The Bio Connect brought together some top experts but no elected representatives of the state made it to the event. Photo: TikTalk Newsletter
Outside the scenic Kovalam Leela Hotel last week, I ran into a middle-aged man who was standing in the unforgiving heat. He said he had travelled from Haripad, over 100 kilometres from the venue of the Bio Connect conclave last week. He had accompanied his daughter, a bioengineering student, who had come all the way to attend the event.
“I am not familiar with what these technological advances they talk about and my daughter found out about this event on her own. The future is theirs and Kerala needs events like this to progress. So I don't mind waiting here,” he explained.
This father-daughter duo symbolises the new aspirations of Kerala as it looks to the modern technology as a vehicle to spread the wealth and raise the quality of life at all levels.
The Bio Connect conclave organised by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) brought together some of the best minds in the field of life sciences. They had come across the world to meet and discuss the way forward for Kerala to become a hotspot for bioengineering.
The two-day event achieved most of the goals set by the organisers as the exchange of ideas and networking took place in a vibrant atmosphere in the air-conditioned hall at the venue.
This sort of reflects the state in which Kerala is now as tech advances seem to going at a fair pace while mainstream society remains disconnected from the future course being laid out for them.
The state government has given top priority to technology development and has established several agencies to nurture different fields that fall under the broad spectrum of IT. To underline the importance of the sector, the Chief Minister himself handles the IT portfolio.
At the conclave in Kovalam last week, Industries Minister P Rajeeve highlighted the transformative journey Kerala is undertaking, aided by technology.
But don't worry if you missed the event, as the minister himself couldn't make it to the venue, and the participants had to be content with his video message. It makes one wonder, given the key role technology is to play in the state's future economic and social development, isn’t it time Kerala had a full-fledged cabinet minister for the sector?
If the Bio Connect conclave is any indication, the answer is yes. Nothing demonstrates the government's intent better than the physical presence of a top government representative. Pictures of the ministers as a backdrop on the dais simply are not enough anymore. It is disappointing to see that not even one minister could find time to attend the event held at the state capital.
The event, which attracted some of the top scientific minds, investors, and representatives of medical technology from India and abroad, lacked a personal touch from those in power. Other states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana have gone to great lengths to attract tech talent from everywhere, and their IT ministers make it a point to establish personal connections even with startup founders.
Kerala has some home-grown advantages as it has already made significant progress in the IT sector, but it is time for the authorities to shift gears and maintain the pace. Kerala needs to move beyond merely listing achievements in real estate creation for the sector and projected job and wealth creation.
Fortunately, we have a well-organised bureaucratic machinery capable of organising events like Bio Connect. However, such events are boxed in by their limitations, particularly in their disconnect from the general public.
The officials who work tirelessly to make the event a success will be hard-pressed to fulfill a role that should belong to elected representatives. However, none of them appears at such venues, leaving the gap unfilled. One can understand the reluctance of event organisers to involve legislators and parliament members as timekeeping is not their strong suit, and that could disrupt event schedules.
Still, hundreds of stakeholders attend such events to listen, learn, and connect, many of whom are young aspirants who will be leading society in a decade or so.
The Bio Connect conclave featured over a dozen startups that set up stalls to showcase their products. However, due to the limitations of the venue, very few of them attracted the footfall they had hoped for, as the crowded expo area was not an attractive place for delegates. Moreover, the packed schedule of events meant that very few had time to even step out of the conference hall and visit the expo area.
The limited participation of bio-engineering students was another missed opportunity as the discussions over the two days could have exposed them to the world of entrepreneurial adventure. Nonetheless, small groups did show up, some after hearing about the event a day after it had started.
While the enthusiasm and energy brought by such participation are invigorating, it highlights what could be achieved if a proper ecosystem existed.
This is where Kerala needs to work hard to lift its game. There should be a platform that brings together efficient event organising machinery, a well-designed venue, and a system that connects different stakeholders who currently seem to be working in isolation.
The conclave repeatedly emphasised the potential for developing Kerala as a major hub for sectors like medical device manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and indigenous medical systems. In various sessions, insightful analyses were presented by experts.
The stalls set up by renowned institutes like Sree Chitra Thirumal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology showcased the breadth of research being conducted in Kerala, while the startup section demonstrated the diversity of medical devices and services developed by new companies. Biotechnology Research Professor TP Singh, from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, highlighted that Kerala is continuously building upon its reputation as a premier centre for knowledge and referred to Israel as a model that attracts American capital with its research credentials.
However, it would be imprudent to think that one event like this will automatically lead to a flood of investment in the sector. Efforts should be made to seamlessly integrate different components, ultimately setting the stage for an ecosystem necessary for the development of a knowledge economy.
The important question to ask is: what comes next? As T Ramasami, Padma Bhushan winner and former Department of Science and Technology secretary, stated during the inaugural session, it is crucial that this event does not become just another government-organised gathering, but leads to a holistic approach for the sector's development that is inclusive, complimentary and people-centric.
Only then will the dreams of both the daughter and father who trekked all the way to the conclave bear fruit.
Blast it, that news was not true
It is what we feared: an explosion of fake news. The picture of a blast at the Pentagon went viral on social media recently, and one television channel even had a former Mathrubhumi and Times of India boss, MD Nalapat, to comment on the “breaking” news. The only problem was the entire thing was manufactured by a suspected right-wing Twitter handle named Bloomberg Feed, and even the US stock market is reported to have dipped as the tweet appeared as if it was from the Bloomberg news agency. In China, an AI-generated video call from a "friend" almost cost a man over half a million dollars' worth of cash.
No wonder, then, why top tech companies like OpenAI, Microsoft, and even Google are now talking about some kind of new agency to regulate the AI race. But in London, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman threatened to pull his company out of Europe if the EU passed regulations that the company couldn't comply with. And that is real news.
Our techies keep missing the bus
This story puts us back on the familiar path of technology helping the masses. When Mohit Dubey founded CarWale years back to facilitate the buying and selling of used and new cars, he was solving problems for just 3% of India, according to TechCrunch. Now, he is addressing the issues faced by bus commuters, who account for 48% of trips in the country. Chalo, his new venture, deploys GPS machines on buses, enabling customers to track their commute in real-time, while the accompanying app facilitates ticket and monthly pass purchases. Recently, Chalo secured funding worth 40 million US dollars and is planning to expand its operations beyond the current 11 states it operates in. Wonder why Kerala techies continue to miss the bus on such problems.
This gene could save us a lot of pain
Jo Cameron, a 65-year-old resident of Scotland, has lived her entire life without experiencing pain. It was only during a visit to address a hip issue that doctors discovered her unique condition, which is rooted in a genetic mechanism. Researchers from University College London (UCL) have identified the specific gene responsible and published their findings in the Brain magazine. One of the researchers, Professor James Cox, says understanding the molecular-level processes involved is significant, as it paves the way for potential drug discoveries that could have profound benefits for patients. No pain, lot to gain we say.
A way to hit the pay dirt in Trivandrum
How we wish someone in India had developed an app like Tekkon, which has gained popularity among people in Manila. Tekkon is a game similar to Pokemon, but with a unique twist: it collects information on faulty public utilities such as broken water pipes and unstable power poles. According to Bloomberg, gamers are rewarded with crypto coins for their contributions. The purpose of the app is to generate valuable data that can aid in improving infrastructure quality. Considering the condition of roads in Trivandrum, a similar game developed here would likely attract a large number of players.