Fuelling inclusive innovation

India’s appetite for technology and innovation truly straddles the pyramid–from business professionals in major metros to rural workers across India. At the same time, the case for inclusive innovation has never been stronger. The middle class is set to grow and carry discretionary spending power of USD 1.532 trillion over the next 15 years. Likewise, the affluent class is poised for growth ahead of other large emerging markets, creating 24 million people that will be responsible for 20 percent of national private consumption.

The challenges, opportunities, and rewards afforded to these individuals over the next 15 years will have a dramatic impact on the societal, financial, and relative strength of India.

Inclusive innovation means many things to many people. For India, inclusive innovation represents an opportunity to unlock the creativity and business prowess of the country’s rising stars. More specifically, it’s the culmination of innovations from, for, and with India.

However research has shown that entrepreneurs in India are three-times less likely to create a new product or new market business than those of the US. With 90 percent of Indian entrepreneurs focused on improving existing products and markets, the potential for innovation is immediately reduced.

There are several soft factors which can inhibit innovation and entrepreneurship in India. These are perception of capabilities, fear of failure, and growth expectations. The hard inhibitors of innovation in India relative to other markets are per-capita income, red-tape, national and international tariffs, and respect for intellectual property.

Also, many of India’s aspiring entrepreneurs in ICT have trained their sights on the US and Western European markets. Targeting international markets is obviously itself not a bad thing and good for the overall economy in India, but by doing so, entrepreneurs are adding significant pressures and complications to the already difficult task of starting a venture. This challenge is further heightened as the cost arbitrage model starts to dissipate and entrepreneurs are forced to compete on innovation in an environment where they’re not intimately familiar.

Although there certainly is no silver bullet to tackle the soft and hard inhibitors for innovation in India, each of the above is significantly mitigated when the entrepreneur targets the domestic market–particularly as Indians are 15 percent more likely to experiment with new innovations than the US or China. When such a hungry test bed for innovation exists locally, why do the country’s best ICT innovators remain focused abroad?

Through research and a constant flow of feedback from investors, entrepreneurs, and software partners, Microsoft has identified six broad areas that would have a dramatic impact on the number of entrepreneurs innovating in ICT for the domestic market. These areas are: India-specific practical guidance for aspiring entrepreneurs, financial incentives for domestic innovators, incubation infrastructure, proactive campaigns to empower entrepreneurs from underrepresented minorities, seed funding and IP leadership and enforcement.

India has millions of science, technology, engineering, and management students, making it a hot bed for the world’s most innovative ventures. However, many of these students are not employable, which means they do not possess the skills that made them industry and workplace ready. Microsoft has been focusing on imparting such skill sets to students to improve their employability quotient. At the same time, it is also mobilizing these students to innovate. Year after year, thousands of students across India in the fields of science, technology, engineering, management, and design participate in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition. With this contest, students have an opportunity to compete with like-minded peers and be recognized for their technical abilities by industry leaders and academics. The finalist teams compete in nine categories including Software Design, Embedded Development, Web Development, Project Hoshimi (Programming Battle), IT Challenge, Algorithm, Photography, Short Film and Interface Design.

Over the years, Imagine Cup has grown from strength-to-strength. After the Imagine Cup takes places, students have the opportunity to turn their ideas into reality. The Imagine Cup Innovation Accelerator is a unique opportunity for the top five Imagine Cup finalists from the software design competition to harness their exceptional talents and take their ideas a step closer to commercial reality. The program is designed to inspire new generations of students to apply their skills and creativity to make a difference, both globally and locally, through technology. In India, the program is implemented in partnership with the Center for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship at IIM-A.

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