Can Telangana leapfrog to create an Innovation-driven economy?
You must have heard the name, Kalpana Chawla. She was the first woman from India to enter space in 2003 but unfortunately, we lost her during that mission. The impact she created in our lives is still showing the results. Many of us started dreaming about going to space, getting a job in ISRO and looking up to scientists working on rockets, after that incident. Cut to 15 years later, we know how we celebrated the success of Chandrayan-2. The whole country felt proud when it got launched.
What triggered the whole space movement was the Kalpana Chawla moment. Somewhere, it is in our DNA to look up to national heroes and follow their footsteps.
What’s more interesting is our conversations at home, on flying to the USA and joining MS. Our parents always give examples of Chachas and Mamas, asking us to follow their footsteps to aim for the US dream. It is a regular dining table conversation for us at home.
Like how we looked up to Kalpana Chawla when she reached a milestone as the first woman reaching space or uncles when they got to fly to the USA for Masters, it’s time for us to celebrate our local heroes who created something useful and sustainable from our own city, our own taluka and from our district. We call those people as Innovators.
What things come to your mind after hearing the word “Innovation”? I could think of mobile phones, inverters, a complex software, applications, cool flyovers and buildings, racing cars and Nano’s, home utilities, decor, films, storage facilities, food & transportations, Swiggy & Zomatos, RedBus & Paytms. In brief — each and every sector that humans are associated with is on a continuous path of evolution with innovation. This very word has changed the world we are living in.
To take this word to minds of people, 33 District Collectors of Telangana are simultaneously organising an Exhibition of Innovation during Independence Day, a first of its kind initiative. To innovate for yourself is to solve problems that you or your community face and to do this is to be independent.
Along with celebrating them, we intend to connect all Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Want-to-preneurs, Students, Investors, Colleges, Local Businesses including SME-MSMEs under one umbrella, create mini-communities/networks across the state, and then build a complete ecosystem in each location with local chapters which will continue to function post the event.
It is important for us to go through a few questions on what we want to do post-event for different segments of people we have. When I showed this piece to my team, my colleague Manish cautioned me on the length of the blog so I’ll try to be as crisp as I can. But before that, I had to ask myself these questions so I could answer it to whoever is trying to understand what we do at TSIC.
Why do we need to do an exhibition? What is the support we can provide post-event? How can we complement and leverage the existing networks we have? How are we creating a pipeline to support Entrepreneurs and Innovators? What framework do we need to follow to achieve this?
Throwback to TSIC’s formation:
When TSIC (Telangana State Innovation Cell) started a year ago, the question we asked ourselves was — Where do we place ourselves in the ecosystem? By that time there was T-Hub, TWorks, RICH, TASK and Wehub, different innovation partners working towards supporting entrepreneurs in different capacities. We knew what these entities were doing in terms of adding value to the ecosystem and we didn’t want to replicate that. Instead, we wanted to complement their efforts.
We knew we had to do something different. We had to come up with a missing component of the puzzle. Soon we realised that we missed out the component of looking at the State as a whole. There isn’t much focus on Rural Telangana, Culture of Innovation in schools and colleges, building a vibrant ecosystem in Hyderabad and the kind of people who don’t have an idea about being an entrepreneur. They know nothing about the business model and they don’t have a team. The only thing they have is passion and a drive to become entrepreneurs.
That’s where we realised on looking at creating a pipeline by focussing on all these segments that I just shared:
Our approach to each segment was clear and we started experimenting by taking various initiatives focussing on pipeline creation. I will try to explain those in brief here:
The approach to Grassroot innovators is a little varied, this is how we intend to help them:
Grassroot Innovations are usually made of relatively economical and eco-friendly resources, supporting the same during their consumption too. They are, in general, community products focused on community requirements rather than individual needs; especially in the field of Agriculture and promise a more sustainable future. I think it’s very important to give these innovations a fair value and market place in the economy. For the past 4 years, the Government has taken an active role in recognising these grass-root innovations.
We recently conducted ‘Innovation Utsavam’, an event on Telangana Formation Day to celebrate grass root innovations with around 50 Innovators. When my colleagues, Apoorva and Prannay proposed this idea a week before the formation day, we were not sure if we could pull this off as it was a first time effort and if it would attract a crowd in big numbers. But it gave us hope when we saw the crowd in huge numbers and the event was successful. That is when the journey- Innovation of Exhibition- for Independence Day celebrations started.
How we intend to build a culture of Innovation in colleges:
We talk about Silicon Valley and how California’s GDP is more than 190 countries in the world. But what Stanford has done to Silicon Valley is the contribution which will be spoken for centuries. Universities and Colleges have a major role in contributing to the Innovation ecosystem.
How we want to map all stakeholders in Hyderabad to build a vibrant ecosystem in the city:
Ecosystems cannot be created at will. Ecosystems evolve. All we can do is create the right conditions and nurture it. If ecosystems can be created, Singapore would have the most thriving innovation ecosystem in the world (given how much they invest in it). What I believe is that there is an untapped potential in Hyderabad which needs to be mapped and explored. Our job is to find out those dots and connect them for the right purpose.
The next challenge for Hyderabad is access to VCs. We need more programs for later-stage support in order to bring our startups to a mezzanine stage to attract investment. Currently, there are very few investable startups. Most of the startups are still at the ideation and early-stage with unproven business models and without market traction. Here is what we have done with the strengths we have in Hyderabad (to foster this is a continuous process).
How we have gone about leveraging the networks established :
THub: A space that will be able to provide Mentors & Corporate connects.
TWorks: Makerspace and Hardware startups network.
Wehub: Facilitating, helping and encouraging women entrepreneurs.
RICH: Expert & Equipment that are provided, especially from Agri, Defence and Life sciences, along with Industry Connects.
TASK: Space that provides skilling and training programs.
The framework we follow to achieve this:
Inspired by Ashoka Changemakers framework, whatever we do, we act as enablers and make sure the stakeholders take ownership and make things happen. This is where we place ourselves. How can we create change which can go on even after TSIC’s existence? This is the constant question we ask ourselves to bring in change.
It is not very clear as to who is doing what and how we need to create this pipeline of value that will allow us to offer support to entrepreneurs from bottom up; from helping them attain relevant skills up to receiving growth fund for scaling. It is a process that we are still trying to understand, purely because it is such an unexplored space. All we know is that there is a need for this space like movement again, just like the one that was there with Kalpana Chawla- the same mo(ve)ment that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Through this Exhibition of Innovation in 33 districts, we see a great systemic/mindset change in citizens of Telangana to interact with local heroes (Innovators), start believing that Innovating is nothing but optimizing and utilising things around us effectively.
Everyone is encouraged to WhatsApp their innovation at 9100678543.
I have a lot to share but the article is already lengthy and goes against my principle of short informative articles. If you want to have a further conversation around this. You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views mentioned here are my own and I’m not representing any organisation including Government of Telangana
Special thanks to my colleagues from TSIC (www.teamtsic.org/team) for helping me write this blog and Dhruti Kalavapudi for all your cuts and edits. Took references from various sources in Google to put this together.