Will 2016 be different for innovation-based startups?


When the whole world looking at Indian renaissance as a sign of hope for pulling the global economy out of recession, the policy ambivalence is difficult to understand.  In the year about to pass, several initiatives took shape.  But a very few could get concretized.  One good example is that of BIRAC [Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council] which invests, as I mentioned last week, in ideas even without proof of concept.  But why should in the entire Government of India there be only one such window of opportunity for the young innovators.   Several other committees and missions deliberated on the subject but somehow could not build upon past successes.  From the institution building perspective, if every government decides to start ab initio disregarding the lessons of the previous initiatives, nothing ever will get institutionalized.  The pyramid of excellence is always steep on the top.   To characterize professionals serving in various academic, industrial or policy bodies as belonging to one or other other ideology is to discount the integrity of such distributed leadership.  In a polycentric society, there will always be people who will advance their ideas in the larger public interest in different sectors and spaces.  The principles of good governance require that we value such ideas and build upon them.  Institutionalisation of Aadhaar as unique identification system is a very positive example of such good governance.  We need many more examples of continuity and discontinuity.  Some change is not only inevitable but also desirable.  Let me point to some examples of such kind awaiting action in 2016.

The early discussions with Railway Ministry indicate a possibility that it may join hands with other ministries to crowd source innovative ideas from the passengers and vendors to trigger startups around its workshops and stations.  Similarly, National Innovation Foundation [NIF] is engaging with around 10000 industrial training institutes to harness the ideas of the students and link them with the unsolved technological problems in the hinterland.  If everything goes well and sufficient support is available, India will be the first country to map the unmet social and technological needs in almost all of 650000 villages over next five years.  Once such gaps are identified, the energy and motivation for bridging them is not difficult to mobilize. Unfortunately, we have not tried that as yet.   The polytechnics and the other technical institutions can use platforms liketechpedia.sristi.org and ensure that no student of our country takes up a project on a problem already addressed.   Originality becomes a national credo.

The in-situ incubation is the way to go.  Distributed mentoring, decentralized funding must follow.  The idea of District Innovation Fund created through 13th Finance Commission chaired by Dr. V.L.Kelkar needs to be reinvented.  We must not believe that officials or academics at national level are more honest than the officials at district level.  The competence can vary but the experience of Honey Bee Network over last 25 years shows tremendous richness in creative potential at grassroots.  Decentralized funds can be managed by a group of innovators, entrepreneurs and relevant honest officials.

The curricular reforms to reflect the focus on innovation and entrepreneurship is yet to take place.  In the entire school and college education, we seem to feel shy in incorporating examples of both successful and failed enterprises.  I hope the mandarins in the corridors of power will reflect on the persistent neglect of curricular reform to unleash the creative potential of our young people. Till such reforms take place, every teacher while teaching science, environment, mathematics or even languages can illustrate the subject by drawing upon the examples of local social, ecological and economic innovators and entrepreneurs.  The year 2016 must not be remembered for promises unmet.  We must be eclectic and draw upon the good ideas, no matter from whom they come.   Open innovation movement started by Honey Bee Network has now become a global phenomena.  And yet, Indian policy makers seem to be hesitant in embracing such openness wholeheartedly.  I hope that every individual in public or private sector will start asserting her agency without waiting for directions to come from above.  Indian renaissance will fructify through self-triggered, self-managed and self-organized initiatives and innovations. Amen!



Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place