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 http://www.ikmc2011.com/ - 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 http://www.indiabiodesign.org/ (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 https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B_JQN9Y6fQRsZTgzNWVhMGMtNDY4My00YjA3LTg3ZDAtNGY0ZGQzNGE3ZDhm

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: