Nurturing Innovation, IP creation and Entrepreneurship: The role of Government – A Kerala perspective
At a time when entire economies and industries are coming out of the global economic crisis, business leaders are struggling to balance the near-term needs of survival with the long-term demand to find new sources of growth. Never has the need to innovate and be entrepreneurial been more urgent.
The connection between innovation, creation of intellectual property (IP) and economic growth is time-honored. Beginning with the work of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow in the 1950s – itself built on the economic theories of scholars such as Joseph Schumpeter, who coined the phrase “creative destruction” to describe the demise of established organizations and the birth of new ones – and culminating in modern Keynesian and supply-side theories, economic models generally view innovation as a key factor in economic success. “The largest single factor explaining economic growth is … the ability to extract greater economic value from advances in science and technology,” writes Maryann Feldman, Professor of Business Economics at the University of Toronto and a leading researcher on innovation and economic development, in her research study The Significance of Innovation (2004). Feldman makes an important distinction between innovation and invention: “Invention is about discovery and the creation of something novel that did not previously exist. Innovation, on the other hand, carries invention further with the commercial realization of the value of the invention or the receipt of an economic return.” After all, Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb: he discovered the filament that could supply light reliably – what was required to make the light bulb commercially viable.
Because innovations have sparked broad economic and social change, it is easy to look at them as great, almost autonomous forces that shape the world. In fact, they usually stem from entrepreneurial enterprises. What’s notable about today’s economy is that entrepreneurial-minded enterprises are growing with incredible speed and quickly entering the ranks of the world’s largest corporations. Innovation is critical to maintaining and sustaining market leadership. When considering the lifecycle of a business and its various stages (start-up, rapid growth, mature, stagnant), it is important to note that organizations approaching the mature/stagnant categories must constantly innovate to sustain high demand, high margins and high growth. For large, established companies, innovation can be a double-edged sword. Some corporations such as 3M and Hewlett-Packard have built their corporate culture around innovation. Not surprisingly, one of the major impediments to innovation at large companies is their tendency to overvalue their own products and strategies.
Entrepreneurship – The Kerala way:
Kerala is acknowledged globally for its unique heritage and cultural diversity. Kerala, though a small State, occupying just 1.18% of total area of India, leads the country in many development parameters like highest literacy rate, highest life expectancy, lowest infant mortality and lowest maternal mortality rates. The State with its high development indicators on the social front has been spearheading its way into the knowledge based industry like IT/ITES, Telecom, Space Technology and Biotechnology. The new generation of Kerala youth is having a global outlook due to access to computers, internet and smartphones from a very early age unlike their previous generations. This early exposure to technology has created a mindset shift in the younger generation who are more confident in staying back in Kerala and venturing to a path of entrepreneurship to create employment, knowledge and wealth in the society. One noticeable aspect of this momentum shift has been the Government support for innovation based entrepreneurship in the state.
Kerala Government has been a facilitator in creating an enabling environment that supports economic growth based on innovation and entrepreneurship. Governments, which are often viewed as most effective when they stay out of the business sector’s way, actually play an important role in nurturing and protecting one of their most important engines of growth — Entrepreneurs. Individual government policies toward entrepreneurship and innovation vary widely, but the consensus among policy-makers and academics is that without a favorable market and regulatory environment, innovation cannot stoke economic growth.
In Kerala, the Government is setting up a precedent of encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, from schools, colleges to the industry. Supporting policies are being put in place for encouraging entrepreneurship and forging global partnerships to facilitate mobility of innovations from the state to a global market place, including the creation of IP. The author is proud to lead these initiatives at the government level.
Technology Business Incubators in Kerala
The Government of Kerala has been taking active steps to provide necessary back-up support including infrastructure and finances to young entrepreneurs in the State by setting up Technology Business Incubators (TBIs). The success of the TBI in Technopark, Trivandrum is a proud story for Kerala. Having started with only one company in 2006, the Technopark TBI has now grown to over 180 young start-up companies which generate over $30 million in revenues and over 4500 employment opportunities. Other prominent TBIs in Kerala include the one at Startup Village, Kochi and those at National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode; College of Engineering, Trivandrum; and the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology.
The Startup Village in Kochi, which is India’s first public-private-partnership model TBI, has come to symbolise the Kerala government’s vibrant initiatives in encouraging entrepreneurship. Launched in 2012 and modeled on the Silicon Valley technological incubators in the United States, the Village aims to incubate a 1000 start ups over the next 10 years. Launched with a mere 15,000 square feet of incubation space in 2012, the tremendous response (around 450 companies presently on incubation mode) has resulted in a scaling up of the infrastructure. One of the stated aims of setting up the Startup Village was to enable the creation of a billion dollar tech giant in Kerala. With this in mind, young entrepreneurs are provided with the entire needed infrastructure – including office space at minimal rent, 1Gbps internet connectivity, access to investors, mentors & advisers as well as legal and intellectual property services.
In Kerala, Government facilitates entrepreneurship by providing affordable infrastructure to young entrepreneurs to develop products and solutions for a global market. As part of this policy, world class infrastructure in the form of technology parks was built to facilitate entrepreneurial activities. Apart from this the Government policies in Kerala facilitated cooperation and collaborations between local entrepreneurs and organizations across the borders through trade delegations and networking platforms. Globally for the first time, the Government has come out with a Student Entrepreneurship Scheme which encourages students to partake in entrepreneurship activities while in college.
IP creation and its protection play a key role in gaining an advantageous position in the competitive technological game for achieving economic growth. A Patent Facilitation Cell has been functioning at the state level, as a satellite centre of the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. The Patent Facilitation Cell aims to increase the intellectual property output of the State through awareness generation, as well as providing pro bono IP assistance to new innovators in the filing of patent applications from the State of Kerala. The Cell also provides financial assistance to grass root innovators for the purpose of obtaining patent for their ideas/ innovations.
A dynamic economy, which is innovative and able to create jobs, will require a greater number of young people who are willing and able to become entrepreneurs – young people who will launch and successfully develop their own commercial or social ventures, or who will become innovators in the wider organisations in which they work. Because education is the key to shaping young people’s attitudes, skills and culture, it is vital that entrepreneurship education is addressed from an early age. Entrepreneurship education is thus essential not only to shape the mindsets of young people but also to provide the skills and knowledge that are central to developing an entrepreneurial culture.
With this in mind, the Government of Kerala plans to embed creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship into education systems, right from the school level through appropriate curriculum revision. Student bodies (Startup Bootcamp) will be established in every college in Kerala to foster innovation and entrepreneurial spirit among students. This will provide a new platform to students, on campus, to ideate and innovate, and in turn translate their innovative ideas into feasible business plans.
To further catapult them into innovative enterprises, more Technology Business Incubators (TBIs) and Technology Innovation Zones are envisaged, both in public and private sectors, as also in engineering colleges and technical institutions across the State. By providing pre-seed funding, mentoring, IP creation assistance and access to business and technical resources, these assist young innovators and entrepreneurs in growing their early-stage companies.
In addition to these, Fab Labs will be set up in the TBI at Technopark, Trivandrum; Startup Village at Kochi; and in the engineering colleges in Kerala with assistance from the Centre for Bits and Atoms (CAB) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Equipped with high-tech factory parts including computers, software and manufacturing tools like laser cutters and milling devices, the Fab Lab provides young innovators in Kerala the technology to design and make their own stuff – an environment where they can walk in with an idea and walk out with a product.
Developing an innovative ecosystem is the key to attracting and developing entrepreneurship. This ecosystem should include universities and educational institutions with structures that support the commercialization of innovation; large companies that support the development of new entrepreneurial companies by acting as clients, partners or co-financers; investors such as business-angels or venture capitalists; and facilitative government policies. Too often entrepreneurs are castigated for succeeding in outsized ways. Yet behind each success are dozens, if not hundreds of failed attempts. And each success is the inspiration for some future innovation that will benefit the entire society.
An Article by Mr. P H Kurian, Principal Secretary (Inds. & IT), Govt of Kerala