Building the Pyramid

The Atal Innovation Mission is the first step towards creating a truly entrepreneurial ecosystem
In May , a committee on entrepreneurship and innovation was constituted under the auspices of the Niti Aayog to help info rm the Centre’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM). Think of the AIM as a pyramid. As one moves from the base to its pinnacle, initiatives are designed to deliver more immediate payoffs. Conversely , the base symbolises actions with long gestation periods, but with profound effects.Let’s start with the base. The most significant issue is addressing society’s scepticism about entrepreneurship. One wouldn’t realise this given the exuberance about e-commerce these days, but in the `mainstream’ of the economy , one will encounter suspicion, even distaste, evinced by the idea of entrepreneurship.

Troubling Trade

Large swathes of our political economy still view business as dhanda, as something less respectful and tainted by corruption. The suspicion translates into a `chalta hai’ attitude to entrepreneurship. This is sometimes translated to downright hostility .

Any sensible blueprint for net job creation must promote and embrace a risk-taking mindset. The defining feature of the best ventures is not whether they make money or not, but how cleverly diverse skill sets come together to address a pressing need. Entrepreneurship is synonymous with creativity . A clever venture is a thing of beauty. Creative people experiment. They often fail. It’s part of building a new enterprise. Therefore, we need to cultivate a societal tolerance for failure.In such a context, failure should be celebrated more than chastised.

Now, turn to the pyramid’s intermediate layer. Here, we need to think differently about education. These changes, while significant, can yield results in shorter time horizons than for the base layer’s changes.

The Global Innovation Index ranked India 76th (out of 143 countries) in 2014 and suggested that the education system is a primary reason why we don’t rank higher. Our system prioritises passive learning and excessive attention to rather narrow test scores. The AIM must nudge the system towards creativity .

To allow this to happen, first, problem-solving should be encouraged.The easiest way is to immerse students at all levels in projects that confront problems in their milieus. Why not apply classroom textbook-learning to addressing problems of, say , water sanitation or corruption in the immediate vicinity? Such immersion will enhance understanding.

Second, basic science literacy for all students should be fostered. Scientific thinking and elementary data literacy will affect everyone, not just career scientists. Getting humanities and commerce graduates to have a basic understanding of science cannot be a bad thing.

High school and college curricula should encourage at least a modicum of immersion in a mélange of content than continue to impart instruction in our curricular silos. This is relevant not just to the e-commerce and the mobile app ecosystem, but also to sectors more resistant to entrepreneurial efforts so far: agriculture, healthcare, education, etc.

Delhi-based Aspiring Minds recently reported that 47% of our gradu ates are unemployable in the knowl edge economy . The figure may be ch aritable. Reversing this is an urgent task, even though, given the average state of our schools, it’s not easy. No netheless, this will provide the inter mediate layer for an AIM pyramid of entrepreneurship and creativity .

Attention to hard infrastructure also lies in this intermediate layer.

The mobile phone revolution has en gulfed us all, providing a way to plug into the information economy more easily than hitherto possible. Also, the economy’s digitisation should do more of the same. One area where th ere is much promise is access to on demand online education services.

AIM for the Top

Now, for the most visible, and most immediate, top layer of the AIM py ramid. Two examples will suffice.

First, substantive and symbolic sup port to entrepreneurs can be provid ed by competitions, especially since one conventional instrument of `in centives’ through the patent mecha nism does not yet function adequate ly in the country.

Consider the `Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’ run by the Bill and Melin da Gates Foundation, in association with the department of biotechnolo gy and the Biotechnology Research Assistance Council of India. Of the . 12 six innovations that received the ` crore grant, two were startups.

The second example of a top layer initiative has to do with incubators.There is an incubator frenzy in India, which is good. Anytime there is a `new’ industry , there is enthusiasm and excess entry , and then a shakeout as the right models are identified. We should allow that to happen with the incubator industry too.

Only a handful of the hundreds of incubators up and running today are of much use. A focus on output measures, rather than just how many crores they spend each year, will help identify those towards which more funds should be directed. The rest should be retired to conserve resources. Those incubators that foster links to universities and to corporates are the ones more likely to thrive.

In turn, there’s room to start many more incubators -with specialised functions, or those in under-supported geographies -and room to get the incubators linked to each other, to nearby universities and to incumbent firms. Such actions will make the incubator ecosystem robust.

We have to address all layers of this entrepreneurship pyramid to effect systemic change. The Niti Aayog committee is merely a first brainstorming step. Hopefully , it will prove catalytic for our long march.

The writer is a professor at Harvard University, co-founder of talent assessment firm Aspiring Minds, and chairman of the Niti Aayog committee on entrepreneurship and innovation

 Source: The Economic Times


Neeraj; an entrepreneur & a visionary in the field of Railway, Defense & Automobiles, is a graduate in commerce and a Harvard Business School Alumni. He’s an expert in govt. liasoning & contracting and has an exceptional network & connections at both local as well as global level. He’s an expert in Market Strategy & Planning and has served number of overseas companies as an advisor/consultant. He takes a profound interest in upcoming startups & is very receptive towards ground-breaking ideas & innovations. He likes to brainstorm those ideas and if the values & philosophies matches; he is even ready to invest his resources, serve as a mentor or act as an incubator to futuristic businesses.

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