Indo’vation – The next chapter in the India-UK technological partnership

By Anand Shukla and Oliver Rice

Innovation is fundamental to driving sustainable growth and prosperity in every sector. India is no exception. Indeed, Indian Innovation, or ‘Indo-vation’, is effective not only at home but its ripples are felt across international markets, particularly in the UK.

For this reason, hot off the heels from our London seminar on UK-India Technology Collaborations with the PWC UK-India Group in September, we organised a seminar in New Delhi on the 5th October to discuss the significance of Indo-vation in the UK-India relationship.

Our Indo-vation seminar was fortunate to host eminent panellists including NITI Aayog, the Department of Science and Technology, Invest India, the Global Innovation and Technology Alliance, as well as well-known author and columnist, Mr. Pranjal Sharma, as moderator. The key points are outlined below.

INDIA AS AN INNOVATION HUB

The discussion underscored India’s unique characteristics not only as a resource-rich country, but as one boasting a wealth of geographic, economic, and social diversity, operating a liberal and largely open market economy alongside rapidly expanding mobile and internet connectivity. These are the key ingredients to innovation.

Over recent years, the improving start-up ecosystem (including schemes such as Startup India) has become the trigger behind several path-breaking initiatives. Start-up organisations have successfully instilled a risk-taking behaviour in the younger generation, changing mind-sets and breaking through many of the psychological and societal barriers of the past.

CONTINUED GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

However, there is still a long way for India to go, especially in capitalising on emerging innovative solutions. In the absence of commercialisation avenues, chances of initiatives losing steam are too high. This is where the government can actively step-in. Assisting cross-country innovation networks, developing world class infrastructure, and ensuring adequate financial support to tide over initial gestation periods all go a long way for a start-up to step-up.

Our speakers felt that innovative companies and start-ups need more regulatory support along this scale-up journey. A supportive environment will attract more private sector investments, enabling the development of cheap, effective, and user-friendly products and services of the future.

Core to this is ensuring innovation becomes a part of India’s culture. For this to happen we need enterprise to become part of the school system at an early stage. Indeed, the Indian government is taking promising steps through initiatives like the Atal Tinkering Labs that orients young people towards science, technology, and innovation, right when they are in their formative years. By giving universities more autonomy and funds for research, the government is also helping create a system where new ideas find their way back into graduate teaching.

For these reasons, the panellists likewise applauded the Government’s Global Innovation and Technology Alliance initiative, which is already going a long way to support private industry and entrepreneurship to drive innovation.

UK-INDIA COLLABORATIONS TO PROMOTE INDO’VATION

The UKIBC’s report on Bilateral Innovation Collaborations published in April 2018, shines light on the depth of UK and India bilateral ties. As the panel noted, this is underscored not simply by an overlapping history, language, and culture, but dynamically today through existing investment links and the presence of a vibrant Indian diaspora in the UK. However, this cannot be taken for granted and investing now in collaborative innovation is the key to unlocking the true potential of our relationship.

The speakers recognised the efforts of the UK government in India whether through the Newton Bhabha Fund supporting numerous innovations in healthcare and advanced engineering, or the UK-India Tech Rocketship Awards in which the UK government celebrates innovative Indian start-ups.

What was also clear however, is that more needs to be done to facilitate a combined approach yielding both distinct benefits for each partner and inspires collaborative innovations on a global scale. Mutual collaboration is essential to finding intuitive and scalable solutions to global problems.

The panel stressed the importance of identifying and working with strategic partners in the two countries. Underlining this, the two countries should make special efforts to understand each other’s innovation requirements and develop customised innovation strategies off the back of this.

To this end the UKIBC has been proactively advocating for UK-India innovation collaborations across sectors since the launch of our forward-looking report on Innovation in the Economy in 2015.

In August 2018 UKIBC facilitated a meeting between our Healthcare Sector members and Mr Shailendra Singh, the Additional Secretary of DIPP, to discuss how to foster innovation, accessibility, and affordability of Indian pharmaceuticals off the back of our April report on drug pricing policy in India.

Likewise, UKIBC and Yes Bank co-hosted an August 2018 roundtable in Mumbai to explore opportunities for collaboration in banking and fintech which has far-reaching implications across all sectors.

The joint statement by Prime Minister’s Modi and May in April 2018 fundamentally recognises the importance of collaboration highlighted by the Indo-vation panel by placing technology partnership firmly at the heart of UK-India relations. The upcoming FutureTech festival (e-registration open now) in December following this statement will bring together business, policy makers, venture capitalists, scientists and entrepreneurs for this very purpose and we are very excited to be leading a ‘Data: The Foundation of Intelligence Economies’ event there.

The first steps made by both governments look promising for start-ups and innovation, but with further investment and strategic planning, UKIBC believes this could be the driving force of the future UK-India relationship.


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