As I waited at Nirmitsu Technologies, I saw a simply dressed man walk into his cabin. He greeted everyone around with a smile in his eyes, through he has a visual problem of adjusting to light and see clearly due to a retinal problem. Meet Ganesh Gudigara, managing director and CEO of Nirmitsu Technologies, a technology solutions provider. Gudigara has always been determined to not let his disability come in the way of success. Gudigara, who suffers from a retinal problem called retinitis pigmentosa, runs Nirmitsu Technologies, along with his brother, Ashok Gudigara, and a friend, Satish B
By Jalaja Ramanunni
Since his childhood, Gudigara always had a curious mind and a passion for technology. When he was in the ninth standard, his father bought a second hand television set, which often called for repairs. A technician would visit their home to repair the television, and Gudigara had many questions lined up for him. They quickly developed a friendship and Gudigara started visiting the technician’s home. Gudigara was curious to find out more about the components and multi-vibrators, and the technician patiently explained how the television worked. “Many technicians have no idea about how things work but this man knew the whys, wheres and hows about chips and other components, and he taught me about them. Seeing him, I started opening up transistors, too. There were days when my father would come back from work to find transistors, radios and cigar lighters opened up because I wanted to find out how they worked,” recounts Gudigara.
A childhood rich in knowledge
Gudigara belonged to a farming family, but his parents were very keen to get their five children educated. Four of them went to engineering colleges and one sister opted to study finance. Since three of them shared the same vision disability, their mother preferred to stay at home and look after the children. Gudigara’s father also made sculptures from sandalwood and ivory. “It is our ancestral profession and the skills run in our family. As a student, I assisted my father in sculpting and in farming on holidays,” Gudigara shares.
“Being a housewife gave my mother the luxury of reading time while we were at school. She owned novels from Kannada and Russian literature, and before I turned 16, I had already read 800 books from her collection. I particularly enjoyed science fiction and it increased my interest in science and electronics. It got me thinking that electronics can be used in the medical field to aid others with similar vision problems,” explained Gudigara.
School fosters a sense of independence
Gudigara attended the government higher primary school at Nitte and he gives credit to his school for what he is today. Nobody in school discriminated against him, nor was he given unnecessary extra consideration. “Except for the time when they allowed me to sit at the front seat, despite being tall, due to my weak eyesight. I liked it that way as I never appreciated pity shown to me,” Gudigara insists. “The teachers and my friends at school were fair to me and this encouraged me to be very independent throughout my life. Nobody treated my disability as a handicap and the teachers had the same expectations from me as any other student,” Gudigara explains. He also participated in extra-curricular activities like quizzes and crosswords, played sports like volleyball, and took part in literary and cultural activities. He often topped the class in studies and developed an interest in subjects like science and mathematics.
There was a time when his disability did stop his teachers from giving him leadership roles at camps, literary activities and competitions. “However, I was adamant as I was confident that I was a capable leader and I convinced my team. They accepted me, and eventually the teachers were convinced that I could carry out the role as well as anyone else,” Gudigara confides.
College built the strong foundation
Gudigara got through some of the most reputed colleges in India but his parents were hesitant to send him away from home as the ragging scene in India was at its peak then. Instead, Gudigara attended Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology (NMIT), which was a walking distance away. He did his BE in electronics and communication, although his family and other well-wishers asked him to choose computer science instead, as they felt electronics would get difficult for him. However, Gudigara went ahead with his interests.
Contrary to the general perception of seniors ragging juniors, Gudigara was blessed with seniors who guided the junior batches. “Our senior batches would voluntarily conduct seminars for us and informed us about the must-read publications to learn more about electronics. If seniors drive juniors right into knowledge and technology, students are rightly impacted. Because of them, we got the basics of electronics in the right way. Once you have your foundation set, it is possible to get into complex electronics easily,” Gudigara observed.
The turning point…
The turning point in his life was when Gudigara moved to Bengaluru in 1999 to join IISc as a project assistant in super computer department under Prof N Balakrishnan. Gudigara did research on ‘Designing radars to detect a stealth aircraft’ and published two papers on electronics.
He considers this period of his life as an important stage in his development as he had easy access to books on subjects like radars, electronics, wireless, planeware propagation and as an avid reader, he utilised the facilities fully. Gudigara realised that his life’s goal was to develop products that could change Indian agriculture and make farming more reliable. He decided that he would some day take power and energy management in Indian agriculture to a new level.
After completing his research, Gudigara joined Symbol Technologies for a few years and worked on a variety of fields like handheld devices, RFID readers, Linux porting on PDAs, wireless router integration and more. He later joined WindRiver and moved to Vivident Systems, where he contributed to projects on virtualisation, cloud computing and server motherboards.
How Nirmitsu was born
While at Virident Systems, Gudigara and his colleagues started an online open source team and named it Nirmitsu, which means ‘wish, think, and create’. It was a blog that provided open source fans and students with information about projects they could work on. Many clients approached them asking them to start an organisation as the team had the knowledge and required skills, which the team eventually did. Nirmitsu, the company, now develops wireless sensors and RFIDs, as the team anticipates that these areas have a huge potential in the next two years. “Though the entire team is not directly involved with Nirmitsu, they voluntarily participate in either backend activities or help us whenever they can,” says Gudigara.
Gudigara believes that knowledge is meant to be shared and applies the same philosophy in the work environment at Nirmitsu. “We share as much information as possible with the team and encourage open thinking. We tell them about problems and ask them to come up with solutions. Based on their ideas, we guide them. If we provide a controlled restricted environment, true innovations won’t be born,” Gudigara warns.
Gudigara is not a strict administrator and this was evident seeing his employees approach him freely. “However, my brother, Ashok, the COO, is strict and we balance each other well,” Gudigara confesses.
Quest for development never dies
Gudigara feels that it is too early to be satisfied with himself, and he has not forgotten his goal of improving the area of agro-electronics. “Our country produces enough food for one billion people while the requirement is about ten times more. Currently, people do not know yield management, that is, how to find out the field’s expected output,” he says. “We want to increase precision in farming by providing site-specific GIS and GPS information using sensors. We can use electronics like sensors to collect information and software can be used to do yield analysis. Wireless sensors that can communicate to up to 700 m radius can be placed at different points. Two business models can arise out of this—by selling the sensors to users or by offering a service that generates reports for farmers. Moreover, this equipment has to be developed by an indigenous company to make it affordable to the farmers in India. We have some customers, like large scale farmers and organisations that own tea and coffee plantations, who have purchased sensors,” he adds.
Another area in which Gudigara plans to use sensors to improve productivity is power and energy management. He has been getting enquiries from Shobha Builders, the Future Group and Philips regarding this. Gudigara illustrates with an example of how sensors can help to save power. “A municipal area used to get bills worth Rs 0.5 million per month for power usage, but by using our sensors, the power consumption has come down by 25 to 30 per cent. We have developed wireless modules that can be integrated into streetlights, which will be controlled by the municipal corporation and can even be dimmed after the sensor analyses the environment,” he shares. In the future, Gudigara intends to tackle more chronic problems like water management with devices like leak detectors.
A long way to go
Gudigara believes that he has a long way to go and aims to achieve much more. “A business venture can be successful only if its service or product is an eye opener, is affordable and is widely implemented. I still have a lot to contribute. I want to be remembered for my contributions to society. It is easy to make money by offering services, but I want to pass down the benefits back to the public. Food is becoming unaffordable but agro-electronics can solve this problem. And I have to work towards that goal,” he signs off.
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS
Music: Old Hindi songs
Food: Coastal Karnataka/Kerala cuisine
Film: Old Kannada movies, ‘A Beautiful Mind’, ‘Chupke Chupke’…
Book: ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy, ‘The Time Machine’ by H G wells, ‘Mookajjiya Kanasugalu’ by Shivaram Karanth
Colour: Sky blue/Siemens grey
Historical figures: Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Jagadishchandra Bose
Actor: Amitabh Bachchan
I adore: People who bring the world closer and understand the needs of everyday life
What I would like to change
ln this world: Knowledge sharing is restricted, and I would like to see people sharing knowledge about technology. This can change the way we approach development. For instance, agricultural techniques used in other countries are not known to Indians, so we should encourage such a knowledge flow.
In India: Innovations and services that benefit the common man can change the world. I want to see more organisations that are motivated to improve people’s lives.
In society: India’s strength lies in its middle class but they seem directionless. They are under pressure to follow any career that offers a good pay package. Instead of encouraging such behaviour, parents should give children the freedom to grow in the field they like. My cousin failed her 10th standard exams; however, she is a successful artist today and gets requests to display her work at exhibitions around the world.
In schools: I think basic electronics should be a part of school curriculum as it is an applied science and gives a basic understanding of things around you, while subjects like history can be read online. I do not mean deep electronics, but the basic knowledge of how devices like tape recorders work, their components, etc. With basic electronics, even a student who has passed the 10th standard will find it much easier to get a job.
At the workplace: I want to take my company to the next level by investing in high end labs and equipment. I would like to bring in an advisory committee from IISc and take Nirmitsu to the next level.