Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Godrej chotukool - challenges in disruptive innovation

At the recent CII Cost Congress held at Bangalore, Sanjay Lonial, General Manager, Disruptive Innovation, Godrej Appliances gave a fascinating presentation on Godrej’s Chotukool as an example of a disruptive innovation.

What’s a disruptive innovation? Companies often take existing products developed for mature markets and pull out features in an effort to reduce costs and re-design the product for use by consumers in cost-sensitive markets. Sanjay pointed out that such de-featuring tends to over-address needs. Instead, disruptive innovation provides no advanced features, but meets unmet needs. It provides superior performance along a different set of dimensions.

The objective of Godrej’s disruptive innovation s group is to do a “meaningful job….addressed through simple solutions….implemented with a winning business model.”

One objective of disruptive innovation is to remove barriers to consumption. Chotukool, a cooling product is one such low-cost solution for non-users. The focus of development of chotukool has been on the job / context – it is designed for people living in a one-room house, with no big need for ice; instead, it seeks to provide “just right” features and adequate functions.

Chotukool is quite different from a conventional refrigerator. It seeks to cool in the range of 5 to 15 degrees centigrade rather than the much colder temperatures achieved by a refrigerator. Cooling time of chotukool is longer at about 220 minutes compared to 90 minutes for a refrigerator. Chotukool weights only 9kg and is therefore easy to move around and transport. It’s capacity is considerably smaller than a typical refrigerator (43 litres vs 170 litres) and power consumption is also much less (15 to 65 W against 90 – 100W).

The chotukool offers several advantages – it has no moving components, is almost service free. Compared to the 200 components of a refrigerator, it has only 20 components. It is easy to use, easy to clean, easy to move, and can work on an inverter.

Godrej experimented with several cooling technologies, and finally solid state cooling chip was chosen. In fact the development of chotukool has involved a series of low cost experiments, and the product strategy has been “emergent,” based on learning and adjustment. Co-creation was an integral part of the chotukool story – several inputs came from a co-creation workshop held with women members of self-help groups on 7.2.2009 at Osmanabad.

A big challenge Godrej faced was how to reach consumers? – this needed business model innovation. For maximum reach, Godrej decided to partner with India Post. Chotukool requires demonstration and education which doesn’t happen in the trade, so Godrej was reluctant to use traditional trade channels.

Godrej decided to pilot the product in 4 districts to avoid competition, and slowly build up. Kiosks have been set up in post offices (in the 3 states where chotukool has been launched) for demonstrations. Orders are booked through the Post Office – the PO’s epayment system is integrated with Godrej’s ERP system. The postal van delivers in a week’s time and most customers don’t seem to mind the wait.

Godrej also sells chotukool B2B. For this, Godrej uses a separate “direct to shop” model – for a shop keeper, using chotukool translates into extra earnings of Rs. 50 / 100 per day.

To control costs, Godrej has been careful with tooling investments, supply chain costs (they don’t want to create a “poverty penalty” of adding on costs for delivery to distant places – hence they use the Post Office). There has been no advertising so far.

Chotukool sells at a retail price of Rs. 3790 – currently the full price has to be paid upfront and there is no EMI-based selling. Sanjay was non-committal about whether this would change. Chotukool is currently available only in 3 states; Godrej believes there is a need to maintain a long term relationship with customers.

Chotukool is a great story, but a recent report in DNA newspaper (December 5, 2011) quotes George Menezes, COO, Godrej Appliances, to say that 15,000 chotukools have been sold in Maharashtra so far. Given the size of the state and the potential market, that doesn’t seem to be a huge number. This raises some interesting questions. How do consumers see the price-performance equation of chotukool vis-à-vis that of a refrigerator? Are the barriers to the commercial success of chotukool distribution and logistics as Godrej seems to believe, or the acceptance of the product itself? And what are the implications for disruptive innovations for the Indian market?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Stanford India Biodesign Program's Medtech Conference

The Stanford India Biodesign Program (SIBP) organised a one-day Medtech Conference at Delhi on December 5, 2011. The conference performed two tasks – it underlined the challenges in developing appropriate medical technologies for the huge health challenges faced in India, and gave an update on what the SIBP has achieved so far in addressing these challenges.

I thought the conference did a great job on both fronts.

What’s the problem SIBP is trying to solve?

In his presentation, SIBP director, Dr Balaram Bhargava of AIIMS drew attention to the huge health inequity we see in India. Expenditures on healthcare put a heavy burden on poor patients. While most countries in the developed world have either a strong public health infrastructure or an insurance-based system for reimbursements, in India 78 per cent of health expenditure is from the patient’s pocket. One third of patients borrow money to pay medical bills. Public expenditure on health is low by any standard.



Dr. Bhargava pointed out that poor quality, high cost devices are a burden on the healthcare system. 80 per cent of devices are imported, and alien to users. Training people to use them correctly is a difficult task. Designing the right devices is a great opportunity. India has highly qualified people, a genetically endowed intuitive sense, and the business and clinical expertise required to commercialise these devices. India can be a laboratory to develop and test innovations for large local markets. New programs like NRHM, RSBY, state level insurance, health sector innovation council, and universal health coverage are proposed that promise to change the health landscape in India. Dr. Rajiv Doshi mentioned that other positive signs are that a medtech regulatory system is being created, and that 65 per cent of Indian manufacturers are focused on low end devices.

Other speakers referred to a projected 15 – 20% growth for the Indian medical equipment market. India is slated to be the cardio vascular and diabetic capital of the world. With all these burgeoning health needs, Astra Zeneca expects India and China to become the top global innovation centres by 2020.

Other speakers mentioned the importance of lower complexity of new medical devices to break through skill level barriers, reduce costs and facilitate volume expansion. Another important trend is to move towards devices that can be used by the consumer or at home rather than in a formal hospital setting. Adoption of new medical devices can be a problem though - hospitals don't want innovation, but just ask for reduction in the cost of existing products. Where purchase through tender by the government is involved, the process of changing specifications to help the purchase of low-cost medical equipment is challenging.

Speakers also mentioned the lack of adequate investment outside the area of ICT. The challenge is to step up R&D: Indian device manufacturers spend only 1% of their sales on R&D compared to 11% in the US!

What is SIBP?

SIBP is a novel initiative of Stanford University, working with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and IIT Delhi with support from the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to create the a biodesign ecosystem in India. Every year, SIBP chooses 4-5 SIBP fellows – typically doctors and engineers – who form teams to work on the design of new medical devices appropriate for India. These fellows get trained in the design methodology at Stanford, and then put it into practice working at the SIBP lab at AIIMS in New Delhi. SIBP fellows are expected to take their product innovations all the way to the market.

Another director of the program, Stanford-based Dr Rajiv Doshi mentioned that the SIBP was started within 4 months of the first workshop in 2007. The objective is to go beyond well known and much touted examples of innovation such as the Jaipur foot and Aravind eye care. India has the potential to be a hub of low-cost medical devices.

Why is SIBP important?

In my perspective, the main strengths of SIBP are: (1) the observation-based needs identification approach; (2) the user-centric approach to device design; (3) the creation of cross-disciplinary teams; (4) the seeding of an innovation capability for tomorrow – whether these devices or enterprises work or not, I am sure the SIBP fellows will play a significant role in innovation in India over the long run.

What has SIBP learnt so far?

Dr. Doshi argued that the Biodesign process developed in the US is relevant to India, particularly the elaborate needs identification process. But there are differences too such as different criteria in needs filtering, and how intellectual property is treated. He summarised some of the lessons learnt so far: (1) identify needs through direct clinical observations; (2) do not assume that the Indian market is like western markets; (3) devices need to be Inexpensive, with a low upfront cost; (4) Devices are better off if they are manufactured locally and use simple materials; (5) but they need to be more rugged because of the tougher local environment.

Dr. Joshi mentioned that the support of the government has been very helpful. Some of the things that have taken time are creation of infrastructure, clinical access, and the drawing up technology transfer guidelines. “Training the trainer” programs will help scale up. A new center at IIT Madras promises to expand the SIBP beyond AIIMS and IIT Delhi.

What has SIBP achieved?

17 SIBP fellows have filed about 20 patent applications so far. Some of the SIBP highlights:

  • Avijit, a SIBP fellow and his colleagues used the SIBP mantra of “Identify, invent, implement” to come up with 600 device needs. They finally narrowed down their efforts to the important problem of neonatal resuscitation. Birth asphyxia results in 210,000 deaths/year in India. Existing methods to combat this asphyxia such as bag mask ventilation exist but requires skills that the average healthworker often lacks. A low cost, easy-to-use alternative is the goal and "Neobreathe" is the product Avijit and his colleagues are working on to solve this problem.

  • Nitin Sisodia, another SIBP fellow and colleagues are focusing on identifying early hearing defects. They have developed “Sohum”, a novel hearing screening device. This device based on brainstem evoked response audiometry and advanced signal processing eliminates the need for sedation and reduces the need for skill.

  • Pulin, a 2009 SIBP fellow and his colleagues are working on a limb immobilisation device. Many accident victims are mishandled in the critical time soon after their accident leading to complications and loss of limbs. Existing protocols require that the patient is immobilized because the exact nature of the injury is rarely known immediately after an accident. But existing products are not effective. Pulin and his colleagues are developing Relligo, a low-cost, easy-to-use solution for this problem.
What can we learn from experiences elsewhere?


I resonated with the call given by Youseph Yazdi of the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID) at Johns Hopkins to focus on "Innovative partnerships" rather than "technology transfer." Given India’s poor record in technology transfer, I really think that innovative partnerships are the way to go.

What’s the potential of lowcost medical innovation? The sky’s the limit if you go by the powerful example of the Day of Birth Alliance in Africa. This alliance of Jhpiego’s Innovation Development Program, CBID and the non-profit arm of Laerdal Medical is pushing the boundaries in a critical public health area. Cervical cancer screening through the pap smear test can't be replicated easily in the developing world because it involves multiple visits and is expensive. Instead the Day of Birth Alliance has developed a single visit approach for screening cervical cancer through direct visualisation of pre cencerous lesions using cooking vinegar. A cryoblation equipment that requires USD 2000 and industrial grade gases has been replaced by a USD 75 cryoblation gun that can be used with non medical grade CO2!




Saturday, December 3, 2011

CII Decade of Innovation Event: Innovation with Social Impact

CII organised a 2-day event titled “Decade of Innovation: Year 1” to take stock of where we stand at the end of year 1 in the Decade of Innovation.

I participated in a panel on “Innovations for Improving Quality of Social & Environmental Life.” The session chair, Professor Anil Gupta, focused on the importance of grassroots innovation and strengthening the innovation culture across the country. He gave several examples of youngsters across the country who have come up with exciting new ideas. He explained how Techpedia has evolved as a digital repository of students doing engineering projects across the country. He lauded the Gujarat Technological University for getting students to do meaningful projects as a part of their engineering curriculum. Anilji also raised some provocative questions on innovating in a poor country like India: Should we be willing to sacrifice some accuracy for affordability? Some desires to help the deserving? Some design for durability?

I was impressed by the efforts of Dr VK Gupta of CSIR, Traditional Knowledge Guru, who is the leader of efforts to bust foreign patents on our traditional knowledge. Basically, to prevent foreigners (and even Indians!) from patenting our traditional knowledge, the government has done an extensive documentation of our traditional knowledge systems and, more importantly, formally linked up with patent offices worldwide. It’s good to see their success in inking formal access agreements with international patent offices – we often don’t take things to closure through the last mile… for details of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, check out

Dr. Radhakrishnan Kodakkal of Philips spoke about PHILIPS R&D CENTRE & PRODUCTION FACILITY AT PUNE. The unit is called the Healthcare Development and Manufacturing Centre(DMC) which consists of an R&D Centre and a Manufacturing centre in MIDC Chakan which is being built. There are also a few small factories that came from the 2008 acquisition of Alpha Xray technologies and Meditronics Healthcare). Healthcare DMC India is organized like a Business Unit with P&L responsibilities with the scope for global value segment market for X-Ray imaging products (Analog Radiography, Digital Radiography, Surgery Imaging, Cardio Vascular systems etc). Currently Philips has around 6 product lines sold in Indian market and one globally. Looks like Philips has an integrated perspective of how to target the value segment in India – in this, it seems to be ahead of its main MNC rivals. The focus is on value and quality. Radhakrishnan gave an interesting example of how low cost doesn’t mean low quality – an individual can have a bath in a Jacuzzi or a shower enclosure or with a bucket and a mug. Whatever the technology, no one likes a cracked, dirty or leaky product. Quality means similar things to everyone….

Neelam Chibber is one of our most passionate social entrepreneurs. The retail chain that she founded, Mother Earth, works with 10,000 artisans in 8 states. Neelam’s effort has been to apply design thinking to bridge the silos that exist in the produce of artisans reaching the market and their getting an appropriate return for their efforts. India has the world’s largest creative industry workforce, but 2% of production! The government is not correctly structured to deal with the needs of the artisans – the Ministry of Textiles is the nodal ministry but it has to deal with a variety of handicrafts as well. Mother Earth’s important contribution has been to the design of the ecosystem for artisans. Artisans have 10% share in the brand holding company. A social investor and the IFC have investment in the supply chain company. A joint venture with the Future Group manages the retail end. The objective is to create an equitable model, and a social connect for the business. More power to Neelam and others like her for adapting capitalism to, as Porter and Kramer call it, “create shared value (see Harvard Business Review January-February 2011).”

Professor Ove Granstrand of Chalmers University, Sweden, explained how national innovation systems are being replaced by Global Innovation Systems, and talked about some of the implications of this phenomenon for the world.

In a presentation titled Breakthrough Innovation for Social Impact, I gave some examples of how companies across India are pursuing innovation for improvement of environment and the quality of life. Based on case studies such as the Tata Swach, Husk Power Systems, Biocon and Revolo, I drew some implications for what it takes to make such innovations work: problem identification is the first important step, as identifying the right problem motivates the team, provides a sense of purpose, and, of course, is related to what impact the innovation has. Affordability is a key driver of such innovation, and finding the right business model is key to the innovation’s effectiveness. I emphasized the importance of experimentation in two loops – from idea to proof of concept, and from proof of concept to market acceptance. Patience and perseverance are key to these innovations, as they take many years and several experiments to reach fruition. Visionaries who can make connections and forge partnerships play an important role in making these innovations successful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Higher Education: The Great Innovation Opportunity

In a column for the forthcoming issue of Edu Tech magazine, I have argued that India’s most important challenge in higher education is using technology to bridge the trade-off between richness and reach (or quality and scale in this context). Making a lasting contribution to this is more important than either creating “world class” universities or harking back to Nalanda.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dr Bhan's insights - highlight of IKMC 2011

IKP Knowledge Park (formerly ICICI Knowledge Park) organised its annual Innovation Event – IKMC Global Innovation Exchange - on November 16, 2011. I participated in a panel titled “Riding the Next Big Innovation Wave.” The participants were Dr. MK Bhan, Secretary Department of Biotechnology, Government of India; Dr. Homi Bhedwar who heads DuPont’s R&D Center at Hyderabad; and Mr. Ramji Raghavan, Chair of the Agastya Foundation. Dr. Bala Manian, serial entrepreneur, and mentor of several biotech companies, did a great job of moderating the panel.

For me, the highlight was Dr. Bhan’s insights into the challenges India faces on the innovation front. Under Dr. Bhan’s leadership, the DBT has pioneered a number of exciting initiatives like SBIRI, BIRAP, BIPP, etc. which have changed the innovation landscape in the biotech industry. When you hear him, you know why he has been able to come up with these initiatives.

In his talk, Dr. Bhan identified several obstacles to innovation in India: (1) a reluctance to experiment – he gave the example of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) that is known not to work well, but very few alternatives have ever been tried out; (2) the talent pool is not diverse enough for product innovation – we don’t need scientists alone; (3) there are poor flows of knowledge – not enough bi-directional flows; (4) there is fragmentation in government – he asked why are there separate biotech and pharma departments?; and (5) people are talking at each other – he asked how often have the technical people in the scientific ministries spoken to the FAs and explained to them the nature of their work?

Dr. Bhan called for a second freedom struggle, a need to make things hassle-free. Demand drives innovation – he called for a policy to create demand. He called for deep engagement, a sense of urgency, accountability, agility, and transparency. There is a need for lots of short term courses to enable people to complete learning.

Dr Bhan identified some bright spots as well: (1) India supplies 60-70% of UN-purchased vaccines thanks to UNICEF. These vaccines would not have been created without industry-academia collaboration. (2) the Stanford India BioDesign program (3) the Gates Foundation – Grand Challenges (4) DBT Centre at IIT Madras Research Park which is providing a platform for eye hospitals to collaborate – DBT has created 80 positions there. (5) the IISc – St John’s glue grant that encourages collaboration between the two institutions (6) India Inclusive Innovation Fund (7) Wellcome Trust and DBT initiative on affordable healthcare (8) DBT + Gates Foundation + Canadian grant – grand challenges.

Dr. Manian asked me how the innovation landscape has changed in the last few years. The good news? Several large companies are moving from Jugaad to “managed” innovation (largely incremental improvements) to contemplating breakthrough innovation – the Nano is a good case in point. Small high tech ventures are being formed in larger numbers, though I suspect they are not ambitious enough in their thinking. There is an enhanced recognition of the importance of higher education, though the government has not yet managed to translate its intentions into action. The disappointments? Public R&D still struggles to deliver, and government is yet to demonstrate the ability to formulate an integrated approach to innovation. The National Innovation Council, is a welcome initiative, but lacks the resources to push its agenda, and is again dependent on different ministries for implementation. The most prominent bright spot – a growing interest of the students of our country in socially-relevant innovation. I witnessed this first hand when I recently attended student festivals at IIT Madras and NIT Surathkal.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

TEDx NIT Surathkal

As a part of their technical festival, Engineer 2011, the students of NIT Surathkal put together a fascinating TEDx even on October 30, 2011, in which I had the privilege of speaking.

Some of the highlights:
  • Mohandas Pai spoke passionately about the potential of doing good through programmes like Akshaya Patra, one of the biggest nutrition schemes in the world that gives millions of kids a meal at school every day. I can't imagine that anyone would fail to be swayed by the Akshaya Patra story.
  • Prasanta Karmakar, who won a bronze medal in swimming at the Commonwealth Games, should be a sporting icon. He has overcome his disability wonderfully well, and is charming and charismatic. May more strength be to him.
  • Anoj Viswanathan, co-founder of Milaap, talked about how his organisation makes micro-lending to enterprises possible in a really simple way.
  • Bhawna Toor provided the glamour component, but not only that - she added to the appeal for everyone to contribute towards social innovation, and gave some great examples.
NIT Surathkal students did a great job of organising the event. Even more important, they attended in large numbers and participated enthusiastically. I was impressed by their keenness to take their technical knowledge and use it for the social good - NITK, that't the way to go.

For my presentation at TEDx, visit

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Innovation Strategies of Local Market Leaders in Emerging Markets

What role does innovation play in the leadership positions attained by local firms in emerging markets? What innovation strategies do these firms follow?

In a paper just published in the ASCI Journal of Management, Srivardhini K. Jha and I take advantage of a natural experiment – the deregulation of the Indian economy – to investigate these questions.

We identify and compare the innovation strategies of five local market leaders in India – Bajaj Auto, Biocon, Pantaloon, Tata Motors, and Titan Industries - on dimensions related to exploration and exploitation, internal and external sources, technology-push and market-pull and product and process innovation.

This study establishes that innovation plays a key role in the leadership position attained by local leaders. These firms display a high degree of ambidexterity in both exploring and exploiting in parallel, an approach that is required to provide speed of response. External sources are tapped for knowledge and ideas, and this learning is integrated with internal innovation. Market exploration, particularly the development of products, services and business models that allow the companies to meet the affordability criteria of the mass market, plays an important role in the innovation strategy of these companies.

The paper is available at:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Praise of an Innovator

As corporate innovation has become more complex, the importance of the individual innovator (think of someone like Edison) has been overtaken by the power of innovation teams. Yet, a recent article in The Hindu reminds us about the power of the individual innovator. Nagaraja, a recently retired employee of Bharat Electronics, was given the country's highest and most prestigious labour award for his innovations that led to considerable cost savings for his company. His innovation? - replacing gold-plated headers in transistors by nickel-plated ones. Read the article to see how Nagaraja attributes his accomplishments to inspiration from his father and a strong work ethic inclulcated from his childhood.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Management and Organisation of Knowledge Creation in EU MNE subsidiaries

Just in case you are interested in some recent work we had done with colleagues from SPRU, Taiwan and China, please check out our recent working paper “Management and Organisation of Knowledge Creation in Emerging Markets: a Perspective from subsidiaries of EU MNEs” available at

Authors:Vandana Ujjual(SPRU), Parimal Patel(SPRU), Rishikesha T. Krishnan(IIM, Bangalore), Srivardhini Keshavamurthy (IIM, Bangalore), RueyLin Hsiao(National Cheng-Chi University, Taipei) and Frank Yan Zhao (Shanghai University, China)


A key emerging trend in the globalization of innovation is that an increasing share of R&D is being undertaken in Emerging Markets, especially in India and China. This paper focuses on the involvement EU MNEs in this process. It is based on 22 interviews conducted with managers of R&D centres of 15 EU-based companies located in India and China. These companies are amongst the leading R&D spenders in 3 industries: ICT, Automobiles and Pharmaceuticals.

The declared aim of all the surveyed companies is to increase their R&D in Emerging Markets, especially India and China. The two main driving forces for this process are firstly the large market potential of these countries and the availability of a large pool of well-qualified scientists and engineers. A great deal of the activities in India and China are concerned with adapting products and processes to the local market. At the same time a number of companies are devising low cost products specifically for these markets. Another explanation for the growing volume of R&D in Emerging markets is that some of the long established R&D and engineering centres of EU firms have evolved from providing low-cost, low-level support for peripheral activities to becoming global centres for excellence providing support to the R&D carried out in the rest of the company. This is especially the case for design and development of software in the ICT companies in India. It is also important for both software and engineering services for the Automobile companies.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Innovation in India - Article in Ivey Business Journal

In the September-October 2011 issue of Ivey Business Journal, I have provided an overview of corporate innovation in India and identified the development of “creative confidence” as a critical next step in India’s innovation journey. I look at why companies like Tata Motors, Titan, Biocon, Pantaloon and Bajaj Auto have been relatively successful at innovation, and why some MNCs have missed the bus. I conclude by identifying some of the ecosystem-related challenges in furthering innovation in India.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Making Bangalore the Innovation Hub of Asia

This was the theme of the 7th India Innovation Summit organised by CII at the Leela Palace on September 8-9. Speakers represented the best that the city has to offer on the innovation front – multinational R&D centres of GE, Intel, Yahoo, IBM and 3M; successful start-ups like Tejas Networks, Teleradiology Solutions and Vaatsalya Hospitals; and home-grown innovation pioneers such as Infosys, Biocon & Avesthagen.

I had the privilege of chairing the session on Higher Education & Research. Bangalore has the long had prestigious research institutions like the Indian Institute of Science and several Defence R&D laboratories. But it’s a new generation of relatively young institutions that has the potential to change the innovation landscape of Bangalore. Three of these institutions were represented on our panel.

The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is arguably India’s leading centre for biological research. NCBS is now hosting a new Stem Cell Research Institute supported by the Department of Biotechnology.

The Azim Premji University (APU) and the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) have a clear mission – to transform primary education in the country by enhancing the quality of schools.

Srishti Labs, a part of the Srishti School of Design, beings together a design education institution and technology professionals to provide practical and aesthetic solutions.

Each of these institutions fills an important gap in the innovation portfolio of the city. But what was most impressive was the vision and clarity of purpose of their three leaders.

Warren Greving of Srishti Labs emphasized the importance of combining the divergent thinking of creative individuals at the Design School with the convergent thinking of industrial problem-solving. This is what Srishti Labs seeks to achieve.

K. VijayRaghavan of NCBS placed his institute in the context of the growth of Indian science. The British never intended the growth of science in India, and the early scientific leaders – Satyen Bose, JC Bose, Ramanujam, Raman and Meghnad Saha – were accidental geniuses, not the result of deliberate institutional outcomes. India climbed on the Science bandwagon after independence and set up a whole range of new institutions. But these institutions tended to stagnate unless propelled by visionary leadership. Again, success was inspite of, rather than because of, the system. Today, we are entering a new phase of institution building. The people attracted to these institutions have been trained at the best institutions in the world, and now its up to the new Indian institutions to help them achieve non-linear results.

Anurag Behar of APF and APU outlined some of the barriers that hold back Indian primary education. While we have thousands of schools and teachers, we have not created the education support infrastructure – experts in content, pedagogy, and delivery – that can help the school system deliver effectively. This is the gap that the two Azim Premji institutions seeks to close. Since we have a lag in this area, we often don’t have the resources readily available, and the challenge is to scale up through internal capacity development. A critical element of the APF philosophy is that the concepts and practice have to work closely together – all ideas have to be tried out in the field, not just restricted to academic writing.

All three speakers were unanimous in underlining the importance of integrity of purpose in building strong institutions - there can be no compromise on the core mission of the organization. They emphasized the importance of carrying people with them, and infusing a sense of purpose to overcome barriers. They felt that team work was imperative to achieve excellence, and to meet the high bar placed by international competition and societal expectations.

Let’s hope we see more such institutions emanating from Bangalore in the years to come! And watch the achievements of NCBS, Srishti Labs, and the APF/APU closely… these could be the institutions that move us closer to being the Innovation Hub of Asia!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Innovation in TB Diagnostics: The Indian Challenge

Dr. Madhukar Pai of McGill and Dr. John Kenneth of St. John’s Research Institute put together a fascinating conference last week with a simple objective: can we come up with low-cost yet accurate diagnostic tools for turberculosis (TB)?

What’s the problem? India accounts for 22% of all TB cases in the world, and for 25% of the Multi Drug Resistant (MDR) cases. We have a national programme to detect and cure TB that has done well – the whole country has been covered by both diagnostic and curative efforts, and we have met the Millennium Development Goals in this area – yet, case detection has plateaued around 72%, and treatment success rate at around 87%. There are still 280,000 deaths every year due to TB. And undetected and untreated patients spread the disease rapidly to others.

The primary diagnostic tool used for TB – a sputum smear test – is more than a hundred years old, needs skilled manpower, takes several hours to give results, and has limitations with respect to accuracy. New technology in the form of molecular imaging is now available – e.g. Xpert MTB/RIF, a molecular imaging platform developed by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND – a Geneva-based non-profit) and Cepheid, a Silicon Valley technology company – detects TB accurately and tests for drug resistance at the same time. Yet Xpert’s “discounted” $17,000 price tag for the equipment, and $17 price tag for the cartridge make it an unlikely candidate for rapid diffusion across India and the rest of the developing world.

The Challenge? To create a low-cost, accurate, high-quality, reliable, easy-to-use test to diagnose TB. Though a FIND-study reports a global market size in excess of $ 1 Billion, a quick estimate by a McKinsey & Co. consultant indicates that the size of the addressable market is $75-100 million. Any test developed has to displace the 1.5 million serological tests of doubtful utility conducted by the private sector in India.

Given the size of the market, this may not be attractive for a large diagnostic company. But wouldn’t this be a great learning opportunity for India? Can’t we put our biotechnology, pharma, statistics, and instrumentation students to work on creating alternate TB diagnostics? The spin-offs in terms of experience, learning and creation of expertise would far out-strip the costs involved.

A problem is that we don’t have the organizational and institutional structures or programmes that could make this happen. Nor are our national implementation programmes geared up to provide support to such development. Even if we were to come up with such a diagnostic, we don’t have a public procurement policy that would rapidly diffuse it across the country. And even before that, a big challenge is to follow the rigour and discipline needed to test and validate the diagnostic. We desperately need to build these capabilities if we are to graduate to a higher level of innovation in the biopharma sector. (The usual barriers to innovation exist as well – see my presentation at the conference at )

The good news is that we have a growing set of highly capable entrepreneurs in this area. Speaking to some of them at the TB Diagnostics conference, I realized that they are raring to go. Particularly impressive were Dhananjaya Dendukuri of Achira Labs, Anu Acharya of Ocimum and Ravi Kumar of Xcyton Diagnostics. Can we provide the support required to let them flower and bloom?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Focus on Innovation: What it means for CIOs

With Indian companies enhancing their focus on innovation, CIOs face new challenges in supporting innovation initiatives. In this article specially written for CTO Forum, I have outlined what CIOs need to do....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

FJ2SI video on Youtube

Here's a short video on how India can move From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation....

Monday, July 11, 2011

Going Beyond Jugaad: article in Outlook Business magazine

Happy to share with you an article that I wrote for the 5th Anniversary issue of Outlook Business magazine.

In this article, I have argued that while Jugaad may be a good starting point, Indian companies need to go beyond Jugaad if India is to build strong innovation capabilities.

Look forward to comments and feedback.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Two Manifestos on Innovation: Great Ideas, but who will bell the cat?

Inclusive growth and similar slogans are not just the preserve of the Indian government. The innovation community, or at least some influential parts of it, is asserting the importance of focusing innovation efforts on the problems that matter such as poverty, health, nutrition and shelter.

“Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto” (ISD) is the title of a thoughtful document emerging from the joint efforts of two institutions with strong credentials – the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex, and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. IDS has produced excellent work in the past on core development issues such as irrigation and corruption. SPRU is the arguably the world’s pre-eminent think-tank on Science Policy and Innovation.

At the heart of ISD’s manifesto is the fact that modern science and technology may have great achievements to its credit, but millions of people are poor and malnourished and suffer from myriad health problems. Obviously, there is something wrong with the priorities of innovation if the most talented innovators focus their attention on the next iPod or iPad rather than solving these humanitarian problems. The trajectory of innovation is controlled by commercial interests (read “large corporations”) rather than the interests of people. The ISD manifesto calls for a change in Direction, Diversity and Distribution of Innovation-related activities. Diversity refers to the need for experimentation with a portfolio of options, and using the local knowledge of people rather than depending on centralized, top-down solutions. Above all, the ISD manifesto calls for a change in the politics of innovation – who makes decisions, when and where.

The ISD manifesto is available at

“Knowedge Swaraj: An Indian Manifesto on Science & Technology” (KS) is the outcome of the work of two Indian groups – Knowledge in Civil Society (KICS) and the Centre for Knowledge, Culture and Innovation Studies at the University of Hyderabad. KS builds on a strong Indian tradition of decentralized innovation in the Gandhian movement, and the efforts of movements such as the KSSP and PPST in recent decades, to argue that knowledge needs to be more participative and democratic, community knowledge is valuable, and that the public should be involved in important strategic choices regarding science and technology. The focus is again on inclusiveness and changing the politics of innovation decision-making.

The KS manifesto is available at

Both ISD and KS emphasise the importance of these cultural and political changes in any effort to avert an ecological disaster. They imply that centralised technology decisions driven primarily by commercial interests and ignoring people are likely to result in even bigger ecological disasters than what we have seen so far.

It’s interesting to note that there is a certain coalescence between how very diverse groups are thinking. Even management gurus are moving in a similar direction. After the original “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BoP) formulation was criticized for seeing the poor as consumers rather than full participants in the development process, we now have BoP co-founder Stuart Hart advocating BoP 2.0 – a BoP innovation process which is socially embedded and evolves ground-up. Vijay Govindarajan, who was only a short time ago Professor-in-Residence and adviser to GE CEO Jeff Immelt, is now running contests for low-cost housing solutions. Innovation for the poor is certainly in fashion!

The other major movement that has embraced innovation for social needs is Social Entrepreneurship. From almost nowhere, this has become a buzzword of current discourse. Of course, its focus on scale, and the possibility of combining doing good and doing well would seem to come in conflict with the ideas of diversity and distribution in the ISD manifesto, but the idea of social entrepreneurship has certainly attracted youth all over the world.

The main problem with both the ISD and KS manifestos is the absence of a pathway to achieve their noble goals. The ISD manifesto at least discusses this issue, but the Strategic Innovation Fora and Global Innovation Council it proposes seem to be mired in the same straitjacketing that ails current political systems. Current “democratic” political systems in many countries have been captured by powerful interests and the legitimacy of movements outside these systems is questioned by the people who have captured these systems (witness the way in which the Indian political class has closed ranks against the civil society organizations in the matter of the Lok Pal bill).

Frankly, I can’t see how either of these manifestos will make much headway without a revolution, or at least an attempt at one. To bring these on to the agenda, we need new equivalents of the Greens parties in Europe. If the politics of innovation is to change, innovation will have to become a subject of politics.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Praise of the Indian PhD

In a recent column in Eductech magazine, I pointed out that we have some outstanding scholars and thinkers who did their PhDs in India. Is it possible that our doctoral programs permit an independence of thinking that is not possible in more structured systems? Check out this link to find out more...

Monday, May 30, 2011

What I learnt at the EIRMA conference

I had the privilege of speaking at the Annual Conference of the European Industrial Research Management Association (EIRMA) held at Cannes last week (May 26-27, 2011). EIRMA ( is a forum for heads of R&D of about 120 leading companies in Europe to share ideas and best practices on the management of research and development in a corporate context. EIRMA was founded in 1966 and has been a vibrant arena for debating the changing role of corporate R&D.

EIRMA prides itself on providing a good environment for networking and informal exchanges. This year’s conference maintained that tradition, but there were several good “formal” talks as well.

I found Stephen Aguilar-Millan of the European Futures Observatory the most interesting, probably because he was the most provocative. He believes the next industry/technology wave will be focused on scarcity and sustainability. The last wave, information and communication technology is now mature, and we shouldn’t expect to see that as the locus of innovation for long (a sober thought for the Indian IT industry!). According to Stephen, there is no inevitability about China becoming the world’s largest economy – trouble on the west, negative demographics, raw material shortages, and high inflation could derail the China growth story.

Dorothea Seabode of Philips made an impassioned plea for sustainability-driven innovation. She drew on the WWF Living Planet report and the WBCSD Vision 2050 to make a strong case for such a push. I was impressed by the level of integration of sustainability into the Philips corporate agenda. Starting as a part of the Management Agenda, it is today very much a part of the company’s operational framework. For example, their EcoVision 5 sets a target of improving energy efficiency by 50% by 2015.

Another useful perspective was from Werner Frohling, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel for Volvo. He gave an excellent summary of the evolution of the intellectual property system in Europe, and identified today’s key challenges – 1. The Chinese Patent Tsunami – a huge growth in patenting by local inventors in China in Mandarin. These patents will constitute prior art in all patent domains in the future, and companies that don’t keep track may come up against barriers to IP protection even in their own home markets! 2. A clear mismatch between the high growth fields of business such as services and the areas of patentability that are more oriented to a product-dominated world. 3. The shortening life cycle of products, but long lead times for patent grants leading to another mismatch between innovation and protection.

A few interesting statistics from the talk by the Head of Centro Richerche Fiat: automobile design and development lead times have come down from 48 months to just 15-18 months; in 2010, a car typically had 15,000+ parts, and its average price per Kg was comparable to that of a hamburger; Fiat has a huge open innovation network, and works with as many as 400 university partners. He made the counter-intuitive point that the use of electric cars in China may make the environment worse rather than better because of the poor environmental performance of coal-based power plants in that country (according to his data, the same would be true in India as well!).

The talk by Matthias Kaiserwerth, head of IBM Research’s Zurich Lab raised interesting questions about whether machine intelligence could soon surpass human intelligence and thus change the innovation landscape altogether. He referred to the rapid improvement of robots – IBM’s Watson can even play a complex game like Jeopardy successfully. Machine intelligence is no longer based on programming, but is today driven by learning.

We visited the Sophia Antipolis Science Park, one of the oldest (proposed in 1960) and most successful in Europe. I was impressed by its ability to keep some core principles (easy access; low-profile architecture that merges with the environs) invariant while changing on others (some land is now being used for different purposes such as shopping and low-tech employment so as to meet the needs of the larger community). The founder and visionary of the park was a French senator!

As you will notice, the activities at EIRMA had a lot of variety and food for thought. It would be useful to have a similar organization in India, but with a broader scope of innovation management rather than R&D management!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Innovation in India...and what it means for European companies

Here's the talk I gave at the annual conference of the European Industrial Research Management Association (EIRMA) at Cannes, France, on May 27, 2011. I traced some of the recent trends in corporate innovation in India, and drew implications for European compnies. EIRMA is an association of major European companies involved in R&D.....

Monday, May 9, 2011

FJ2SI reviewed on Pavan Soni's blog

Pavan Soni, Innovation Evangelist, has reviewed From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation on his blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Review in Vikalpa

From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation has been reviewed by Prof. K. Ramachandran of the Indian School of Business in a recent issue of Vikalpa.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review at

From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation is available in a Kindle edition on Amazon. Here is a review by Vinay Dabholkar on the Amazon site....

Review to appear in IIMB Management Review

A review of FJ2SI by Dr. A. S. Rao, Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, IIM Ahmedabad, will appear in a forthcoming issue of IIMB Management Review.

FJ2SI cited in biotech interview

In an interview to Express Pharma, the Chief Business Officer of Polyclone Bioservices cited FJ2SI in the context of Indian pharma companies becoming more innovative...

Beyond Jugaad

In a recent issue of Business Standard, Professor Charles Dhanaraj and I emphasised the importance of India moving beyond jugaad....

Review in Information Management and Business Review

Shiva Kumar Srinivasan of IIM Kozhikode has reviewed From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation in a recent issue of Information Management and Business Review.