From a scholarship to the national founder’s prize

With his doctorate at RWTH, Dr. Mohit Raina laid the foundation for a successful career in India

Head of ITA Prof. Dr. Thomas Gries and Dr. Mohit Raina in front of a textile-reinforced concrete facade.
Photo: Raina Industries Pvt. Ltd.

From a very early stage, in the third semester of his bachelor's studies in textile engineering in Mumbai, Mohit Raina had already made the decision to continue his academic education in Germany. One of his Indian professors, who had previously worked in a German textile machine company, recommended to his students that they should go to Germany if they wished to make progress in mechanical engineering and innovation. To amuse himself, Raina then took a three-month course in German at the local Goethe-Institut. To complete his master's, he eventually switched to IIT Delhi, the only Indian IIT with a textile engineering faculty. During his first year at IIT Delhi, he managed to complete the course and examinations that are usually completed in two years. During his second year, Mohit Raina was awarded the coveted DAAD scholarship for Germany.

And out of that scholarship he developed a successful academic and business career. Following his doctorate at the ITA Institut für Textiltechnik at RWTH, Dr. Mohit Raina has been director of the ITA spin-off company Raina Industries Private Limited in Mumbai, India, since 2014. Last year, the company won the renowned Indian founder’s prize in category 1, the National Technology Awards for commercialization of innovative native technologies. Raina Industries produces and markets textile-reinforced precast concrete parts for the construction industry. These are highly economical of resources since they reduce concrete consumption, energy for manufacturing the parts, and the end-oflife waste by more than 80 percent. The Technology Development Board (TDB), a statutory body of the Department of Science & Technology (DST) awards a number of prizes to industrial enterprises in India each year on the occasion of National Technology Day, May 11. Winners each receive prize money of about 28,000 euros, plus a trophy handed to them by the Indian President.

To Germany – in blind faith

Mohit Raina landed in Germany on September 1, 2005. He chose RWTH because it was located close to Mönchengladbach, which he knew as a center for textile engineering and research. In addition, RWTH also had a cooperation with IIT Delhi, with regular exchanges of researchers. His first impression of Germany was his reception at Frankfurt airport by an employee of the International Office, who met and collected all the DAAD scholars for RWTH in a large car. After they arrived in Aachen, the DAAD scholars underwent intensive orientation courses. The cultural barriers were overcome by the young scholars quite quickly.

Raina really wanted to go straight back to India after finishing his master's at ITA in order to start a business. The nine months of the scholarship term in Aachen came to an end, but he stayed on for a few days to take part in an Whitsuntide excursion to Dresden with his fellow students. ‘You could say that those ten days led to another ten years,’ Raina observes with amusement in retrospect. After all, he gained many impressions and had many conversations during this excursion that gave him his first ideas of pursuing a doctorate. And a conversation with Professor Thomas Gries, head of ITA, was encouraging: ‘Mr. Raina, one day we’ll have you back here.’

He nevertheless returned first to India in June 2006 to defend his master's dissertation that he had written at RWTH at ITT Delhi. Having heard nothing more from Aachen for several weeks, he took up a position at one of India’s largest worsted yarn manufacturers. But then on September 23 there was a call from Professor Gries: ‘Doctoral studies start on October 1.’ Within a week Raina had obtained his visa and travel documents and flew back to Germany – still without a valid employment contract with the Institute and in blind faith. Even his new employer in India had supported him: ‘Off you go to Germany!’ Mohit Raina is still in touch with him today.

‘At RWTH I saw how to do a doctorate, which is primarily about transfer into the industry. It’s totally different in India, where doctoral studies are limited to basic research.’

In order to begin his doctoral studies, Mohit Raina still had to study a number of subjects and take examinations in them. He had not understood this at first, but looking back, he said that this was very helpful to him and indeed important, in particular that it had taught him to learn and think in a structured way. Today, Raina tries to pass this on to his employees in India. ‘In India we do everything and we do it fast. But we lack structured thinking.’ He still clearly remembers some important advice from Professor Gries: ‘First, take a blank sheet of paper and try to write down what you want to do. And then you can start to make plans.’ He also quickly understood how important the German language was for integration and identification and started attending undergraduate lectures in German again. ‘At RWTH I saw how to do a doctorate, which is primarily about transfer into the industry. It’s totally different in India, where doctoral studies are limited to basic research. Here in Germany, a doctoral student has more freedom, responsibility, trust, and competence – in short, more scope for input.’ And one other thing fascinated Raina during his research work at ITA: ‘In Germany, so much is practical and application- related. It’s amazing that I could be displaying something at a trade fair in 2019 that I was researching in 2008 or 2009.’

Many RWTH initiatives and activities with India

For Mohit Raina, the small scholarship has provided not only outstanding research and entrepreneurial skills and many personal connections, but also – as a result – it has given him a strong connection to Germany, to RWTH and above all with ITA. Today, Raina is on the research council of the Institute and its Indian representative, and consequently spends a few days in Aachen at least once each year. In addition, large numbers of applications to ITA are landing on Mohit Raina’s desk from Indian students. ‘For ITA I carry out a little assessment. The first question I ask is: Why, as a young person, do you want to travel 8,000 miles from India to Germany and to study there? Some 90 percent of the applicants can’t answer this. But there are the other ten percent, who know exactly what they want – which institute and indeed which professor.’

‘The first question I ask is: Why, as a young person, do you want to travel 8,000 miles from India to Germany and to study there? Some 90 percent of the applicants can’t answer this.’

RWTH is well-known in India in the automotive sector and has recently become more so in the textiles industry. In other industries and research disciplines, RWTH alumni are more scattered. Thus, according to Raina, there are varying levels of familiarity with RWTH within the Indian business world. He nevertheless sees major opportunities to remedy this. ‘There are a lot of initiatives and activities held by RWTH with Indian partners, be this the Indo- German Center for Sustainability (IGCS), the Indian student association, the German-Indian Society in Aachen and above all, the RWTH liaison office in Delhi, not to mention the German Indian Round Table (GIRT) with many businesses affiliated.’ Just recently, another liaison office opened, this time in Pune, specifically for RWTH International Academy. In addition to his duties as company director and his consultancy work for ITA, Mohit Raina also lectures on textile engineering and international business at two institutes in Mumbai. ‘For me, talking with students is like meditation.’ But it is family life that brings this RWTH alumnus true relaxation. His three-year-old daughter is already showing promise as a scientist: every Sunday she looks forward to conducting a ‘scientific experiment’ – simple experiments in everyday situations – with her father.

– Dietrich Hunold

Facade structure made of TRC.
Photo: Raina Industries Pvt. Ltd.