The Indian innovation landscape is starting to look better, but more leaps needed to reach full potential.
The story of innovation in India is one of contradictions—the country, at 0.9% of its GDP, spends much lower than what China (1.95%) or South Korea (3.6%) do on R&D, and yet, some 1,000 multinationals have set up their research centres here. Microsoft and GE see India as a potential innovation hub and have planned investments here accordingly, even as the country’s ranks in various innovation “indices” have been less than impressive. Whereas the public sector is rarely perceived as innovative, there’s an Isro, an NPCI, and an Aadhaar to surprise. Against such a complex ecosystem, a report by Bertelsmann Stiftung attempts to decipher the real nature of innovation in India.
That India banks upon imitative innovation—adapting innovations that exist elsewhere in the globe to the local context—and frugal innovation (or innovation that springs from a principle of minimising costs) is often talked about. What remains largely outside the limelight is how the ecosystem is evolving as one where corporate innovation can thrive. The Bertelsmann report discusses how India has become a key link in the companies innovation value-chain across the globe. But what is more inspiring is that the country is now registering on the product and business model innovation radars as well—an IdeaForge has come up with one of the lightest drones in existence, while a Vaatsalya has come up as one of the first exclusively semi-rural healthcare chains. There are, of course, many challenges to India fully capitalising on its innovation potential—from availability of talent and the quality of available talent to the lack of entrepreneurial culture and the gap between industry and academia. Intrapreneurship—companies encouraging employees to innovate—can address perhaps these challenges as would creating quality institutions that also work as incubators. The government bringing a Bayh-Dole (the US) type of legislation, that allows public-funded institutions to own and profit from their research would be a step forward, too.