India’s tech-savvy students and professionals collaborate with business and government
By Suroopa Chatterjee
Open innovation is a methodology or term that has been doing the rounds of quite a few startups, entrepreneurship ventures and organizations. It is a model or system based on innovation that invites and supports collaboration with personnel and organizations outside the company.
This system may be categorized as intracompany which is within the company or intercompany that is between two or more companies. A third type seeks people who have expertise and the requisite domain knowledge and are therefore able to provide relevant inputs and the last type is publicly open involving any or all people, irrespective of previous knowledge or stature.
New technological disruptive elements like Blockchain, IoT, and AI have and are changing business processes and delivering new business models that are enriching user and employee experiences. As customer and user requirements emerge as focal points in business objectives, companies’ battle with a greater need for talent re- skilling, upskilling, importing expertise, and larger investments with collaboration surfacing as a vital factor for businesses to thrive and expand.
Open Innovation supports the thought that companies need to import external ideas along with internal ones and use external and internal paths to market. Through Open Innovation, companies’ access knowledge and talent that ultimately benefit and are profitable for all sides concerned in a win-win scenario.
India has been at the forefront of digitization and innovations across diverse fields. The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has been in the news for the past few years for adopting Open Innovation initiatives. It set up its first ever open innovation center with focus on smart city development and organizing open innovation hackathons.
To tackle problems in agriculture, internet safety and water supply the state invited young minds to a hackathon in 2016 called Sunrise Open Challenge Hackathon (SOCH) involving India and Israel. Hackathons were held in both countries where students, entrepreneurs and startups worked for 30 hours and came out with impressive solutions and breakthroughs. In the area of cyber security, participants from India devised an intelligent chatbot that uses visualization to identify threats and send reports and graphs to users.
In the area of drinking water, the winner came out with an electronic water conditioner with activated filter media that neutralized the bonding ability of minerals in water with a series of controlled modulating high frequency waveforms.
In the Agri challenge the winner innovated with an AI driven seed-centric data collection solution that aids farmers with marketing, subsidies, insurance and credit with the ultimate aim of integrating stakeholders — namely farmers, seed-distribution centers, government and other bodies — under one umbrella.
The Israeli side winner developed a system that enabled modification of IoT technology with cloud computing. The second winner brought out a system for disinfecting and decontaminating water through water shield technology and the third winner invented a technology that reduced chemical fertilizer use by 30–50%.
In 2019, leading consultancy company Capgemini also launched its Tech Challenge to address and innovate solutions to India’s poor water quality. It invited participants to use emerging technologies to improve water quality. The winning team developed an app for effective water conservation by providing a solution that utilized analytics, IoT, AI, and the cloud to help track water consumption, prevent water leakage, and allow water treatment across industrial, commercial and domestic usage.
While it’s not certain whether the app had large-scale application and development opportunities, the company’s 2017 open innovation contest was a success as winners invented a prototype app to address missing children across India. Later, the app was transformed into ReUnite, a real app that is available on Android stores. Such hackathons also help larger companies to identify potential candidates for recruitment as these collaborative sessions often serve as pools of talent that minimizes talent search in normal campus HR exercises.
Recently IncubateHub, a Bengaluru based open innovation platform founded in 2016, announced that it is about to launch nine thematic, demand-driven programs for corporate and startups where they would co-create solutions and market strategies in partnership with early-stage investor venture catalysts and accelerator fund 9 Unicorns.
According to one of the key founders Rajiv Mukherjee, open innovation is the future. Firms like his are helping ecosystem stakeholders to implement ideas, test, pivot and launch services and products which are globally scalable. The firm, which started with three corporate projects in 2016, has successfully executed around 480 open innovation programs with over 76 companies and conducted over 986 paid pilot projects.
Last year it onboarded 86 startup partners and helped secure 280-million Rupees of paid pilot projects, six of which have graduated to long term vendor contracts. In 2021 the firm launched an SaaS platform, first of its kind in Asia for managing open innovation programs, global corporate programs for prominent brands like Mondelez, P&G, Telstra in Singapore, the Philippines, Egypt, Australia, Eastern Europe, LATAM, and North America.
International companies are also getting involved, Plug and Play LLC, a globally important early-stage investor, accelerator, and corporate innovation platform announced that it will be launching operations in India during the first quarter of 2022. It has 35 office locations across the world and will now be adding Hyderabad to the list. As the Managing Director of the company’s German branch Sascha Karimpour remarked, “India has incredible potential. By combining the corporate and startup ecosystems and bringing India’s IT know-how to the mix, great things can be built here and be scaled internationally like never before.”
Also in recent times, with the goal of co-creating and co-innovating through knowledge sharing between India and Japan, the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad and Suzuki Motor Corporation signed a three-year contract to start the Suzuki Innovation Centre (SIC), which will serve as a platform for open innovation among industries, academia and startups. In this way the center would support skill development and the exchange of human resources between India and Japan.
Another big name in the electronics industry, SONY, has also established Sony Research India to foster partnerships with Indian university faculty and develop Indian research talent. Naoyuki Onoe, Associate Director of Sony Research India is pleased with the collaboration, affirming: “we believe such Open Innovation with excellent professors will enable Sony to create new technologies for India by combining academic research with our industrial expertise.”
In 2016 the Government of India focused on innovation by starting the concept of organizing a Hackathon at a national level, following which Smart India Hackathon (SIH) was launched. Presently SIH is considered the world’s biggest hackathon with the largest open innovation model. SIH is a national initiative with the involvement of more than 50 government agencies, numerous education institutes, as well as lakhs of students and professionals.
The aim was to connect young talent pools in projects directly connected with national development that would bring out innovative ideas which were out-of-the-box yet implementable. After the success of SIH and encouraging response from participants, in 2018 the Ministry of Education set up an Innovation Cell. There was also an appointment of Chief Innovation Officer who would catalyze educational institutions to push for innovation and an entrepreneurial environment.
The ASEAN-India Hackathon was also organized following the success of the Singapore one where ten countries participated and appreciated India’s initiative. Presently, a UNESCO-India-Africa Hackathon is being contemplated with preparation by all sides. The event envisions the participation of 25 African nations, in which regions India aims to help build innovative systems.