PC: Swissnex in India

Futuristic Things We Learnt About at Winspiration and IGIC

Namaste from India! Sourabha and I, Chandni, joined Swissnex last week and we are two very excited writers thrilled to be part of the communications team here in Bengaluru as well as the larger Swissnex family. Just as we joined, we dove straight into the thick of things with two pivotal events—Winspiration and the India Global Innovation Connect (IGIC)—that we believe are crucial to the ever-changing landscape of the world. We want to tell you all that piqued our curiosity and the cool things that are happening in India. We’re pretty certain these will interest you as much as they excited us.

Winspiration, which covered the gamut of what it means to be a working woman, saw women (and men)  from all walks of life—including business owners, researchers, women who’ve worked in government and the armed forces—contribute to the larger discourse of unconscious biases that we face on a daily basis at the workplace, as well as how a general indifference to our biological differences hinders us from doing our very best in our work. As women, both Sourabha and I enjoyed learning about the science from menarche to menopause and became aware of how much harder it is for older women in particular when they go through perimenopause and menopause.

We had discussions around microaggressions, bias busting, biological and hormonal changes in a woman’s body, managing menopause alongside career ambitions, and using technology to address feminine health. These conversations seamlessly spilled into the following days at IGIC.

I particularly loved what NIRAMAI Health Analytix is bringing to the feminine healthcare table. Their radiation-free technology helps detect breast cancer even before the lump can be felt. Getting X-ray scans to check if you have cancer itself increases the risk of developing cancer, so NIRAMAI’s Thermalytix screening is as safe and non-invasive as it gets. In a world where premenstrual syndrome and menstrual pain have become normalised, NIRAMAI is truly blazing trails. Dr. Geetha Manjunath, the founder of the company, mentioned that very soon women will be able to scan their bodies like in a selfie and detect breast cancer. I’m considering getting a screening and will report back!

The other thing I’ve been geeking out on of late is Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), all thanks to my colleague Dr. Lena Robra who made some cool drawings and explained to me the inner workings of microbes. AMR is basically when the bad bacteria in your body develops resistance to antibiotics that are meant to kill them. AMR is increasingly becoming more serious because in many countries across the world, a) the general population is not aware of the uses and dangers of antibiotics b) doctors freely prescribe antibiotics for infections that are not bacterial (particularly viral and fungal) and antibiotics don’t work on them, making the bad bacteria in our bodies resistant to antibiotics and c) antibiotics can easily be bought over the counter.

So very soon we’ll run out of the strongest antibiotics available, which means that when we actually need them to deal with things like C-section deliveries, basic surgeries, pneumonia and TB, they won’t work on us.

At IGIC, an exciting discussion on AMR threw light on how this could possibly be dealt with not from a user perspective but from a science and policy point of view. Bugworks, a Bengaluru-based research company, has developed the first broad-spectrum antibiotic in more than four decades and is in the initial stages of testing it out. If all goes well, this could be a huge thing! Leela Maitreyi of Bugworks noted that the government should ideally start with classifying antibiotics as schedule-H drugs, which means you shouldn’t be able to buy them without a prescription, to prevent misuse. The government should also fiscally incentivise the efforts to develop a new class of antibiotics, Maitreyi added. I will be visiting the offices of Bugworks in the coming months and I’m excited to see how things work!

Like me, if you’ve been of the opinion that drones are things that hover over our heads for wedding photography or in Hollywood films like Zero Dark Thirty, then you might be interested in the agro-tech company SUIND. They make computer vision AI for near-earth drones that detect crop stress weeks before it becomes visible to farmers and before the damage becomes irreversible. Crop damage translates to wastage and hungry stomachs. SUIND’s computer vision also assists agriculturists in spraying only required amounts of pesticides on crops. Also, did you know that drone rules in India are more advanced than anywhere in Europe? This makes India a key market for companies like SUIND.

On her third day at Swissnex, it was thrilling for Sourabha to be in the middle of an eventful week, and she is still hungover from seeing all the “sci-fi stuff turning into reality”.

Hyperloop was only a distant echo of a word until she heard Denis Tudor of SwissPod say at IGIC that he’s going to change the way passengers and freight are transported “with the speed of a plane and the comfort of a train!” SwissPod’s Hyperloop, which is in its testing phase, will levitate and travel in a vacuum at unimaginable speeds. It won’t be a stretch to say that this will be the most energy-efficient and sustainable way to travel in the near future.

It was inspiring for her to witness the fearlessness and the sheer audacity of young innovators to change the technological landscape of the industries they operate in. A panel discussion she was looking forward to most was ‘striving for leadership in the aerospace sector’. Aereo is one such company that uses unmanned drones for generating accurate data at high speeds that is used in urban and rural planning such as in building highrises, transportation corridors, efficient drainage systems, and even detecting flood-prone areas.

Not all innovators are great business leaders, but the skill and talent we saw at Winspiration and IGIC is testament to how far entrepreneurs, researchers, especially women, are willing to go to make India a centre of excellence in a variety of new and cool sectors.