It took 18 months of research and interviews with over 450 people including venture capitalists, policymakers, professors of quantum theory and even some priests.
This study of science and innovation in Asia took researchers at Demos, a UK-based think tank, across India, South Korea and China—a journey undertaken to compile the first part of The Atlas of Ideas, a project that aims to track the changing face of innovation globally. The second part of the project will see researchers from Demos fan out to Brazil, South Africa and parts of the Islamic world.
James Wilsdon (left), head of science and innovation, and Kirsten Bound of Demos, London
In a conversation with Mint, James Wilsdon, head of science and innovation at Demos, and Kirsten Bound, researcher, Demos, explain how the ideas that shape the world in this century will come from the emerging economies in Asia, Africa and South America. Edited excerpts:
What are the factors that you see as crucial to the rise of innovation in Asian economies?
JW: China, India and Korea are becoming more significant sources of innovation as they invest more, and as is evident from the outputs measured in scientific papers and patents. In key fields such as nanoscience in China and bioinformatics in India, investments are being used to create world-class outcomes.
KB: In India, the growth in innovation is largely driven by the pool of young university graduates and transnational, non-resident Indians—an influential slice of whom are scientists, technologists and engineers. The country also has around 1.5 million active non-governmental organizations who fill the gap left by state welfare, education and health services.
From which industry segments do you see most of the innovation emerging in India?
KB: In the pharmaceutical sector, Indian companies are moving from making generic drugs and providing contract research services to creating new drugs through their own research, spending significant proportions of their sales revenue on R&D (research and development). India’s positionin bioinformatics will strengthen as biotech becomes more dependent on computation. India’s biodiversity is also a potential resource.
JW: Globally, the model of many years of research culminating in the discovery of one blockbuster drug is also changing; this provides Indian firms with more opportunities to innovate in this space.
What are the factors that you see inhibiting the growth of innovation?
KB: Education is a concern area. For instance, premier institutes such as the IITs must be set up in more centres, or else India will face a shortage of talented human resource that is employable. Innovating for the country’s low-income communities can also be a source of global competitiveness.
Which are the innovation hot spots you see as making an impact within India?
JW: India’s centres of innovation will need to build up distinctive strengths to be able to compete better; there is sometimes unnecessary duplication.
KB:Bangalore has become the role model for India, but centres such as New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai are innovative hot spots, too. But what is crucial is the emergence of second-tier cities, such as Ahmedabad and Pune, with 75% of our respondents picking (one of) these cities as one of the most interesting hot spots of innovation in India.