Suneel T.S. is the General Manager - Open Innovation with the Tata Group. An accomplished and charged up professional who is excited with the scope and role of innovation in India. He steers the Tata Innoverse Open Innovation programme, connecting several Tata group companies with the innovation ecosystem around the world.
A stimulating conversation in which we touched upon the state of Innovation in India, what excites him in this space and the ingredients for success.
What’s the state of innovation in India? What excites you about it?
If GII is believed to be the metric for measuring the state of Innovation, then India has been improving its index since 2015. According to INSEAD, Global Innovation Index for India in 2018 is 57. It was 81 in 2015 out of 120 countries. We are better than 50% of the countries. Important to note that we are behind China (21). Most of India's innovation is non-technical and hence it is difficult to capture them.
However, India has seen significant innovations in the areas of water purification, health care (non-invasive detector of heart conditions), commuting/transport (low cost e-scooter), and Medical (vaccine for hepatitis C).
I think India is entangled in frugal innovation without realizing as to what is truly needed. For example, problems are chased for the sake of innovation.
I believe, problems have to be solved with the pure intention of getting rid of the problem and doing it more effectively.Innovation should be the by-product of what we intend to achieve rather than the sole intention.
Innovation should not be chased but the solution should be. The solution will be innovative, if the challenge is complex and has not been solved before.
It is the people, diversity and the amount of opportunities that we have which excites me about the innovation journey that we take.
It is the adversity and abundance that drives innovation, and we have both in India.
Which are the recent innovations which have excited you?
Inventions that are game changing from around the world has been always fascinating, especially when it helps mankind. Technological innovations such as Blockchain (crypto currency) and AI have found their own sweet spots in the world, yet have not been able to make a significant change to the way of life. AI, ML and data analytics needs to be watched very closely as they can have profound impact on us in the years to come by.
How’s innovation in engineering and applied sciences evolving in India? What else can be done to stimulate it?
There is a survey which says that Indian government has not been funding technological programs that well. India is ranking last when it comes to average education expenditure per primary and secondary student.
India spends only $1248 per student and is behind countries such as Columbia and Vietnam. India does not fare any better when it comes to higher education. Government funding of university research is poor. India is ranked among the bottom six behind countries like South Africa and Brazil. Education to the youth needs to be relooked into.
Rote learning should be complemented with challenging the students with challenges that need creativity and creative minds.
It should encourage such programs and this could become a starting point and may snowball into power house of the future.
Which are the main areas in which innovators and entrepreneurs struggle, when they seek to solve problems with larger organizations?
As mentioned earlier, the focus has to shift from chasing innovation to finding solutions that are different and yet effective. It is not about making AI or ML ubiquitous, but solving some of the challenges that are going to be effective and useful.
You’ve been conducting open innovation challenges for several years now. How has it evolved / changed over the years? Are organizations more receptive and are they noticing results?
Open Innovation (OI) has been in existence for a long time and has matured over the years. Processes are drafted, metrics are defined & tracked and companies are becoming more open minded for the external solutions. Tata InnoVerse – open innovation program in the Tata group has been evolving and there is more rigour in getting solutions that can be implemented. The OI ecosystem depends on the success of these solutions that are implemented and put to use in production. Companies care for results and it is important that OI helps in getting them what they need instead of pushing down their throats on what is out there currently.
What impresses you the most in a team, and how do you really know if there’s a spark?
The constant hunger to solve a problem in a different yet effective way. It is the constant pursuit of solutions that work better for our challenges that matter the most.
The innovation ecosystem which ensures that the innovation is not one-off but continuous.
If you're a startup or team with an exciting solution, you can pitch to the Tata Innoverse team at their ideaearth hub right here.
If you would like to participate to open innovation challenges from the Tata Group, you can check them here.