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The Next Wave of Innovation

The India Innovation Growth Programme identifies India’s leading entrepreneurs and, through partnerships with local and American companies and universities, gives them the tools they need to attain success. 

The search is on again, from January through April 2018, for the most cutting-edge entrepreneurs in India. They’ll apply to the India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) 2.0, the second phase of an initiative launched by Government of India’s Department of Science & Technology and the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin in 2007 with the aim of building an innovation pipeline in the country.

Since its inception, the program has been “one of the longest-standing public-private partnerships in India, having supported over 400 innovators, generating over 350 commercial agreements and close to $900 million (approximately Rs. 58 billion) of economic value,” says Nirankar Saxena, assistant secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an India Innovation Growth Programme partner. 

“Through a wide outreach campaign spreading over 100 cities across India, the program has received and evaluated over 8,000 ideas so far. IIGP has facilitated access to capital, industry partnerships and resources sought by entrepreneurs,” adds Saxena.

The shift to the second phase of the program, says Saxena, continues its missions of “Make in India” and “Startup India,” but now includes a new partnership between Government of India’s Department of Science & Technology, Lockheed Martin and Tata Trusts. Additional new partners are the Tata Center for Technology and Design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Center for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

“IIGP 2.0 aims to address the specific challenges faced by innovators in scaling their innovations. It is focused on scaling innovations with a strong societal impact as well as cutting-edge industrial innovations, by taking entrepreneurs through the stages of ideation, innovation and acceleration,” says Saxena. Consequently, the program has two tracks for applicants: the University Challenge and the Open Innovation Challenge. Each track focuses on identifying and supporting both industrial and social innovations. For both tracks, “it is vital that the applicant is able to put across the commercial viability of the innovation as well,” he adds.

The University Challenge focuses on the ideation and incubation of concepts in response to specific grand challenges that take into account technical design, market need and the design costs of the innovations themselves. It is limited to university-based teams. The Open Innovation Challenge goes “further down the innovation pipeline and caters to innovation and acceleration of concepts,” says Saxena. “The focus here is balanced between the technological innovation versus the scalability and sustainability of the business model itself.”

Finalists who make it through the first two rounds of cuts following initial selection, for both programs, travel to the United States for further mentorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In past years, India Innovation Growth Programme finalists have visited the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin and Stanford Graduate School of Business in California.

“Partnerships with these universities have helped Indian innovators and entrepreneurs learn best practices from the U.S. on innovation and technology commercialization,” says Saxena. “Over 50 incubation managers have been trained on global best practices in incubation in the United States.”

Success stories

In its 10 years of operation, the India Innovation Growth Programme has accumulated an impressive portfolio of companies. Many stand out, but Saxena describes two in particular that highlight the range of innovation the program has fostered.

Aakar Innovations has developed a 100 percent compostable and high-quality sanitary napkin, and provides these affordable pads to women and adolescent girls. The Mumbai-based company uses a unique low-cost, 

low-electricity-consuming machine with the capacity of producing 2,000 pads in 8 to 10 hours through a community-based production workforce of 12 to 16 women. No specific skills are required for operating the machine, though production supervisors get a 10-day training in topics like production, maintenance, finance and management. Aakar now has operations in Africa as well.

Then, there is the Mumbai-based Innovision (Inceptor Technologies Pvt. Ltd.). It creates assistive technology solutions to empower the 36 million blind people in the world. Innovision’s product, BrailleMe, enables users to read, type and navigate digital content in tactile form using electronically actuated pins. The company was founded by Indian Institute of Technology Bombay alumni.

With each year of the India Innovation Growth Programme, more and more entrepreneurs expand their reach, which makes a major contribution to the Indian economy and society, says Saxena.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are two strong pillars that directly contribute to a nation’s economic wealth as well as social development. We are proud that IIGP has been a pioneering initiative to foster innovation-led entrepreneurship in the country,” he says. “The program has provided Indian innovators with the much-needed capacity building, handholding and business development support to ensure successful conversion of ideas into commercial products and services.”

Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.