Schumpeter believed that the entrepreneur is the key to innovation for the entrepreneur tries to find new value for resources in an effort to grow his enterprise. The quest of this blog is to see whether and how the nature of innovation in India is changing, and its therefore useful to periodically take a look at the entrepreneurial landscape.
I profiled some interesting companies earlier like Vigyanlabs, the Mysore-based provider of energy management solutions for datacenters; Fusioncharts, a leading source of data visualization tools; and MadRat Games, the pioneer of educative Indian language board games. This blog post is devoted to three more interesting companies I came across recently.
Inc. India magazine recently did a special issue on India’s most innovative mid-sized companies. A couple of the companies profiled here come from their list.
Emmbi Industries Ltd.: Building the Right Challenge Book
Emmbi is a Rs. 140 Crore company making polyester woven sacks and other polymer-based woven products. Started by first generation entrepreneurs Makarand and Rinky Appalwar, in the mid-1990s, Emmbi is has won several awards over the years. The article on Emmbi in Inc.’s December 2013 issue gives some insight into why Emmbi has been so successful.
The article describes how Emmbi faced a problem typical of many manufacturing situations: the set-up and processing time of their manufacturing unit implied a certain minimum production run of a product for cost-effective production, so they could not accept smaller size orders even though plenty were available. They soon realized that obvious solutions like buying another piece of machinery with smaller capacity and changing the yarn after every 6-hour run were not good options. But, another experiment with the use of three specially-designed moulds allowed them to make 3 different types of yarn in parallel without shutting down for a fresh set up. This increased their flexibility to produce multiple yarns at the same time in lower quantities, meeting the demands of their customers more precisely, reducing inventory and getting better realizations. This is an excellent example of how innovation in the manufacturing process can yield increases in sales and profits.
How did this innovation happen? According to the Inc. article, this came about thanks to a concerted effort at problem solving by the engineering team in the Emmbi plant. If you read 8 Steps to Innovation, you’ll recall the importance of the Challenge Book (Identifying the right problems to solve) in the innovation process. Emmbi zeroed in on a pain point (its inability to serve smaller orders effectively), rode a wave (customers looking for specialized technical materials in small quantities) and tackled waste (inventory pile up) effectively in coming up with this innovation.
Premier Explosives Ltd.: Adversity can drive Innovation
My co-author, Vinay Dabholkar, is fond of emphasizing that innovation is driven more by curiosity than by creativity (see his nice new video). Premier Explosives is a company which has done what appears to be impressive innovation driven by adversity, and the resulting urge to solve a critical problem.
Premier Explosives is a Rs. 60 crore company run by Mr. A.N. Gupta, a veteran of the explosive industry. They have worked closely with Defence R&D projects in India. Till a few years ago, Premier was using ASA as the primary explosive for its detonators. ASA is a material commonly used for this purpose, but has drawbacks including high sensitivity and environmentally-unfriendly lead residues.
An accident in Premier’s plant in July 2012 that led to the death of two workers forced Mr. Gupta to question the wisdom of continuing to use ASA-based detonators. Premier already had access to technology for another less sensitive compound, NHN, that it had sourced from ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, but had been unable to develop a commercial process using this material. The accident acted as a trigger to Premier to undertake sandbox-style intense experimentation in a short time to tweak multiple parameters to create a viable process to make detonators using NHN. According to the Inc. article, this makes Premier one of the first companies in the world to do so, and they are filing for Indian and international patents on their technology.
Mr. Gupta attributes his company’s ability to innovate to Premier’s focus on involving people in the decision-making process, and transparency of functioning.
Trimed: Ready for business model exploration
On a recent visit to Chennai, I had the privilege of visiting Trimed’s main centre just off Anna Salai at Teynampet. One of Trimed’s founders is an old friend, Raghu Venkatnarayan (when we were together at IIMA, I never expected that Raghu would become a serial entrepreneur, but that’s exactly what he has turned out to be!). Trimed defies easy description – it’s not a spa (though it offer some things in common), it’s not a hospital and it’s not just a clinic. Instead, Trimed is trying to re-define holistic and integrative healthcare.
The heart and soul of Trimed, is an eminent neurologist, Dr. Ennapadam Krishnamoorthy. His qualifications and achievements fill up a whole wall and are prominently displayed at the Trimed main centre I visited. In treating patients with symptoms of acute stress and many of the occupational hazards of modern life, he realized that the required treatment was rarely medication alone. In addition to counselling, therapies like Yoga, physiotherapy, and Ayurveda could often be of help. But most doctors were often unwilling to use these approaches and even if they were willing, the patient would find it difficult to obtain high quality treatment in these areas. This is the niche that Trimed fills.
I was impressed by the novelty of the idea. But like all products and services that are different from the existing dominant model, Trimed now faces the challenge of exploring different business models (Step 6 of our 8 Steps model) to discover how to convert this integrative approach into a sustainable business proposition.
Though India is usually seen as a place for IT innovation, some of the most exciting innovation may be happening in companies such as Emmbi, Premier and Trimed. I look forward to discovering more such companies in the times ahead.
[The views expressed here are the personal views of the author.]