Why doesn't India Innovate? | A perspective from an MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship graduate.
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
During my studies at the University of Warwick, I pursued a masters degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. So speaking about innovations around the world every day wasn't anything new. One common thing I could observe is that India wasn't doing all that well in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship space; despite the encouragement, support, and leadership by the central and state governments. It could be the 'Ease of Doing Business ranking', 'Global Innovation Index' or among the list of unicorns.
Source: Ease of Doing Business ranking - World Bank Ranking (https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings)
Source: Global Innovation Index 2019
It's a natural feeling to see your country on the top of things and your eye reaches to the top 10 places instantly. This disappointment also leads me to think about what might have gone wrong. There are thousands of reasons to believe that India's startup scene is a developing one and there should be hope. But I sense that with the existing approach to the entrepreneurship culture in India, that there isn't enough depth to it and is loosely balanced. When I started to think more and discuss the same with a friend, we started digging into the issues we are facing as a country and also came up with solutions that could put us on the right track.
Also, I would like to bring it your notice that, I don't rely on numbers to do the talking here, because there's quality and then there's quantity. They both are the faces of the same coin, and today we will focus on the qualitative part.
Here are some of the issues, India is facing in the entrepreneurship space, in my view.
1. The Mindset:
The Indian mindset towards entrepreneurship has been around the idea of romanticising the American dream. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have been one big inspiration for the country. But the main takeaway isn't really about the passion they had towards their fields. It's been more about them 'Quitting college to pursue their dream'.
What's important to realise is that they were pursuing their passion from a long time alongside their studies and its when they felt that their passion is real and that they could commit themselves entirely, they quit college. Life's path is different for all, we shouldn't be misguided seeing else's.
Tribute to Steve Jobs
The Indian business scenario even from the early Independence period has been that of trading. There was no innovation in the business community and is more of an addition to the vocabulary in the recent past. The reason being, the act of contentment which is one dominating factor in developing countries. Contentment makes sure that the person is only motivated to explore until they are comfortable. When a business made enough for the survival of the owner, they broke into the cycle and never would change.
Experimentation and Innovation, the alien concepts for a vast majority of traditional businesses, are even today the same as they believe in wading through the same path for results. Well trodden paths are great for contentment as it defines the meaning. But the main issue is that the country as a whole with this mindset won't move ahead.
A traditional mindset to a modern world isn't a great combination. The modern world expects a broad view of thinking and exploring. The idea of Jugaad manages to improvise but never can be scaled up to innovations.
When I speak of education, I do consider the whole world to be a part. The country which was once the land known for its rich art, culture and literary work, is now land more technical. The sheer amount of doctors and engineers that India produces defines the lack of creativity. Technology and creativity are different, more like the brain and heart. We know as a country, "How it should work?" And depending on other countries to tell us "What has to be done?". A clear example would be BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing); firms.
Loads of technical expertise and no creativity is unemployment; and is backed by the Global household phrase, "settle down". The rush to settle down and get into that comfort zone is not surprising seeing the tradition of the education system here. While this has its positives, it does bring along a lot of negatives.
Practical knowledge or called here "e-learning" isn't about Smart schools which are all about projectors and fancy gadgets. Practical knowledge is as important or even more than conceptual knowledge. Practical knowledge is about curiosity and it gives a student a feel of the world before taking that plunge after schooling. Why one should learn must be answered before teaching what to learn.
Flexibility in thinking and risk-taking capabilities are important for kids development. These are introduced as theory classes more often than clear practical application. Passion grows by the mindset, and the only thing in our control is to nurture the passion and not blindly follow it. For it could lead to nowhere.
But I still believe that change is a process and education system of the world is one which needs to be put on the process.
3. Startup Culture:
Encouragement and support from the Central and State governments have increased the number of entrepreneurs in the country but has it all been effective?
Make in India, Startup India, Skill India, and Incubation programs surely did make noise in the country and lifted the hopes of the citizens but never resulted in effective implementation. This could be the classic scenario of spending 99% of the time on the idea and just 1% on execution, which is not worthy. But for a developing country, hope is good. But would be better with execution.
Our final dissertation needed us to present a Business model of a validated idea. While I brainstormed for an idea for my dissertation, I could often see that our country didn't have an original idea. Quite a lot of them were replications of the western world. Looked more of land where successful ideas adapted to our environment. Being successful at this point of adaptation, looked like it never really mattered, and it was more of a job well-done kind of parameter.
"Started out of a garage" - The Modern American Romance
That is because many startups here rely on funding and that's something which is in scarce. There's nothing wrong in venture capitalists not investing in ideas which aren't going to be well executed. There are a lot of issues that these startups face, and Leadership and Innovation are the main ones.
The rat race to be an entrepreneur before 30 and make it on Forbes, the support from the governments, the not very supporting education system and the environment they come from have managed to put these eager souls to wander.
Leadership is a trait which is inculcated. And that is up for debate. But inexperienced leadership is different and I guess that's the kind of leadership that one wouldn't want to invest on.
When we compare to see what goes wrong in the funding differences, we clearly can spot that the western countries are risk-takers. Their massive influx of funding manages to help them take a plunge into risk. I am sure that the massive funding I spoke of, matters. But don't you think it's only when one shows the ability to succeed, they gain credibility?
There are also scenarios where those universities have access to successful Venture capitalists usually their alumni, who are guided by professors to invest. Also seen is that their funding available is usually invested in a lot of startups. And it's a game to watch which one succeeds.
As a developing country, our macro scenario very much defines the need for disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation is an act of challenge when a small company with its limited resources is head-on with a large incumbent company which is at a point of sustaining its profitability and demand. The small company which has nothing much to loose, offers the same but at a very reasonable price and with added features. It is obvious for consumers to lean on a company offering a lot for less. And that's when disruption of industries take place.
So in comparison to our macro scenario, I think India must disrupt as we check off every box of disruptive innovation there is.
Another drawback would be startups getting in bed with propaganda. I wouldn't like to expand on this, and I'll leave it to your thoughts.
4. The Traditional setback:
While Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning could be wishful thinking for India given the encouragement it gets, there isn't much hope on other traditional companies either. The reason being is that they are not innovative. Surveys by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) have shown this and it doesn't come as a surprise and is a challenging path ahead.
A simple example of modern technologies taking a backseat in developing countries as a result of governance and laws would be drones. The aerial technology has reached greater heights around the world and we still are facing issues on imports, formulation of regulations, and of course research funding. China, for example, has the biggest funding concerning privately funded drone companies at $260M.
"While we wait"
Encouragement and support are good but not all that good when they merely stay as hope. This is how 'Brain Drain' happens. When an individual in this globalised world sees an opportunity in another land, they tend to migrate. Collective contribution to the Mother Land is out of the box when the struggle is more on setting up rather than on actual execution of their ideas. Time is short, they fly and it results pretty well for them.
Now wonder, where do the top CEOs of the world come from?
Those are all modern problems but when we speak of traditional companies, it's more about whom you know and your hold on governance. Hierarchy is necessary to safeguard that structure because trust is necessary, isn't it?
I'd end this list of issues by saying that, a country must have an appetite for innovative and creative people or will have to brace itself to strive hard to remain as a developing country.
1.Encouragement & Support to start Innovation Labs:
This could be an idea which exists or my idea which I want to see out there. So here it is, for free. It's not just the Governments job to nurture and uplift innovation levels in the country. Entrepreneurs can start companies which help other startups and traditional companies to innovate. Not a consultancy, but a firm to add innovation.
What happens then is magic. Research and development are nurtured alongside, the credibility of startups increases and will result in more funding.
Gone will be the days when startups depended on funding for a lifetime to make a dollar in profits.
Funny how, that many start-ups feel that consumer base and data are more important than making a dollar in revenue.
Don't you see that you're dying?
2. Massive Funding for Research & Development:
There is no way forward without research and development. The mindset that R&D is expensive and time-consuming must go, and it's better if realised sooner that all of it would be worth it when putting in use. It's simple. No R&D, leads to no innovation, further to no credibility and finally in Brain Drain.
3. Innovation rules:
We don't want to be known as a country which replicates, do we? Then it's simple, we make it strict.
Venture capitalists, Government schemes and mentors strive to teach, to think differently. I mean encouragement in being different in ideas and not just mediocre different. I don't mean to make entrepreneurship exclusive. I mean the right encouragement and guided support by the right people before entering the space.If they are different, innovative and groundbreaking, they make it to the club or they re-work. By this we save a lot and make way for better ones.
We have to do this to enter the phase of disruptive thinking.
4. District wise Labs:
Not everyone in this world is gifted with opportunities. Many are out there building their own, and we have to find them and encourage them further. Tell me how many times have you heard of a kid from a rural setting, who has achieved something and is now looking for further support?
I cannot think of a day that I haven't heard such a story.
My idea is of setting up of Practical Labs in every district in the country for students with very less or no access to such equipment and learning, this would come in as a blessing.
Our only motive here is to encourage curiosity and learning.
One big question asked will be, "Where's the money for all that?" And my answer to that would "CSR funds".
Do you benefit from the land? Then support the land.
4. Entrepreneurship in the curriculum:
If the country has decided to go ahead in entrepreneurship, that's great. Then rightly mentor those aspirants so that they don't wander and waste time in figuring out how to do what to do.
One way I think of is by adding Entrepreneurship, Research and concept of Innovation in their curriculum at a younger age. Much better would be, encouraging aspirants to start a business before graduating. It’s good to see some universities now including entrepreneurship in their curriculum and would be better if its taught at a younger age too.
Everything here is my view and it's your wish to think. This is my view on how I see the space progressing forward.
Feel free to think and voice your opinions.
God Speed. and remember that we are a work in progress.
By- Nirup Kamagethi Chakravarti P L