The scientific, technological and innovation (STI) prowess of any country is instrumental in shaping and sustaining its industrial sectors, delivering economic growth, jobs, wealth creation and ensuring a strategic edge. The unprecedented increase in the speed of scientific and technical innovation in the past couple of decades has transformed the fabric of daily life, impacting the course of economic and social development. Technology-driven and innovation-focused enterprises that form the bedrock of STI-based entrepreneurship have moved from being a buzzword to a critical component of national economic and strategic power.
Government initiatives such as the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI), Technology Development Board (TDB) and more recently Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) seek to catalyze innovation centered scientific and technological developments by synergizing the competencies of publicly-funded R&D institutions, academia, startups and the corporate sector. Built on such foundational programs, India’s current innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem is now shifting from efficiency-seeking e-commerce marketplaces to deep-tech and IP-driven innovative enterprises creating new products. There are now multiple success stories within India of young entrepreneurs identifying technologies and converting them into user-friendly products and services. While a plethora of challenges remain, young entrepreneurs are establishing the system of converting STI investments to consumer convenience and economic growth, through entrepreneurship.
In the face of a massive pandemic and the threat of unparalleled economic collapse, countries around the world embarked on a variety of measures to protect citizens – wielding novel financial, industrial, and regulatory instruments, and steering markets to develop digital technologies and pharmaceutical interventions in record time. Amidst such unexpected circumstances, the Indian S&T enterprise stood firm and aligned its efforts to address collective challenges. India developed indigenous technologies and tools to battle the pandemic and its associated problems, such as diagnostic kits, reagents, PPE kits, drug repurposing and above all, an indigenous vaccine – results of the numerous industry-academia-Government partnerships that were built quicker than ever before.
India has been a destination for low-cost, outsourced services since the late 1980s. This boosted employment and fuelled urbanization, eventually creating a trained workforce, well versed in providing nimble solutions to complex problems. In the last few years, India has leapfrogged many stages of technological development and has taken an exponential path from barely any connectivity to being the second most connected nation in the world. This technology penetration and connectivity coupled with the trained workforce empowers India to now reassert its position as a global leader in STI endeavours, and not merely a supplier of skilled technical manpower. A country’s innovation ecosystem relies heavily on knowledge exchange between academia and the commercial sector. Effective synergy between these stakeholders is key in transforming research to usable products. However, the transfer of knowledge embedded in public research organizations to tangible technology does not happen spontaneously. Acknowledging this gap and identifying systems to bridge it is critical for building an AtmaNirbhar Bharat of the future. Multiple new pathways of collaboration between industry and academia are being developed such as academia -startup co-creation, acqui-hiring by corporates, open innovation platforms, and others. There are islands of excellence such as those at IIT Madras, which thrives and excels through strong industry linkages, based on a unique ‘Credit System’ for sustaining these engagements. IISc Bangalore has instituted Society of Innovation and Development (SID) that acts as the Institute’s scientific repository and carries out engagements with industry. IIT Delhi’s innovation ecosystem has started to yield multiple employment-generating unicorn startups, as well as deep tech innovations. IIT Bombay’s SINE is a source of globally competitive STI-based startups. The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, has created an entire ecosystem around biotech, including incubation, seed and equity funding, to spur innovation in the sector. While many such institutions and their incubators have made efforts to reach out to Indian corporates, it is now incumbent on the latter to make deeper efforts to collaborate with startups, Indian public R&D system, and innovators to bring new technologies as products to the marketplace.
For India to create a critical mass of globally competitive enterprises with high-density knowledge capabilities, accessing global talent will be as important as harnessing local capabilities. India Inc should be able to sustain a network of research centres in specialized technological areas in different countries; develop a vibrant platform for learning, exchange of ideas and enable experimentation globally. This engagement with the global S&T world is imperative and inevitable for talent gathering and cutting-edge research and transformation for India as a whole.
As we reorient in context of the global challenges like post-pandemic recovery, the transition to industry 4.0, and global climate change, India is at a crucial juncture to foster a robust ecosystem of partners that develop and deploy affordable technologies. It is time for academia, startups and the corporate sector to collaborate to bring India to the front of this rapidly evolving revolution in innovation-driven entrepreneurship. The Government will be an enthusiastic partner and provide all the support needed in this effort to bring India to the global fore of deploying science in the service of citizens and improving the industry’s competitiveness.
The authors of the article are Mudit Narain, Technology Officer, Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India and K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India.
It was first published in CII Stride Journal of Technology Leadership and Innovation, December 2021 edition.