India is on the cusp of digital and technological transformations. Five years back, had you told someone that senior citizens would start using mobile apps to order cabs, food, and hotels, he/she would have laughed at you, however, this is the reality of today.
World Bank has showered praises on India after India’s displayed a record jump of 30 notches in the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey. This change in perception is also acknowledged and conceded by many global business tycoons who are looking to expand their presence in old as well as new businesses.
After coming to power, Modi government has laid lots of emphasis on new technology. Make in India is promoted through various channels, start-up entrepreneurs are invited to different forums and new policies are made to encourage entrepreneurs to join the band-wagon. Apart from this, Modi government has kept LED, Solar and E-Vehicles on top priority. Within no time, India became one of the hottest destinations for solar companies. Manufacturers across the globe started pushing their products in India.
The continuous efforts by the government have opened gates of opportunities for us, but it is equally important for us to understand whether we can tap the opportunities or not.
A study conducted by IBM states that more than 90% start-ups in India fail within 5 years. One of the most cited reasons is lack of innovation. As per the survey, 77% venture capitalists believe that Indian startups lack unique models and hence they are more prone to mimicry. This is not far from reality. Most of the Indian startups, including the best performing startups, are replicas of existing business models. India fails to create platforms like Google, Facebook or Twitter. The best minds of India are busy in copy-pasting successful service models running outside India. Due to lack of technical expertise, these models get copied very easily and then they die in the rat race.
The manufacturing segment is equally disappointing. In 2014, Indian research and manufacturing entities filed 1,428 international patent applications while Japan filed 42,381 patent applications, China filed 25,548 patent applications and South Korea filed 13,117 patent application. This is clearly reflected in the nature of businesses in India. Most of the technology-driven businesses in India are built around the trading framework in which products are purchased from China, Japan, Germany, Korea or USA and sold in India. A friend recently returned from China after visiting some of their manufacturing hubs. He was appalled to learn that many Indian manufacturing giants, who claim to manufacture products, are just importing parts from China and assembling it in India under their name. Sad truth is, even the best labs in India are filled with incompetent people who don’t inspire good researchers to stay in India.
Apart from this, many entrepreneurs fail to get rid of red-tapism and bureaucratic roadblocks. In the last few months, I have met many SMEs owners who are struggling in the claws of bureaucratic tussles. Many who have been in the business for a long time agree that there is a drastic positive change in the way government officials treat them or interact with them, but the overall process has not changed a lot. A few days back, EESL floated a huge tender for Electric Vehicle chargers. The programme was managed under the guidance of professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, who is a very respected professor from IIT Chennai. Professor Jhunjhunwala was handpicked by the Union Government to drive the 100 per cent electric vehicle (EV) dream. Sadly, the hurried process flopped before taking off. There were operational mismanagement, but even the specifications mentioned were ridiculous and very primitive compared to what other countries are using. Struggling between egos and inefficiencies, the tender ended up in a chaos.
Officials from these organizations concede that we don’t have incentive and infrastructure to create new technologies. “Don’t jump into a new business. The policies will keep changing and at the end, you will be frustrated. Wait to adopt tried and tested business models,” one of the officials told me during a discussion. He was not wrong. The system doesn’t encourage to start anything new. Any new model has to face hundreds of audits and certifications by clueless government officials.
Many brilliant solutions are proposed at different forums, of which some solutions are simple and quick. For example, the government should aggressively encourage industry-academia partnership. In most of the cases, the government announces many such programs, which fail to impress in reality. Due to lack of support and fund, most of these programs fail on ground level. Initiatives by governments to involve students fail to go beyond paper-work. From B.Tech projects to Ph.D. thesis, copy-pasting is encouraged by the public sector as well as the private sector. Intellectual Property (IP) laws are laid down, but Indian IP enforcement is very weak and ineffective. This is very demoralizing for innovators. Unless there are strong IP laws and enforcement, private players wouldn’t support new ideas. The count of good educators who can inspire others is very dismal. As long as selection processes for teachers and professors are not improved, the pool of educators will always be mediocre or bad.
Modi government has not done enough to bolster technological advancements in India. R&D and Higher education have not been given enough attention. If this continues, we may miss the train of growth again.