Global Themes

On Globalization & Venture Capital

Bleeding-edge Tech + Grassroots Applications = High-impact Innovation

I was very fortunate to be part of the UKTI Delegation at the “Mind to Market” conference that concluded in New Delhi yesterday (6th Dec).

India is “hot” these days and so is innovation and entrepreneurship. But this was not always so. As good friend, Shai Vyakarnam mentioned in his talk, an event like this would have been unthinkable even as recently as five years ago.

Innovation may have been stifled during the license-permit raj but entrepreneurship never died in India.

In fact one of the great advantages that India has today – as it opens its economy – is the large number of home-grown entrepreneurs – not yet savvy enough to compete in global markets, but certainly having the right attitude to risk-taking and the right genes to innovate.

Shai also talked about the “Cambridge Phenomenon” and mentioned Hermann Hauser as well as Amadeus Capital was nice.

I heard several examples of relatively low-level technology applied to very high-value situations. One of them a very neat idea to prevent high-speed train collisions by deploying a network of micro-processors (“RakshA Kavach”) fitted on coaches and locomotives to comprise an Automatic Collision Detection & Prevention system.

In Punjab where they used to have 10-15 accidents every season at level crossings, the accident rate was brought down to zero after deploying the system and it is now being rolled out across the entire rail network (second largest in the world) over the next 6-7 years.

Another idea I heard about was a high-intensity plasma torch to burn medical waste (at 2000c) without any residue or harmful smoke/gases…but the best one was “cutlery that can be eaten” (not just edible but also “nutritious”!) – more on this in the next post.

At the Valedictory Session, Dr Mashelkar was at his inspiring best. One of his bold predictions (re. India vs. China) was that India would eventually overtake China because of the 3Ds – Democracy, Diversity and Demographics.

Democracy and Diversity foster creativity and create the necessary conditions for innovation & entrepreneurship to flourish; democracy underpins the ability to think and act freely; demographics support long-term growth. This is sort of what he said…although his words sounded a 100 times more compelling…regardless, I think there is a lot of truth in the statement.

I believe that the best from Indian entrepreneurship is yet to come…and I think it will be first evident at the middle and the bottom of the pyramid.

C K Prahalad's Pyramid Indian companies and products (to cite just three examples: the 2cents sanitary napkin, the $100 computer and the $4 jeans) that are being created to uniquely cater to the large number of consumers in this segment have the potential to dominate global markets in these demographics …and from these will spring the future titans of Indian industry.


Last word: Indians are not necessarily smarter than others – but there are a lot of them! (Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Dy Chairman, Planning Commission)


December 7th, 2006 Posted by | Delegations, Emerging Markets, Entrepreneurship, Europe and Asia, India | 2 comments


  1. Shantanu, very interesting post!

    I think innovation can come not just in product offering but product packaging, manufacturing, distribution channels etc all of which have an impact on cost, hence price and affordability.

    India was the home of the orginal ‘micro-payment’ driven product package, e.g. the shampoo sachet (for the daily-wages or ‘dihari’ worker, who wants cleaner hair than could result from using traditional mix of reetha-shikakai, but without having to shell out for a huge bottle of shampoo), the Public Call Office or PCO – when thanks to the licence raj, getting a landline was harder than running up and down the Valley of Flowers – so that people could call others without incurring that monthly rental costs etc and it also generates many micro-entrepreneurs who owned and ran these PCOs.

    India is also home to some of the best-run cooperatives such as Sri Mahila Griha Udyog (Lijjat), Amul (various products and branded goods – they pioneered pasteurised milk in a poly-pouch) and Sewa (I have mixed views on them, having lived in Lucknow and met some of their owner-workers).

    Pure social entrepreneurship also had its pioneers, such as Rippan Kapoor who founded Child Relief and You. Then there were educational foundations such as Eklavya, and now of course there are Pratham, Asha, and Ekal that you mentioned the other day.

    I think because there are so many, there will always be ideas, entrepreneurs and profits to be made.

    Comment by Shefaly Yogendra | December 7, 2006

  2. Shantanu, I thought your blog readers might be interested in this story on Guy’s blog today about an Afghan woman entrepreneur.


    Comment by Shefaly Yogendra | December 14, 2006

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