Innovation is the lifeblood of business; not only does it nourish but also sustain the market and is propelled by two things—to act as a solution to an existing need-gap or to act as a differentiator in a competitive market space.

Innovation remains crucial especially in the Indian context because of the heterogeneous nature of our population and the ever-changing demographics. Should start-ups and existing enterprises hope to attain success in the highly competitive Indian market, differentiation should be the focal point of their efforts. Whether it is incremental innovation in improving an existing product or service through newer technology or disruptive innovation in terms of being a pioneer in an unexplored space, the establishment of an undeniable ‘right to win’ is the most significant goal.

While several Indian start-ups have successfully created a niche in the market, there are more that flounder when it comes to thriving as opposed to simply surviving. In order to solve for that, entrepreneurs must be willing to look inward to adjudge if they are applying innovative thinking ideas not just on a large scale but also in their day-to-day operations.

We founded Marico Innovation Foundation in 2003 primarily because we felt that we could help bridge the significant gap that currently exists within the innovation ecosystem. Another reason was the fact that it fit in perfectly with Marico’s core value of constantly innovating and evolving to stay ahead.

Innovation as a sector-agnostic driver of the economy

There is certainly no dearth of sparks of innovation in India, be it in the rural or urban space. Both social organizations and businesses are recognizing the value of investing resources and time into innovation and the results have been outstanding. To take the example of the healthcare sector, Incredible Devices has developed Catheter Reprocessing System wherein the catheter costs are cut by 99%. Another path breaking innovator is Forus Health that has built a light, portable device to detect Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), preventing irreversible blindness of pre-mature babies—that too at 1/5th the size and cost of its nearest competitor, thereby giving babies a chance to see the world.

In the field of technology, MIF Awards 2018 showcased IdeaForge has revolutionized the Indian defence industry with its light weight vertical flight-taking drones, the best in its class. Another example is Tonbo Imaging, an Indian company garnering global eyeballs for their high-tech cameras and imaging systems with applications in defence and commercial driverless cars and autonomous mining trucks. All these innovations are among the eight innovations recognized at the MIF Awards 2018. We incepted MIF Awards in 2006 because we believe that such platforms play an important role to nurture unheralded innovations and also inspire a new generation of innovators in the country.

Unknown to the end user, each innovation is in fact a product of hundreds of trials and errors before the final product or service was perfected to fruition. Due to the unique nature of innovation and audacious goals that are set, it is difficult to specifically point out all the challenges that innovators face. Innovators in the social space struggle with scaling up because sometimes they are unfamiliar with the corporate skill sets required to run an organizational set up and this can hinder successful operations. On the other hand, for conventional start-ups ideating comes easily but funding is often scarce, especially if your innovation is completely novel and a first to India or the world. At the third tangent, for innovators within the corporate structure, stringent processes and line of approvals could dampen the innovator’s intrapreneurial drive.

India ranks 60th out of 127 countries on the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2017, which is a steady improvement over the years. However, when it comes to scaling and sustaining, India is far from joining the big league of innovative nations. In my experience, I have seen that achieving scale for innovations is a challenge in India. Hence, through the MIF Scale-Up programme, we closely work with innovative enterprises to solve critical business challenges so that they can pole-vault (and not just leapfrog) their innovation to scale.

As a foundation, we realized that it was essential to build an ecosystem within which innovation could flourish and hence crafted the ethos of ‘INSPIRE. IMPACT. INVOLVE.’. We believe that innovation can spur creation and sustenance of successful and enduring Indian brands. That will enable India to reposition itself as a global economic superpower.

Harsh Mariwala is founder of Marico Innovation Foundation and chairman of Marico Ltd.