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Innovation, entrepreneurship and an Atmanirbhar Bharat

Are we doing enough to promote and sustain innovation ecosystem in India?

Published: Jan 11, 2021 09:23:04 AM IST
Updated: Jan 11, 2021 01:37:39 PM IST

Innovation, entrepreneurship and an Atmanirbhar BharatImage: Shutterstock

Due to current COVID crisis, economies across the globe are showing contraction. But many are considering this as an opportunity to launch innovative products and solutions. The businesses in post COVID world will operate quite differently and there is huge scope for innovation.

If India has to bounce back and then leapfrog, then we need to encourage startup’ and businesses based on innovative concepts. Undoubtedly, innovation, economic growth and social development are intertwined. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has stated that a self-reliant India would be absolutely essential in the Post-COVID 19 world and would be based on five pillars - Economy, Infrastructure, System, Demography, and Demand.

So the million dollar question we really need to ask is whether we are doing enough to promote and sustain innovation ecosystem in India? I sincerely believe that much needs to be done but we are definitely on right track.

Global Innovation Index
How far have we come on the path of innovation? Recently, the Cornell School of Business, in collaboration with INSEAD and World International Patent Organization (WIPO), announced the Global Innovation Index for 2020 (GII-2020). It presented the annual innovation ranking of 131 countries in which, India ranked 48 from 81 in 2015. This is due to various measures taken by the government.

The GII ranking indicates the innovation capability of a nation. The leaders in Innovation often have a balance among the different areas of their innovation system, like knowledge creation, exploration, application and impact of innovation. The GII report gives valuable insight into a nation’s innovation strategy based on various innovation indicators. We rank high on some of the parameters, but low on others. For example, our research output has increased substantially; India is now ranked 3rd in research publications.

Government Initiatives
The Government of India has taken many initiatives in the last few years to drive the nation on the path of innovation and creating a conducive ecosystem. Some of these are - Start-up India, Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations (AGNIi), ASPIRE scheme, Smart City Mission, Uchchatar Avishkaar Yojana, Make In India, Start-up India Initiative, Atal Incubation Centre (AIC), Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), Atma Nirbhar Bharat. Worth special mention are schemes for women entrepreneurs (WEP). It also provides financial support for the step from innovation to commercialization and extends various fiscal concessions to industry. All these efforts should soon lead the country into becoming the global innovation and knowledge hub.

Another initiative is the Central Government’s New Education Policy 2020. This path-breaking policy has provisions for some radical changes. Its pivotal focus is on optimizing use of resources, academic flexibility, critical thinking, experiential learning, interactive classrooms, integrated pedagogy, inter/transdisciplinary approach for competency, and outcome-based student-centric 21st century education. This is expected to spur applied learning, innovation and an entrepreneurial culture in the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The Government is now in the process of framing its Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020). These policies are expected to create an atmosphere conducive for innovation.

Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA)
Considering our potential and necessity to innovate, the Ministry of Education, Government of India has launched a unique annual ranking programme Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA), in 2018, to systematically rank all higher education institutions in India based on their innovation achievements and on campus start-up ecosystems. ARIIA focuses on quality of innovation and tries to measure the real impact created by the innovations. ARIIA ranking is expected to inspire HEIs to reorient their mind-set and restructure their programmes; as well as create ecosystems to encourage high quality research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Government of India had announced the first ARIIA awards in April 2019. Many technical HEIs applied for the ARIIA ranking to showcase their achievements and pitch in the innovation space. However, there were only a few submissions for the ARIIA ranking from the non-technical HEIs. The main reason can be attributed to the fact that many non-technical institutions perceive innovation to be the domain of only science and technology institutions. The few Non-technical institutions which had applied were not successful as they were not able to score in some of the parameters of ARIIA.

It is important to understand that innovation is not restricted to the faculty of Science and Technology. Innovative devices, processes, practices, and ideas can have a myriad interdisciplinary and multi-sectorial applications. The faculties of Humanities, Commerce, and Management also have several opportunities to collaborate, innovate and translate ideas into commercial products, optimized systems, and processes. Interdispiclinarity is the buzz word today. Unlike in the past, disciplines can no longer flourish in water-tight compartments.

Thus, this year the Innovation Cell of the MHRD, Government of India, constituted a committee, under my Chairmanship, to design the ARIIA framework for non-technical institutions. It was generally agreed that the parameters with respect to which the evaluations of the HEIs would be done will remain the same for technical and non-technical institutions. However, different weightages are assigned to them with respect to technical and non-technical institutions. The parameters are: Academic Programmes related to Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Developing an Innovation and Entrepreneurial set-up, Infrastructure and facilities to promote I & E activities, Generation of innovations and their implementation, Fund/Investment mobilised to support Innovation, IP generated and commercialized, Expenditure on innovation and revenue generated through IP exploited. It is expected that this would enable non-technical institutions to not only apply for ARIIA ranking but also provide them a more level playing field.

However, one of the challenges will be to create awareness regarding the importance of innovation amongst the faculty members of non-technical HEIs. It is the responsibility of University and college management and leadership to orient teachers through training and workshops on the need for innovation across domains and the need for the protection of intellectual property. This re-orientation is expected to percolate to both undergraduate and post graduate students.

The Government of Maharashtra too has taken many initiatives to promote the culture of innovation. It declared its State Innovation and Start-up Policy and has set up a nodal government agency, Maharashtra State Innovation Society (MSInS), to boost innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state. The society aims to foster innovative approaches and create conducive environment for innovative businesses to operate in Maharashtra. It is providing support at multiple levels to the start-up ecosystem. It gives limited work orders to successful start-ups and provides a state-wide network. It provides mentorship and financial support to women entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas to saleable and sustainable businesses. It is a platform to propose innovative business ideas to address problems faced by local communities and districts. MSInS also provides financial assistance to start-ups for filing patents and for lab testing for product launches.

Initiatives by HEIs
HEIs not only provide skilled manpower for the Industry and Society, but can also significantly boost innovation, incubation and an entrepreneurial culture. For India to improve on the GII and emerge as a global innovation hub, the HEIs must develop a suitable sustainable innovation ecosystem and convert research into innovation. This ecosystem will inspire and nurture young students by exposing them to new ideas and processes, resulting in innovative activities. Campus innovation should boost start-ups and entrepreneurship, in turn, leading to creation of new jobs. They can design and decide on the regional innovation strategies, identifying thrust areas. Universities should synergise generation of collective innovation assets by facilitating IPR creation, interdisciplinary engagements, collaborations, incubations and new jobs. HEIs are thus a part of an innovation system.

The University of Mumbai with the support of Maharashtra State Innovation Society (MSInS) has started a not-for-profit (Section 8), start-up incubation organization called, “MU-IDEAS Foundation” with the objective of establishing a start-up culture that encourages innovative ideas and transforms innovative ideas into viable businesses. It aims to promote setting up of start-ups and support them during their pre-incubation, incorporation, and operations phases to enable the creation of successful businesses, through mentoring, advising and making available the facilities of the University.

Crises are very often a source of creativity and innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic has paradoxically thrown up several avenues of innovation and enterprise such as in areas like education, marketing, retailing, communication, IT among others. There are abundant possibilities for innovation in fields such as environment, health, agriculture, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing and nanotechnology. We should utilise government incentives to promote the most innovative of these ideas.

All stake holders, governments, educationists, academicians and students should come together to develop an ecosystem of innovation, incubation and start-ups. Let us engender learners who question, innovate and try to satisfy the unmet needs of society and industry. Let us leverage on the demographic advantage of Young India. We can merge our efforts and work towards the creation of an “Atma Nirbhar Bhart - a self-reliant India”.

-     The article has been contributed by Prof. Suhas Pednekar, Vice Chancellor University of Mumbai & Acting Vice Chancellor, Dr. Homi Bhabha State University (First Cluster University in the State of Maharashtra)

[This article has been reproduced with permission from Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool)]

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