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OMG: Oh My Garage!


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 4 October 2012 01:12


A Sri Lankan doctor who is domiciled in Australia writing to a Sri Lankan business magazine once stated that if Sri Lankans take care of their bodies as much as they take care of their vehicles, the country would have much less health-related issues. Give that statement some serious thought and look around and you may very well see his point. We seriously take care of our vehicles and it is a ritual almost. The care and attention given qualifies to be labelled as TLC – Tender Loving Care!



A little touch by another moving machine on your vehicle can bring the entire flow of vehicles to a standstill as one must engage in a ritual that is very much oblivious to time and energy consumed. Mobiles are engaged with frenzy and all are kept well informed of the proceedings. The rest who are affected by this state of affairs, one can always say are in agreement and in empathy, as there is never a murmur of dissent with what is going on.

Come to the parking of your piece of wealth, where else but a well-constructed garage? Parking outside with exposure to all the tropical elements is taboo as vehicles are sensitive subjects and must be handled with real care. Considering that part of our life is spent on caring for vehicles, daily scrubbings, and touch-ups, it is a real pity that we have not being able to design one and put one on to the road. That would have done a load of good to the economy than this way as currently all money is spent on supporting an external economy.

However, the real heroes in this story have parked their cars outside and used garages for transforming the world! They are the ones with a garage mindset – the sort that we need to inculcate in our midst. The energy of our youth today appears to be spent on crossing oceans in one way or the other dreaming big but a valueless existence.

 



Garage phenomenon

Tracing the life story of big companies and path breakers it is interesting to note how many of them really started in garages! This is creativity unleashed perhaps within a space with less rules and rigid boundaries – certainly no circulars to be considered and no bosses. You park yourself and set your creativity and thought processes in motion.

The garage phenomenon has even caught up by venture capital funders as in one case that is named Garage Technology Ventures. Many a big name can be identified and tracked from a humble yet interesting beginning from a garage.

Anita Roddick, whose Body Shop is one of my favourites in concept, started concocting cosmetics ‘from every little ingredient with a story’ in her garage. Steven Wozniak started soldering and putting a machine together with Steve Jobs and the garage at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos is famous for Apple’s beginning.

The story is the same with Hewlett Packard and their garage is today considered to be the birthplace of Silicon Valley and an historical icon. From Barbie dolls to Microsoft, garages have provided space to incubate ideas, launch prototypes and the young and the energetic to take on the world.

A lot can happen when an individual decides to work away evenings and nights in a space of his or her choice. This space has in many a time has turned out to be a garage. This may give us a clue too. We may be all the time wondering on how to create innovative processes and while we may be planning big complexes, the obvious and the most natural ways may be evading us.

However, certain external environmental conditions need to be right or should be present. The presence of possibility for the free thinker to act. That may be why that we hear a lot of such stories from United States and from Europe. The magical events from garages may be at times sending the wrong message on what exactly happened.

The moral is not to do away with places of research but be aware of opportunities from the unlikeliest places. Hewlett and Packard took away Stanford University work to their garage and rolled out the development. This also implies that basic work needs to happen and at one point the extension to market place may happen from a different place.

 



Sri Lanka

Can Sri Lankans do this too? I was fascinated by one Sri Lankan start up that happened in Cambridge where the initial development work took place in a barn! However the basic work of Dr Rupasinghe and his Nanoinstruments happened as a PhD research in the Cambridge University and translating research to commerce the new PhD’s had to do from a barn! The business model of Nalin’s team meant that a takeover is the way to grow and today this company is part of Aixtron with themselves included.

Barn’s perhaps is UK’s equivalent to Garages of USA as the new world started a bit different and late while UK had to move from the horse upwards. University research can get rolled out from someone’s backyard if given the chance and if people with right attitudes are present. How much such work from software to hardware can we recount from our university practices that wait rolling out but may never happen as this spirit or thinking is inculcated?

We note many entrepreneur awards today than a few years back. Newspapers sponsor them and banks in turn appear to lead them. However, after a year, you do not hear what happened to those who won the year before. My own personal exposure in this business plan competitions had given me three examples of award winning entries vanishing after the event to proceed on different pathways. However the events definitely enable team members’ CVs to be enriched and to get the attention of targeted organisations.

If the intended objectives were to create pockets of entrepreneurs hustling and bustling with their neat little start ups in a Los Altos lookalike or even in a small garage, I have been disappointed. We just do not seem to offer such ventures to take off.

The CVs duly enriched, the parties find solace elsewhere in different settings, very much traditional. One thing they will have in addition is good presentation skills and perhaps an ability to convince board members to succeed with a stronger pay and perks offer.

 



Garage mentality

The garage mentality may be that you park your mind in a flexible location and allows tinkering to take place free and unlimited. Garages are not formal settings and may the message there is for real innovators it is the informal setting that is important.

In a recent innovation profiling, the author raises the question why in Singapore for all its inputs a real breakthrough has really not happened. Maybe the size does not enable them to have garages but basement parks and that for an individual may be just too big to start off with! These big basement parks come with a series of rules anyway.

Garage mindset may take some time to appear as it is an attitudinal issue and we may have to look at little more structured processes but with less formality make events happen. Definitely universities need to be connected their communities and they should provide benefits socially and economically. The bridging has to be with policy and means to be effective need to come into play; the State can take the leadership. Properly done, this money will pay back in multiple ways.

We ask our graduates to be job providers but not job seekers, yet the finer details on how you go on achieving this are missing. Even in economies with those with garage mindsets, structured programs exist by providing grant funds to community/university partnerships to generate jobs through entrepreneurship. The technologies may be brought in by the graduates from their own work.

Keystone Innovation Zones (KIZs) as designated zones is an example that had been established in communities that host institutions of higher education – colleges, universities, and technical schools. Can a KIZ come around Moratuwa? Sketching the number of institutes present along with the number of industries and service facilities around Moratuwa may show how much is possible.

These zones should be designed to foster innovation and create entrepreneurial opportunities. They do this by gathering and aligning the combined resources of educational institutions, businesses, business support organisations, lending institutions. Wherever a partnership of organisations is possible, a KIZ is possible.

Easy to show the possibilities and even easier to show after someone having demonstrated the concept elsewhere, the key need is to move away from the ingrained procedures and mechanisms which are far from conducive to such enterprise schemes. One of these classified garage inventors by the name of Bill Gates wrote his ideas under the title ‘Business @ the speed of thought’ and it is speed that we badly need.



(The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is also the Director of UOM-Cargills Food Process Development Incubator at University of Moratuwa. He can be reached via email on ajith@cheng.mrt.ac.lk)


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