India has one of the most vibrant startup scenes in the world, but when it comes to innovation and building industrially sustainable ideas, the country lags behind. The country fares poorly in innovation indexes globally and as rightly pointed out by Narayan Murthy sometime back, as a nation we have failed to deliver any ‘Earth Shaking’ idea in the last 60 years.
“If we want to become real product innovators we have to focus on the need and the market,” says Avnish Sabharwal, Managing Director, Accenture Ventures India. “The truth is we still haven’t made world class products that can compete with the best technologies in the world,” he adds.
Lack in B2B market focus
Sabharwal says this vicious circle of funding and investors in India is largely limited to the B2C markets where quick returns are expected. Most ideas tend to get saturated after a point in this sector while there is no real solution for large scale problems.
Giving the example of the Israeli startup ecosystem which recently came into focus after the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu, Sahbharwal says the country’s startups have gone on to achieve international fame because it focused on the need of the market and heavy focus on R&D.
“The R&D in countries like Israel is ‘mission critical’ and not ‘low level’ like India. This gives international players the chance to ignore us anytime as the innovation and research if shut here is less likely to have any direct impact on operations,” says Sabharwal.
Paucity of funding for long-term ideas
The structure of funding startups and businesses in this country has a narrow and short-term goal feels Sabharwal. While science-tech ideas that have the potential to become world class do exist, lack of ong term funding for these ideas is a major concern. To top it the typical Indian marketplace has always had a bias for ‘more for less’ and hence the incentive for a small business to invest in new technologies becomes constrained.
“It’s not that we don’t have the manpower or the funding, but rather the willingness to invest in such long-term programs is missing,” points our Sabharwal.
Culture of emulation
By and large most of the biggest startups in India have been borrowed ideas. Be it e-commerce, transport aggregators or hyperlocal services. Programs like Make in India, Startup India, the setting up of Intellectual Property Facilitation Centres and other incubation programs have failed to create substatntial innovative ideas.
"Problem and need based areas like social mobility innovations, aricultural technology, sanitation, alternative energy, waste management and more have huge scope for inventions but not much is being done in these areas," harps Sabharwal.
Moving beyond outsourcing
Given the current market scenario, making world class products for large scale solutions requires moving beyond the service and outsourcing tag that India has achieved. One such change is the need to depart from being labeled as the ‘back office’ country.
“We should all be sick and tired of being called the back office of the world,” said Priyank Kharge, IT Minister Karnataka at the recently held CII Innovation Summit in Bengaluru. “We need a combination of ideation, innovation and invention to make a impact on the global footprint of large scale solutions,” he added.
While the government can facilitate and encourage the process, Kharge feels it is the industry and its leaders who need to drive the growth for such innovations to establish India as one of the top innovators in the world.