There’s only so much knowledge you can assimilate inside classrooms: at the end of the day, a real engineer’s got to get his/her hands dirty. Of course, you always have Laboratory Projects, but there is a certain set of us who prefer to dwell beyond the purely academic field. But this doesn’t come cheap: beyond the traditional ‘entry level’ technical projects (i.e. line followers and others), technical projects tend to get pretty expensive.
To address this very issue, the previous SU Body lead by Sameer Reddy, approached the Director for a ‘Project Development Fund’ to finance the big dreams of our students. This year, the initiative is being carried forward by Chandan Bothra.
At the onset, let me mention that this funding is not easy to get: you will be grilled in multiple rounds, and only the top will be selected for funding. And often, complete funding isn’t given. The previous years’ aspirants have shown that the Project Development Fund exists only to act as an impetus to push innovation on our campus, not to fund your every flight and fancy. Keeping this in mind, teams would be wise to start looking for independent corporate sponsorship as early as possible, possibly with a dedicated Sponsorship Team of your own.
What Kind of Projects will be Funded?
Make sure your project needs funding. You can’t expect funds for every little project. It is very prestigious to get funding from the college for your projects, and you should realize and appreciate that. These projects need to have a tangible outcome with solid benefits to the society or the college. So building another plane or car may sound fun (and quite a learning experience too) but it probably doesn’t help anyone but you. Broadly, there are two types of project proposals that usually come up:
National and International competitions of note that push students to come up with new and creative ideas to solve existing problems. This also helps promote our college’s reputation on a national or international platform. Well established competitions are also noted for the benefits that they indirectly provide, by training young engineers. Industry experts often attend such events and sometimes even take on-spot job interviews during events like Baja. Such projects are generally not preferred by faculty because they produce no measurable outcome, but such proposals can be made attractive by portraying additional benefits that such a project can bring to the society, the college, the environment or the field.
Research based Products
Cutting edge research which will result in a tangible end product that can solve real world problems. This does not necessarily involve fundamental research but can focus on using existing technology in an innovative and effective manner to create a new product important to the industry or the society. Such projects are preferred by faculty for the direct effect that they produce.
What is the Procedure?
The procedure subject to change, but this is how it was carried out last year: you need to keep in touch with the Director’s Project Fund Coordinator for updates. Last year, Dr. Karthik Chetan took up this role.
A notice will be put up inviting applications for project funding. Besides contact details and proposed budget required, you are expected to submit a Proposal Report.
The shortlisted applicants will be contacted and informed about a date for their project pitch. Normally, all the shortlisted teams present on the same day. The judging panel consists of a wide range of faculty covering as many branches as possible. Last time, project pitches were reviewed by Dr. Chandu Parimi, Dr. YVD Rao, Dr. Hota, Dr. Yoganandam and Dr. Karthik Chetan.
Project Funding Form
This is an official form to be filled stating key facts of the project like timeline and budget. This is just a formality as these things should have been covered earlier as well: you will also be asked to search for a faculty mentor who is ready to guide and represent your team. Thankfully, most faculty are happy to take on this responsibility.
The entire team (or as many as possible) is expected to have a discussion with Dr. M. B. Srinivas, the Dean of Administration. You will be asked about specific aspects of your project regarding the implementation and purpose of your project, and your dedication to the project will be judged. The funding will be sanctioned if approved during this interview, so no pressure.
What to include in your Pitch?
This list is in no way exhaustive, nor do I suggest it as a format for your pitch: they are just meant to be points to keep in mind while preparing. In many cases, one or more of the points may not be applicable.
The scope consists of what exactly you want to do. You will be judged by faculty from all the departments, so do mention technical details as well. Know your project inside out. You can expect all sorts of questions from technical concerns to feasibility issues. If the project involves different ‘teams’, then make sure at least one representative from every team is present to clear doubts at least, even if he/she doesn’t speak during the pitch itself.
You need to be aware of the target audience and design your project in a way to reflect that. All design considerations need to be validated with the audience in mind. Any potential patents or potential benefit to any industry or section of society will add weightage to your proposal. The project must be of use to others, besides you and your team.
The work that you are doing now, can it be applied on a larger scale? Think of this funding as just the beginning: a seed fund to prove yourself. BITS expects you to go far further than just this! Try to talk about where the project may lead to in the long run and how you can ‘make it big’.
Plan of Action
You know what you want to do, but how are you going to set out on your task? Think it through and be clear. You need to be aware of your weaknesses as well. There may be equipment, material or something else that you may not have easy access to, at this stage. You need to be able to tell judges how you will overcome these difficulties.
An idea can only take you so far, and at times it is easy to forget that we just undergraduate students. However, that’s never stopped BITSians in the past! Mention any past work, skills in software or programming language, or even coursework that makes you confident that you can undertake your project successfully. Also, mention any faculty or other experts that have agreed to guide you along your path.
Progress So Far
What? You haven’t even got any money yet, right? But that’s no excuse to slack off your work. The initial groundwork needs to be set. Any steps that can be undertaken without funding should be carried out, or at least started: it shows a level of commitment that just can’t be expressed in a 5 minute pitch.
Break Up of Funds
A clear cut plan on how you plan to effectively use the money needs to be decided. Of course, these are just estimates, and may change later. Try to factor in additional costs that may be incurred, maybe under ‘miscellaneous’. However, be reasonable: you’re not fooling anyone by inflating the prices of everything you need.
As with any investment, the time scale of your project too plays a role. Divide your project into parts and provide an estimate for the time required for each phase. Be realistic, because if granted funding, you will be expected to stick to these deadlines.
Approved Projects in the Previous Academic Session
Last year 15 teams applied for project funding, of which 6 were approved for funding. The average amount funded is around 50k for these projects. The details of some of the approved projects has been listed below:
All Terrain Vehicle
(To Participate in Baja SAE 2015, Indore)
Pitcher: Darshan Chaudhary
Amount Pitched: 2 Lakh
Amount Granted: 30k
(Participated in CanSat 2014, Texas)
Pitcher: Vineeth Cherian
Amount Pitched: 1-5 Lakh
Amount Granted: 70k
Pitcher: Chandan Bothra
Amount Pitched: 45K
Amount Granted: 45K
Special Mention to Chandan Bothra, Darshan Chaudhary and Vineeth Cherian for their inputs.