Post-retirement, Ramesh Jagannathan steers seed-stage technology startups to launch, develop and scale their ventures. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Ramesh Jagannathan, an American scientist of Indian origin in Abu Dhabi, sees himself as an “accidental academic” in the UAE. He joined New York University of Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) after his retirement at the age of 60. And ever since, he has not only reinvented himself but also helped thousands of others in establishing global startups.

“Being contacted for a college job in the Middle East by a top-tier academic institution came as a surprise to me when I retired. I had never been to this part of the world. However, my wife thought the job perfectly captured my philosophy of wanting to constantly move, take risks and do new things. That is how I became an ‘accidental academic’,” says Jagannathan, whose was born and raised in the historic town of Mylapore in India’s Tamil Nadu district.

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Ramesh Jagannathan with his family back in time in Tamil Nadu, India. Image Credit: Supplied

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Kid in a candy store

“If you don’t live on the edge, then you’re taking up too much real estate,” he argues. “In a 40–50-year career, the world is going to change many times, so you have to be ready, otherwise you become a legacy by the time you’re 30. So I make it a point to reinvent myself every five years.”

But for someone with such a life motto, Jagannathan worked with the same company for 30 years (Kodak) before he retired. Now if you think that’s a bit of a contradiction, you are mistaken. This man, who is considered one of the top three photographic emulsion scientists in the world, has been filing patents, habitually almost, thus reinventing himself all the time.

“Yes, I have written nearly 50 patents. It is something my earlier company encouraged us to do,” he says. “I am like a kid in a candy store.”

Goldene beckons

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Ramesh Jagannathan has written nearly 50 patents in his career. Image Credit: Supplied

Ask him what the patents are about, and his face lights up.

“I have developed the use of magnetic currents that can potentially distinguish cancer cells. I have also developed ‘goldene’, stemming from my experience in print research. Goldene could revolutionise the world in the way that graphene did. People have been trying to create a one-atom thick material, that’s also a semiconductor, so we can improve quantum computing. Goldene can potentially do all these things,” he enlightens you.

“My printing research recently helped me develop the use of calcium carbonate spray for titanium implants. It is extremely biocompatible and its use as a coating makes the body far less likely to reject the insertion. The technology is ready for human trials,” he claims.

Role at StartAD

Even in his current assignment at StartAD, a global accelerator powered by Tamkeen at NYUAD, he is constantly thinking out of the box. As its managing director, he helps steer seed-stage technology startups to launch, develop and scale their ventures.

He also takes great pride in being part of a government-appointed panel of experts to review the 2030 policy on the trnsition to a knowledge-based society in the UAE.

Ramesh Jagannathan says over 7,000 participants have benefitted from StartAD's programmes since its launch. Image Credit: Supplied

“Since its inception, over 7,000 participants have benefitted from our programmes and graduated 250 global startups from 40 countries,” he claims. “The aim is to commercialise intellectual capital by helping build capacity to commercialise ideas,” he shares.

“We focus on the early stages of the innovation process, working with startups to de-risk their ideas and make them investor-ready, and also deep-dive with corporates to identify their present and future product needs. This matchmaking ensures that ideas are ‘product market fit’, which is a win-win both for the startup as well as for the corporate,” he says.

Untapped opportunities

According to him, there is also an immense opportunity for startups and investors to use the UAE as a base to serve the 400 million population of the MENA region, a huge untapped market that represents the opportunity of a lifetime.

“And there is also a vast and diverse market at our doorstep. The global consumer class is set to reach 5.2 billion people by 2030, out of which, over three billion will be in India, China and Africa. Given the MENA is part of this ICA corridor, there is a golden opportunity to serve this global entrepreneurial economic landscape,” he adds.