TECH TALK: As India Develops: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Combining the right combination of Vision and Will, India also needs a healthy mix of Innovation to think of the problems we face as opportunities, and Entrepreneurship to commercialise the solutions and build profitable businesses. Solving Indias problems is not a business for the government, aid organisations or philanthropic organizations if we take that route, we will improve small parts of the country, but will never make a difference across the country. Indians have to see a business opportunity, and they will capitalise on it that is the culture of entrepreneurship that is built-in. What India needs is an environment to thrive in. A pro-active, participative and smart government can do wonders to catalyse this process. The mantra for the bureaucrats and ministers should be what Buddha once said: First, Do No Harm.

Innovation in India means thinking affordability and the mass-market. Look at what has happened with cellphones Indias pricing of 40 paise (less than one cent) per minute is unmatched globally. IIT-Madras has developed a rural ATM machine for about Rs 30,000 as compared to the Rs 7-8 lakhs (USD 15-17,000) price of the global manufacturers. Prof. Sadagopan of IIIT-Bangalore wrote recently:

For decades we are used to MNCs dumping obsolete products in the Indian market and Indian corporations launching shoddy products; suddenly, there is a realization that the Indian market must be looked at afresh, either because they deserve such attention or because such a perspective opens up markets elsewhere too (the poorer sections of the rich countries, cost conscious consumers and large sections of poor countries).

In IT hardware, Proton dot matrix printer from TVS Electronics has revolutionized rural retail stores and set a record through its least expensive dot matrix printer in the world. In the electronics industry, Philips India introduced last year a Hand Wound Radio that can be powered by hand winding; this basically addressed the need for rural India where electricity supply is erratic and constant use of batteries makes the radio expensive. This product is doing exceedingly well in the market. In the consumer product business, the use of sachet to dispense shampoo is the oft-quoted example from India. Use of polythene packets to package milk and the no refrigeration, yet six months life packaging of milk, is really Made for India. In the banking sector, CitiBank Suvidha, a retail product that worked in spite of the lack of branch network for CitiBank in India, is well-known.

In short, Made for India is a viable business option. It is happening in every industry segment. What I have compiled here is a small subset with my limited knowledge. What we need is the scaling up of such experiments to a mass movement to take India to a developed country status by 2020, the vision of President Kalam.

What is needed is for us in India to adopt, and if necessary adapt, innovations to the Indian context, and then let Indian entrepreneurs work on diffusing them through the country (and perhaps later, to other developing countries). India has the educational talent and the institutions to help foster the innovations. What has been missing is the early stage venture capital (in the form of angel funding) and mentoring to get enthusiastic teams of people to give up cushy and predictable jobs to take the path less travelled on, and focus on the needs of the market within.

Tomorrow: A Personal View

TECH TALK As India Develops+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.