Grassroot innovators in India need to up their game
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Jugaad is not the way forward
It wasn’t very long ago in 2010, when a leading daily published an article claiming Jugaad was India’s most precious resource. They even went on to claim that 81% of Indian businesses attributed their success to Jugaad. While this Jugaad driven economy had it’s own merits and demerits which can warrant a separate debate, it’s certainly not the way forward. Today when India is trying to be an innovation driven economy, Jugaad mindset is only holding it back in the bygone era.
There is no dearth of ideas on the Indian startup scene today but a big percentage of them at the grassroots level are still driven by the same Jugaad mindset or are a rip off of an existing solution in the west which lack intellectual property strength.
Patent driven innovation
One of the major criteria in commercialization of a new technology or product is the strength of the patent. Nobody wants his or her idea to be stolen by a rival or bigger industry players. A strong patent not only acts as a layer of security around a startup, it’s also an incentive for investors and potential players from industry looking for partnerships.
For a strong patent, it’s important that a product/technology and its components are unique and novel. A weak patent doesn’t carry any monetary value. The strength of a patent also determines the possible commercialization route taken by the innovator or startup. Whether the innovator wants to take the entrepreneurial route to reap the full benefits or it wants a collaboration with an industry partner largely depends on the strength of the patent rights along with other parameters.
A bright person in United States had this bright idea of patenting the process of exercising a cat using a laser. Yes!!! this patent was registered with the United States patent office. Coming to the strength of this patent, it’s not hard to figure out how much monetary value it carried while being practically impossible to enforce it's compliance. If one still wants to debate further on the merits of this patent, it gave no protection if the same method was to be used to exercise a dog or a bull.
Funding is not the only problem. Timing, strategy & team are equally important
General belief among innovators is that the only thing they need to conquer the world is right amount of funding. This couldn’t be more wrong. There are numerous examples where businesses were not able to sustain even after ample funding was available.
Timing is one of the key aspects for any successful venture driven by innovation. Innovators need to do an honest assessment if the consumers are ready for what they are offering. One good example is that of RPA or robotics process automation in finance which automates the mundane and repetitive tasks while saving time (& money) for more analytical work and reducing scope of manual errors. It’s not that it wasn’t possible to do this earlier. The concept was there, willingness by finance organizations to invest in RPA wasn’t. Outsourcing of processes to locations like India provided a more cost-effective solution back then and the arbitrage between setting up these centers at cost effective locations and investing in robotics was high. Now that this model is firmly in place, RPA has suddenly become darling of the finance world.
There is no denying that an idea has emotional importance for the innovator. However, innovators and startups need a balanced team with right expertise to take it to the next level.
Getting a right strategy is equally important. While consultants around the world couldn’t dwell more on it’s importance, reality is, people end up spreading themselves all over the place, pitching their product at the entire market hoping something somewhere will click for them. They often misinterpret strategy as profitability or objectives like "to be the best" or "to be the biggest". In fact, imitating the competition is a perfect recipe for disaster. As Justice A K Sikri rightly mentioned in his landmark Aadhaar judgement given by supreme court of India, being unique is better than being the best. A good strategy will do just that. Government is ticking right boxes
There is so much going on the Indian startup scene. It’s brimming with opportunities. Youth is excited about taking their idea to the market. For the first time in country’s history, they are in a position to showcase their ideas at big platforms. Accelerators and incubators are being set up all over the country for hand holding of these startups. High quality mentoring and technology support is within their reach now.
The extent of positivity and optimism can be gauged by the fact that number of angel investors in the country has increased multifold over last few years. People with moolah are bullish on the innovators and are willing to even mentor and guide them. Go to any startup event & it's not impossible to find people with deep pockets who are all ears to the innovators.
This, coupled with easy availability of credit under Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojna & support from institutions like SIDBI has ensured the show will go on. While there may be many detractors of the easy credit scheme including the former RBI Governor R Rajan who believes this will lead to another round of NPAs, we firmly believe that pumping in 10,000 crores in these startups will be more fruitful than giving away 20,000 crores to those corporates who channel the public money to maintain their expensive lifestyle and don’t create any economic value. Even if 100 of these startups go on to establish themselves at the highest level, the objective would be achieved.
Innovators need to up their game
With high speed internet penetration at all time high and data tariffs at all time low, information on latest technology trends and inventions are readily available to all.
Government is doing more than its bit to promote the startup and innovation culture. Only thing which can now hold back the innovators are the innovators themselves. They certainly need to up their game if the objective of Innovation driven New India is to be achieved.