjunct faculty and then my appointment as full-term faculty, which means more to me than anything else. I have a great story to tell and I am basically the spokesperson and messenger, a role that I enjoy the most”, summarizes the accidental academic.