Innovations: Narrowing down to focus areas

by Editorial

Innovative ideas have always been in demand. These testing times may have just about provided an opportunity to examine new pathways. Pathways — that may lead to transformational change in innovations and entrepreneurships, as envisioned by the current leadership.

There have been greater efforts to inculcate the culture of innovations and entrepreneurships lately. Introducing suitable policies, establishing central coordinating agency and mobilising resources, are all part of such efforts. The process was initiated earlier when the decade commencing 2010 was declared, the “Decade of Innovation” by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This was carried forward by including the innovation in Science and Technology policy in 2013, with an aim to broadly link science, technology and innovation to socio-economic priorities. Subsequently, the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) was set up in 2016, under the aegis of NITI Aayog by the present government. Besides promoting the innovations and entrepreneurship, the AIM was envisaged as the umbrella organisation to ensure the alignment of policies between Centre, state and sectoral innovation schemes.

A very sincere approach, with several initiatives at all the conceivable levels, has resulted in innovative culture gaining traction. The annual assessment of the Global Innovation Index, being jointly evaluated by the Cornell University, French Business School INSEAD and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), ranked India 52nd in 2019, out of a total of 129 countries. The ranking is based on 80 indicators covering such factors as education spending, scientific & technical publications, intellectual property claims and mobile application creation. India has been steadily improving its position since 2015 when it was ranked 81st. The current ranking marks an improvement of five positions over the previous year.

The competition is inevitably going to get stiffer, as India jostles to get into the league of most innovative nations. Revisiting the strategy to negotiate the steep climb ahead will help in consolidating the advantages accrued so far. Besides drawing appropriate lessons from success stories elsewhere, country specific strengths will have to be exploited to the hilt.

One of the effective ways to accelerate the ongoing efforts would be through augmented focus in carefully shortlisted areas. Concerted effort in select areas will place India in a lead position globally in specific technologies or products and create employment opportunities by encouraging manpower intensive manufacturing industry. Selection of a narrow bandwidth of focus areas, culled out of the broad themes already spelt out by NITI Aayog, will pave the way for achieving specific targets in a finite time. Impetus to innovative startups, to establish technological lead in specific sectors and promoting manufacture, would also be in sync with the strategic national objective of self-reliance.

 There are lessons from countries, which have successfully combined their strengths with innovative approach to get enviable outcome. Israel is one of the fine examples of a country, which very cleverly identified a handful of sectors a few decades back, with a clear objective of establishing a globally commanding position. The objective was achieved emphatically and consequently Israel’s domination in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, communication and Electronic Warfare Equipment cannot be challenged easily, in near future. Israeli’s were also quick to realize the future of 3D technology and today at least two of their 3D industries feature amongst the top ten in the world. Similarly, Switzerland is another leading country in innovations, consistently scoring high on innovation scale. Switzerland has less than one quarter of the Indian R&D budget but files nearly fifty times more patents than India annually.

 The challenges in this area for India are obvious with an unfavorable population figure, since the assessment is based on the patents per million. Competition has already been recognised by NITI Aayog, as a proactive tool to encourage widespread participation in the innovations drive. The scope of competition may also include number of patents claimed by an institution. All the laboratories and technical institutions will have to be exhorted for focus on claiming patents as never before. A generous incentivisation scheme may also help motivate all the stakeholders. The endeavors of agencies excelling be suitably acknowledged. The shortlisting of technologies for critical attention may commence with the AI, where India has made substantial progress and is in the reckoning to be amongst the leading nations. This may have to be supplemented with few more core technologies for all out national focus.

As for manufacturing centric innovative startups, these may include manpower intensive industries like food processing, textile and apparels. As per rough estimates, only about 1/8th of the employed population in India is working in manufacturing sector. India being the second largest producer of food grains, fruits and vegetables; food processing should be one of the natural choices for any startup. However, currently, share of food processing industry in employment is limited to a modest 12%. Dairy industry should be of particular interest, since it is under threat from market invasion from countries like New Zealand. The encouraging upsurge in export of dairy products in FY19 with an increase of 126% as compared to the previous FY is only indicative of the untapped potential. India is ranked 36th by value of dairy product export and is way too far from leading exporting countries like Germany, New Zealand and Netherland. Apparel is another area with huge market and an extremely favorable ratio of job to investment. Several countries in our region like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar are exploiting the apparel industry very gainfully.

 A dedicated institute for honing the innovation, as a separate skill set, may help cultivate right kind of human resources. In addition, the concept of Public Private Partnership (PPP) be utilised to integrate the corporates in the national innovations campaign. Selection of areas for innovation along with the seed funding could be the share of government and remaining funding, driving the R&D and ownerships including IPR of the product may remain with the participant corporate. This, in a way, may also offset the long overdue funding support of R&D by corporates.

As a country, we have given a candid account of our intentions so far by encouraging innovations and entrepreneurships. However, it is time to switch gears, in line with the vision of seeking transformational change, well beyond a modest incremental pace. Identification of specific focus areas is the key, to convert the push into shove, to maximise the outcome of initiatives.

Air Marshal J.K. Singh (Retd.) was the head of Engineering and Logistics of the IAF, as the Air Officer In charge Maintenance at Air Headquarters. The data used in the article is from open sources. [email protected].

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