Innovative India: Setting the wheels in motion

“India is a good example of how policy is improving the innovation environment. In some dimensions - such as ICT services exports and creative goods exports - India is starting to excel”, says the Global Innovation Index 2016. India’s ascent to the 66th rank in the Global Innovation Index (2016) from the 81st rank reflects the changing times in the country, which can be attributed to the thrust given to R&D, significant improvement in research output from universities,  and the growing number of young graduates in science and technology.

The launch of the NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), as a part of the Union Budget 2015-16, can be viewed as a positive step towards creating a conducive environment for innovation. The Mission is purposed at ‘promoting a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in India’, with an initial fund of Rs. 1.5 billion (roughly $22,400,000). The Expert Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship under AIM published a report in August 2015, examined the prevailing entrepreneurship culture in India. It put forward short-term, medium-term, and long-term recommendations to further boost innovation.

One of the key recommendations of the report is establishing Tinkering Labs across the country to create an environment that enables youngsters to pursue their ideas of innovation. NITI Aayog is working towards this direction by setting a target to establish 500 Atal Tinkering Laboratories in schools by working in collaboration with private players and state education departments.

“Innovation Challenges” have been a successful means, adopted across several governments around the globe, in encouraging young talent to find innovative solutions and find solutions to meet the problems faced by society. The Expert Committee report too highlighted the need to ‘Incentivize Innovation’, based on which, NITI Aayog launched the “Grand Innovation Challenge”. The first phase of the Challenge has been hosted on the Government of India’s citizen engagement and crowdsourcing platform, MyGov, in April 2016, which will be followed by multiple other phases. India’s Department of Science and Technology, also launched Innovation Challenges, in collaboration with the private sector, to seek easy-to-use solutions for social good.  Similarly, the Ministry of Defence also embraced this approach to seek collective intelligence to design a War Memorial and War Museum. Furthermore, solutions to the most critical problems in the Indian Railways will also be sought through an Innovation Challenge. The Ministry of Railways has set aside a sum of Rs. 500 million (roughly $7,500,000) for providing innovation grants (as announced in its annual budget earlier this year).

It is, however, interesting to note that one of the first challenges thrown open to citizens at large in India by the Government was the design and development of the Prime Minister’s Office Mobile App.  The contest was divided into 3 phases-  idea phase, wireframe phase and development phase. The winning team was selected out of the top 5 teams who had presented the best wireframes for the app. A few months back, the winning mobile app was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who also felicitated the team of youngsters who developed it.

Apart from Atal Innovation Mission, the “Startup India” initiative launched by the Government earlier this year has given innovators and budding entrepreneurs across the country many reasons to cheer. Firstly, the Scheme for Startup Intellectual Property Protection (SIPP), under the Startup India Action Plan, aims at assisting innovators in filing IP (Intellectual Property) at lower costs through a panel of facilitators. This will not only simplify the patent filing process for entrepreneurs but also protect their innovations in early stages of development. A Status Report on Startup India dated on 18th October 2016 has confirmed that the panel of facilitators has been created in accordance to the Action Plan and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion would bear the entirety of facilitation costs. Secondly, to complement the efforts under Atal Innovation Mission, Startup India also aims to work in close coordination with Indian state governments in implementing effective policy measures to foster innovation. Several states have already launched their own state-level startup policies, thereby, facilitating another “industrial revolution” in the country.  

The Global Innovation Index 2016 ascertains India’s commitment to build a knowledge society powered by innovation but it also highlights the need for further improving the quality of education, particularly in terms of the teacher-pupil ratio. The increase in the number of citations from Indian universities is certainly an encouraging trend but is also essential for Indian Universities to progress in terms of QS World University Rankings. This must also be paired with developing the necessary skills to link education directly with innovation and entrepreneurship.

India still has a long way to go in further strengthening its Patent Regime and upgrading the existing IP laws. However, the Government, under the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy 2016, has shown a strong intent to create more awareness regarding IP laws. The resolve to promote awareness is also seen through the Government’s decision to bear the facilitation cost in applying for patents through designated facilitators under the Start-up India campaign.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are undoubtedly interwoven and yet, it is fascinating to see how the Government of India is addressing both the subjects collectively as well as individually. On the one hand, through creative approaches such as “Innovation Challenges”, various Ministries and Departments are giving an opportunity to every citizen to become a potential “innovator”. On the other hand, broader policy level decisions through AIM and Startup India are giving an impetus to innovation from “schools to start-ups”.

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in the blog are personal and do not reflect the official position or views of any entity of the Government of India