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The comments on Part 1 of this article highlighted a variety of innovations by Indians that many of us, myself included, were not even aware of. Such is the brilliance and breadth of India's innovation!
Sadly, a large number of our innovations don't become more widely known because the exposure for smart innovations centers around Western and Japanese inventions. Our simple, everyday innovations or jugaad - an interesting word with various connotations are something we must find a way to capitalize on. The current pitiful economic state is an opportunity for that.
So what are the missing ingredients for Indians to take our innovative ideas and products to the world?
For it to happen on a sustainable basis and to attract development investment, it needs to have a profit motive. We already know that profitable models do exist, but there isn't yet a thriving venture capital industry around this here as there is in the U.S. around the technology industry.
The problem is not lack of capital or brilliant people -- the problem is the lack of deeper understanding. We don't know and appreciate the opportunities that are in front of us. This lack of deeper understanding appears at the level of businessmen and entrepreneurs who have largely looked to the West for viable business models and have been content creating an "Indian version." And it appears at the level of investment firms, capital markets, and venture funds who do not realize or are sometimes downright skeptical of Indian innovation opportunities. Why so?
"Among business leaders, we need to allow for an "experimentation fund" within our companies."
For a very simple reason: The people who work in these funds (be it fund managers or analysts) have studied case studies of western companies in their MBA classes but would have never looked at Amul as an example of sheer creative genius in decentralized manufacturing.
The lack of general awareness about such examples is widespread especially among students and the younger workforce of the country -take a poll of those who want to join Coca-Cola, IBM, McKinsey after their graduation compared to working for a potential Indian startup company creating innovative products. (Full disclosure: At Vu, we just hired five product design graduates from IIT who want to be part of a smaller company and contribute to its innovation.)
Innovation is a product of entrepreneurship, passion and experimentation. We can't blame the government for letting us down in this arena as we normally do in others. Rather, our minds and hearts need to fundamentally change. Among business leaders, we need to allow for an "experimentation fund" within our companies and involve ourselves deeply in getting new ideas to market.
* India's Indigenous Genius: Jugaad, Part 1
Let's work with an example. How many of us know that the Jaipur Rugs Company has built a very successful enterprise by making entrepreneurs out of 40,000 carpet weavers and artisans? It is now a world class business which exports carpets, durries, and mats to countries the world over in their "own brand."
Within our secondary education and business schools, instead of students reading up on case studies about "Coke vs Pepsi" and having summer internships at Sony, we must attempt to have students study the Aravind Netralaya model and intern at Amul and Jaipur Rugs. This will create a pool of talent which then understands the vast business opportunity in "constraint-based innovation" and creates the investment and management talent to make this opportunity a reality.
Within our media, we need to regularly lionize efforts like the Tata Nano and plenty of others so that more Indians know about the kind of great innovation work that happens in our country. Lastly, among ourselves, we must learn to give Indian products and innovation its respect and its price rather than automatically assuming that something coming from an American or Japanese company is automatically superior. Remember, a country that does not respect its heroes is soon left with none.
-Devita Saraf is CEO of Vu Technologies and Executive Director of Zenith Computers in Mumbai.
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