Kerala’s Innovation Hubs give Power to Ideas

Ideas have the power to transform dreams to reality. As India’s iconic former president, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam said “Innovation opens up new vistas of knowledge and new dimensions to our imagination to make everyday life more meaningful and richer in depth and content”. The late MJ Joseph, who lived in a small village in Kannur may perhaps not have had the ability to fully comprehend the words spoken by Dr Kalam. However, he surely epitomized the spirit behind the words. A school drop-out and a small farmer, MJ Joseph was the brain behind the tree climbing machine that changed the lives of professional coconut tree climbers in the state. The simple machine that he developed increased productivity and reduced the dangers involved in climbing up coconut trees to harvest the fruit.
From Grass Roots to Hi-tech
MJ Jospeh’s innovation may have been a simple, grass root effort. But what is important is that there are several such innovators in the state and the state government has made every effort to encourage and tap this extremely valuable asset. Institutions like the Kerala Innovation Foundation have been making efforts to provide a platform for knowledge rich but economically poor people. Focusing on grass root and traditional industries, the organisation attempts to strengthen links and interactions between people in order to expand the pool of knowledge.
From tree climbing machines to developing the latest mobile apps can be quite a stretch, but that is exactly what Kerala has done. The ultra-modern infrastructure at Kochi’s Startup Village is being utilized by young entrepreneurs who are bursting with ideas. The Village is yet another platform –albeit at a different scale – provided by the state government and its agencies to tap the entrepreneurial and innovative skills of the younger generation in the state.
Today, the Startup Village is recognised as a model innovation hub. Launched in 2012, the Rs 100 crore incubator in a 15,000 sq ft campus in Kinfra High Tech Park in Kalamassery had envisaged incubating over a 1000 companies in a period of 10 years. However, so overwhelming was the response that 900 applications were received in the first two months! This indicates that young Kerala was just waiting for the right platform to get into innovative overdrive.
The New Focus
Bio 360 Life Sciences Park: Kerala is rich in herbs and has an enviable knowledge bank in traditional medicine. The state also has a highly literate and educated population. Combining these assets, the Kerala government now plans to promote Kerala as an innovation hub in the field of biotechnology. The setting up of the 260-acre Bio 360 Life Sciences Park is the first major initiative in this regard. The park will consist of research institutes, science and technology experts and corporate working together in the areas of biotechnology, nano-technology and life sciences. With a state of the art incubation centre and technology development centre, Bio 360 Life Sciences Park is geared to play host to the best brains and talent in the industry.
KSEB Innovation Hub: Given the power paucity in Kerala, the Kerala State Electricity Board has opened an innovation zone in the Startup Village. The idea is to explore new ideas and technology that can help solve the state’s power crisis. The innovation zone provides space to nearly 100 young entrepreneurs to incubate their ideas.
Kerala’s success in fostering innovations has been the result of sustained efforts to build up a responsive ecosystem. At the same time, industry experts have often pointed out that that the fear of failure and the resistance to change – that were the main reasons for stymieing Kerala’s innovative spirit in the past – still remains. One way to ensure that these stumbling blocks are removed is to inculcate the spirit of innovation and experimentation at the school level curriculum. This will ensure that educated youngsters will begin to think of themselves as job creators and not job seekers!