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Indian tech innovation: hardware still poor second to software

by Nitin Dahad

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Photo courtesy World Bank

I’ve just spent a week in India talking to several hundred people in the electronics system design, manufacturing and components sector at two annual conferences for India: or put simply, the Indian tech hardware industry. And it seems that they are still struggling to make their mark in the global ecosystem – a stark contrast to the Indian software and digital media sector, which is booming, and seeing considerable innovation to solve real world problems, for the huge Indian market and beyond.

The week saw two big events for the Indian electronics hardware and components sector: the annual IESA Vision Summit in Bangalore, their 10th such one; and the Source India event in Chennai run by electronics components industry association ELCINA.  I have two major observations from these two events.

From the semiconductor industry event, it was clear that the rhetoric was much the same as over the last five years – the association still talks about the need to set up semiconductor fabrication facilities in India for some level of self-sufficiency in electronics supplies (and to avoid the surplus imports from China); and it talks about the $400 billion ESDM (electronics systems design and manufacturing) market opportunity in India – this figure hasn’t been updated for at least three years.

The mantra is the same and a number of chief ministers from different states were inviting the audience to come and set up manufacturing in their state, with lots of incentives offered (such as free space).

[Editor’s note on this: I asked a question from the floor to a panel of state IT ministers at the IESA Vision Summit enquiring which state offered which benefits to overseas investors, and how an overseas investor could differentiate between all these states so they could make the right choice; the moderator immediately dismissed the question, saying foreigners need to look at India as many different countries, since that is the reality, as there is no one ‘India’: in one fell swoop they seem to have dismissed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to present India as one to the outside world!]

At the component manufacturing level, the issue from some of the speakers seemed to be that India was good for manufacturing low level discrete components for the Indian market, but sometimes innovation and quality was an issue if they were considering export markets.

Is the issue image?

And this might be a key issue – Indian electronics manufacturing could be having a problem with its image. When I was advising the British trade and investment organization in 2012 to encourage business between India and the UK, there was a complete lack of interest from trade bodies like NMI, who said India was purely a low cost software outsourcing destination and couldn’t be considered seriously in the area of electronics systems design and innovation.

But there must be some kind of disconnect between global perception and what is happening on the ground. Take for example Cosmic Circuits, which was acquired by multinational electronic design tools vendor Cadence in 2013. Cosmic Circuits was founded in Bangalore in 2005 and had developed advanced mixed signal (ie: analog and digital) semiconductor intellectual property for functionality like USB, MIPI, audio and wi-fi in leading edge technologies known in the semiconductor industry as 40nm and 28nm. By the time of its acquisition, top tier customers globally were shipping 50 million chips containing Cosmic Circuits’ intellectual property.

While Cosmic Circuits was successful, India doesn’t have many stories like this to tell in electronics systems design – most of the successes are in software startups. The hardware industry still appears to be focused on manufacturing and setting up expensive fabs, rather than encouraging innovation in system design.

Young ambition for startups – inspired by software startups

Despite this, there does appear to be a drive by younger design engineers who have ambition and are willing to go to startup mode. I met several advanced technology startups in Bangalore which look set to take on global markets well. One for example is Maxerience, which doesn’t yet have a web site, but is doing something innovative and smart (see its LinkedIn page) – it has developed technology that converges advanced machine learning algorithms and high speed computing for real time recognition and detection, with applications in surveillance, defense systems and industrial automation. The demo I saw at the conference itself told me there is something worth watching here with this company.

This inspiration in the electronics industry is obviously coming from the ground up rather than being driven by industry associations. Youngsters are probably inspired by what’s happening in the software industry, and reading about the thousands of startups solving real world problems and able to grow rapidly in a global market – these stories are told daily in magazines like YourStory and VCCircle, and many others.

And even in the mainstream press there is a buzz about the Indian tech sector. For example, NASSCOM, the software industry trade association, said that India saw 800 new technology start-ups setting up in 2014, taking the total number of startups to 3,100, and that the country is poised to house the second biggest ecosystem for tech startups after the USA in the next two years, on account of the ongoing high growth rates.

In the report, NASSCOM said these startup companies have received over USD 2.3 billion in funding since 2010, while over 70 private equity and venture capital funds are active in the segment. In addition, there were over 62 angel investors active in 2014, and there are over 80 incubators and start-up accelerators operating in the country.

Another report suggests that India will have at least five ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) startups with a billion dollar valuation by 2018. According to Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, the continued affordability of smartphones and growing acceptance of BYOD (bring your own device) means more and more people are accessing corporate data through mobile devices; he says that Indian enterprises are at an early stage of understanding the impact of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies on their core business, suggesting this is only just the beginning.

In summary, I have written on numerous occasions about the Indian electronics and software industry over the last 22 years. One of the common themes throughout has always been that India needs to encourage innovation in electronics design, so that they can compete in global electronics ecosystems and match what is happening currently in Indian software. Last week has shown that while the messaging from trade bodies might not have changed, young Indian electronics engineers could be the ones who actually drive change and create innovative startups in technology hardware that compete with the big global players.

India and Brazil tech innovation visions and priorities for 2014

On the global stage, India and Brazil continue to be markets of interest for businesses looking for growth opportunities, particularly in the tech sector. So it’s always interesting to hear about policy initiatives regarding technology and innovation in those countries.  In India, the chief minister for the state of Gujarat and also prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi outlined his ICT industry vision for the country, while the Brazilian minister for science, technology and innovation (MCTI), Marco Antonio Raupp, announced Brazil’s technology policy priorities for 2014. Continue reading

Bright ideas driving public sector innovation in austere times

The focus of many western governments is very single-minded: to reduce public expenditure in order to reduce financial deficits, resulting in sever cuts in public services. They should therefore take note of the latest ‘Bright Ideas’ from Harvard University, which actually shows how governments can deliver more from less.

“Government innovation does not require endless resources and generous budgets,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. “As exemplified by this year’s Bright Ideas, some of our country’s smartest innovations can in fact reduce government’s size while serving our citizens more efficiently and effectively.”

This is a far cry from the ability to spend by the governments of the emerging economies and BRIC countries, where they appear to be spending more to kick-start their innovation ecosystems. This is definitely the case in India for example, where Sam Pitroda recently opened a two-day national innovation conference. Speaking at the conference, he also spoke of the telecoms infrastructure investments to boost innovation in the country. “No government across the world has such a huge fund dedicated to facilitate public infrastructure,” Pitroda said. The Indian government is said to have earmarked around US$ 3.5 billion to the national optic fiber network (NOFN) project which envisages connecting 250,000 villages (more information at this link).

And in Brazil, the government recently announced a US$250 million program to boost its software and information technology sectors, plus tax incentives to enhance technology innovation.

Bright Ideas – 111 innovative government initiatives in the USA

The Ash Center at Harvard recognized 111 innovative government initiatives as Bright Ideas. Now in its third year, the Bright Ideas program recognizes and promotes creative government initiatives to encourage innovative ideas to be proposed. This year, a range of solutions address issues such as urban and rural degradation, environmental problems, and the academic achievement of students.

There are many innovations as outlined here on the Harvard Kennedy School web site, with a full list of the 2012 Bright Ideas here.  One example of one of these ideas is from Sacramento County – its Department of Human Assistance developed an automated system that matches the welfare system against data sources from local, state, and federal entities to help detect and prevent welfare assistance fraud and overpayments. This system has saved millions of dollars annually by preventing and reducing welfare assistance overpayments.

Another example is from the city of South Bend, IN, USA, where it installed real-time monitoring and control using “smart valves” technology to meet federal environmental mandates on combined storm and sanitary sewer overflows.  Through the use of distributed sensing and control logic which optimizes performance of infrastructure already in place, the city can save an estimated US$114 million over a conventional approach.

Another of the showcased 111 initiatives is a health and human services video interviewing scheme launched in San Diego County, CA. In conjunction with community partners to improve customer service, it enhances access to public assistance, and increases the efficiency of service delivery for clients who face transportation challenges or other barriers. Targeted populations include pregnant women, migrant farm workers, homeless clients, residents of battered women’s shelters and transitional housing, and both tribal and rural clients.

Innovation and entrepreneurship happening across America

The Harvard Bright Idea is indicative of the innovation going on across America to boost local economies and jobs.  This was illustrated by Rebekah Iliff in an article earlier this year entitled, “Silicon America: 5 start-up economies keeping it real and bringing it back”.  She argues that it’s not just major tech markets like New York, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles that are the centers of innovation and entrepreneurship, but almost every region across America is now growing their ecosystems and economies – from Austin to Detroit to Minneapolis to Columbus to Chicago. She quotes Scott Case of the Startup America Partnership who said, “There are amazing startups in every single state in the US focused on solving big problems and growing their companies. Whether it’s Denver, Des Moines or Dallas, founders are building their businesses in their hometowns, establishing vibrant local startup economies and creating jobs.”

EU 2020 initiative to stay globally competitive

The European Commission has taken a more collaborative approach on the global stage to enhance Europe’s position as a global destination for research and innovation. Climate change, food security and fighting diseases are the issues which increasingly require a concerted international research effort. Europe can contribute to it with its science base and innovative industries by being open to international co-operation.

The EU strategy proposes to further focus co-operation on EU strategic priorities while maintaining the tradition of openness to third country participation in EU research. This includes addressing global challenges, but also making Europe more attractive as a location for research and innovation, and boosting industrial competitiveness.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said: “Going it alone is not an option in research and innovation. It is critical that Europe reaches out to international partners to access new sources of knowledge and address global challenges.” To this effect, Horizon 2020 is the EU’s programme for research and innovation aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. It will be open to participation from across the globe. Running from 2014 to 2020 with an €80 billion budget, this program for research and innovation is part of the drive to create new growth and jobs in Europe.

Summary – innovation from different perspectives around the world

We are seeing different stances from different governments around the world. In some countries in Europe, there is a hard-line government rhetoric on cuts and more cuts, without much policy to enhance innovation and creation of jobs – it is almost pushing itself on a downward spiral out of which there is no way to emerge with any growth. True there are EU-wide programs like Horizon 2020, but that seems focused on blue-sky research which doesn’t yield immediate returns on jobs or economic growth. On the other hand we are seeing innovation across America being showcased by Harvard University, and we are seeing how state governments are proving that technology and innovation can deliver more, save money and create new jobs.

We are also seeing that emerging economies and BRICs are able to invest and potentially create many new jobs for their aspiring youth and populations. It will only be a question of time before the investments start producing results and these economies start becoming the hotbeds of innovation and jobs for the rest of the world.

Is there more to India’s poor global innovation ranking?

Over the last few months, The Next Silicon Valley has worked closely with various innovation and science park conferences around the world, and noticed the distinct absence of India from much of this – yet Latin America, Africa, Russia and China were well represented. This could be interpreted as meaning India is on top of innovation and doesn’t need the world to tell it how to do innovation and hence they do not need to meet their global peers.

In addition, recent reports on India as a potential ‘fallen BRIC angel’ in a Standard & Poor’s report, as well as its low ranking way below all the other BRIC countries in the global innovation index released by the business school INSEAD, seem to suggest India is losing its charm on the international stage.

But on the other hand, we keep hearing about India’s relative success in creating ‘frugal innovation’ where innovative solutions are developed at low cost or with limited resource, or by trimming all the ‘bells and whistles’ from a product or service to address a specific need at lower cost than might have been previously possible with a more complex product or solution (an example is the Chotukool fridge, a top-loading, compact and portable cooling solution weighing only 7.8kg with no compressor, but running instead on a cooling chip along with a fan similar to those used to cool computers).

And in The Next Silicon Valley,  a paper has just been published outlining a vision of innovation in telecoms, internet, media and edutainment, with examples of how some of this is already being implemented in India (for example offering a PC in the form of software as a service and wellness apps technology – see below).

In addition Sam Pitroda, adviser to the Indian Prime Minister for public information infrastructure & innovations, made a rousing speech to the Indian diaspora at TiECON 2012 in Santa Clara, CA, USA back in May of this year, calling on all the Indian technology entrepreneurs in the audience to go back to India and help in whatever way possible to ‘come back to India’ and impart their knowledge to Indian entrepreneurs and creators of the innovation ecosystem back in India. His message was that India needs all the help it could get.

And only in the last few weeks, India’s Prime Minister said that he is dedicating something like US$880 million a year towards making India an ‘innovation hub’. The Indian PM wants innovation to address the issues of poverty, health and environment rather than focusing on the needs of the rich. “Innovation can be a game changer to move from incremental change to radical change,” he said.  The government has set up a National Innovation Council headed by Sam Pitroda to draw up a national innovation road map. The government has also agreed to set aside fund of US$88 million for the India Inclusive Innovation Fund to help entrepreneurs start business based on their innovations.

The changing landscape of technology innovation and its advance in India

In a paper published in The Next Silicon Valley, Delhi-based technologist, innovator and entrepreneur Anuraj Gambhir looks at the changing global landscape of the converging world between communications, consumer and technology, and how we are going to see even more innovation in technology that will continue to change many aspects of modern life – and especially in healthcare, wellness and education. In particular he highlights some key examples of innovation in these areas taking place in his home country, India.

In the cloud computing space, in terms of context and relevance to the mass consumer, he highlights one interesting example of a highly innovative IIT-Madras spinout company called Novatium Solutions, offering computing for the next billion via PCaaS (PC-as-a-service). As a dynamic thick-thin client and using a smart combination of grid/cloud and utility computing, it is a paradigm shift transforming a computer into an appliance – it switches on in a few seconds, faster than several LCD TVs.

This new age cloud computing is highly scalable with flexible services that are easily consumable over the Internet through a low-touch, as-needed, pay-per-use business model. Shared and optimal use of scarce resources is fundamental to scaling the offering. As a family/shared computer, it is beginning a revolution in internet computing for a substantial number of segments and a large addressable population.

A simple widget approach with one click to dedicated apps makes it highly compelling and brings the ease of use necessary for mass adaption. Broadband penetration will have a much greater impact in emerging markets with solutions deployed in the cloud space that are very simple to use.  Cloud has a multi-dimensional approach to computing that takes advantage of the scale of the Internet to connect people to each other, to information, and to do computing in new ways.

Wellness is another area in which India (and other parts of the world) is seeing convergence with technology and the mobile world. With rising stress levels, the desire for harmonious living and a balanced well-being is increasingly important. Hence there is likely to be disruptive innovation in the making where mobile devices will utilize all five senses and go beyond that with the integration potential from the healthcare/fitness-sports domain and also involving subtler spiritual aspects.

Gambhir says this is being led well in India – the home of Ayurveda, spirituality, yoga, meditation, Art of Living, naturopathy, aromatherapy and more. Lives could be transformed with a ‘spa’ in people’s hands that will greatly enrich their well-being. Wirelessly enabled sensors of various types will take on the form to create whole new products and experiences. In this case networked heart rate, pulse, glucometer, mind sensors will assist with measuring stress and other health variables so that we can proactively manage well-being. There is a potential to use camera phones (via optical detection) to check blood pressure and heart health (e.g. pulse, respiration, blood-oxygen levels) that has been proven by the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program.

A glimpse of the above is already visible via the multitude of apps available mostly for iOS and Android platforms e.g. Yogalite, Medicine Buddha, iRelax, Fitness Trainer, iZen. With the worlds of augmented reality, 3D, holography coming together along with embedded sensors, very interesting mashups of apps and content are likely to come into play.

Education and healthcare are also becoming more critical as global emerging economies grow along with other industry verticals such as government and transportation playing important roles in the infrastructure development. An initiative (rather showcase) in India called Gramjyoti (meaning ‘light of the village’) put Ericsson at the forefront of demonstrating a meaningful application of 3G/HSPA mobile technology for the masses and rural (generally underserved) parts of the population. Tele-medicine (in partnership with Apollo hospital), tele-education, e-governance were exhibited with direct benefits for the rural communities in 18 towns and villages in Tamil Nadu (southern India).

Gambhir also talks about the content industry undergoing major transformations, as the key players attempt to address the most compelling needs in the market. In India for example, we are evolving from the ‘astrology, Bollywood, cricket and devotional’ content genres to a much wider selection of locally and contextually relevant vernacular content.

Multimedia in all its forms is having profound implications – such as video which itself is predicted to account for 66% of global mobile data traffic by 2014; some organizations such as Huawei predict much higher figures. A picture tells a thousand words, but moving images or video a million. It transcends the language barrier and a lot can be told by just body language and motion.

Video conferencing is making a comeback with increased significance and value for rural folks migrating to peri-urban/metros, to keep in touch with their families. A pilot in India called ‘Aamne-Saamne’ (meaning in front of each other) with a 3G operator is already revealing promising results. Video brings a mass emotional connect for communities – to see and talk with families who feel never away from home. Video is also a universal media as it can play a vital role in education specially in reaching out to the illiterate.

India’s place in global innovation

So if we are seeing all this activity, why does India rank so low in the innovation index? According to Gopichand Katragadda, managing director of General Electric’s John F. Welch Technology Center in Bangalore, “The results of the study [the global innovation index] point to the fact that, in India, the innovation ecosystem (input) is poor while the knowledge/creative output under the constraints is good. One interpretation of this is that we need better government measures on regulations, education and infrastructure to tap the demonstrated potential of talented people.”

According to Katragadda, if India does not get its act together on the innovation front, the country could lose the opportunity ‘to make this a century of Indian innovation, tapping into the brilliant technical minds of the region.’

In the past I have written about India being great at producing talent that can follow a process and follow instructions either in software or hardware or research and development – but not necessarily in creating totally new innovation. But we have seen glimpses of innovation in areas as highlighted above in cloud computing, communications, health and education. In the past, technology ministers in Indian government have openly declared that India has been good at ‘screwdriver technology’ – in other words assembling or disassembling technology, products or solutions from other parts of the world. The indicators today from studies like that created by INSEAD (the global innovation index) seem to suggest that India still has some way to go to really impact the global stage with its innovation.

Nitin Dahad, The Next Silicon Valley

Could location become irrelevant for innovation ecosystems?

Innovation is now the new buzzword that is on everyone’s lips. Policymakers and governments are all talking about innovation as the key to unlocking economic growth. Countries and organizations around the world are all planning their own versions of a ‘global innovation summit’ as we have just seen in San Jose, CA, USA, to bring together policymakers, economic development agencies and social entrepreneurs from around the world.

It is not surprising then that the Global Innovation Index 2012, co-published by INSEAD (the business school) and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has gained significant global attention. In it, the top country according to the index is Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Singapore. The innovation index ranks 141 countries, and bottom of the list are countries like Togo, Yemen and Sudan. Interestingly, the USA has dropped in the rankings from seventh last year to 10th this year – many commentaries, including a recent article in Forbes, have now warned of the USA losing its capacity as an innovator.

But does innovation equate to economic success?  And do these figures and rankings necessarily indicate that one country leads over another in innovation?

This is something that it is worth putting into perspective, as we often use words like ‘innovation’ very liberally, without necessarily understanding what aspect of innovation we mean. According to some, innovation is not necessarily the recipe for business success. “Innovation is not the most important ingredient for success. It’s not even necessary, but merely nice to have”, according to a review of the book by Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’.

The Stanford biodesign example – exporting innovation

According to Christine Kurihara, who runs the biodesign program at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, there are two types of innovation – those that are ‘discoveries’ and the more common type which is ‘needs driven innovation’. The biodesign center is focused on medical device innovation, and its very small fellowship program has already produced 24 spinout companies in 11 years.

One of these spinouts from the research is iRhythm, which launched in 2007 and is now in the process of raising another round of funding.  iRhythm makes cardiac rhythm monitoring more accessible and available to many more patients who may be at risk for an abnormal heart rhythm, or an arrhythmia.

The iRhythm innovation came from Stanford University’s biodesign program, where the founder worked with two engineers and a business school graduate to understand the unmet clinical needs of patients suffering from arrhythmias. From this collaboration, they found that many patients suffering from arrhythmias were simply not being diagnosed and those who were, were being diagnosed in an inefficient and untimely manner.

They developed a breakthrough technology designed to improve the diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmias, in the form of a patch which provides up to 14 days of continuous recording, increasing the likelihood of capturing abnormal heart rhythms.

The key to this and several other innovations that have come out of this group at Stanford is that they are focused on ‘needs driven innovation’ rather than ‘invention’. Innovation is often mistakenly thought of as the latter as people imagine it to be all about bursts of creativity. But as Stanford’s Biodesign team point out, the teaching of the process of innovation as a formal step-by-step program is the key to their activity.

The center has also been able to ‘export’ this innovation process to India and Singapore. They have done this by selecting fellows for the biodesign program from those countries, and then these fellows return to their countries to apply the innovation process to the medical devices and healthcare needs in-country.

Innovation in this example is being taught and also ‘exported’. This could be considered as part of a possible trend towards global innovation collaboration.  After all a key ask from policymakers in emerging countries in Africa and Latin America is the thirst for knowledge transfer back to their countries – knowledge and best practice for developing their own innovation and entrepreneur ecosystems, learning from successful established clusters around the world, including Silicon Valley.

But as the Stanford biodesign example illustrates, location could be irrelevant in the innovation ecosystem, as research could be carried out at any one of many centres of excellence around the world and then transplanted back in a particular country that has specific needs to be addressed by some technology innovation.

Indeed, with such global knowledge transfer and collaboration taking place, the vision portrayed by some economics commentators of a ‘flat world’ in innovation could happen sooner than we think, especial as location and region becomes irrelevant as companies and organizations utilize internet and broadband technologies to enable global innovation ecosystems.

Nitin Dahad, CEO & Publisher, The Next Silicon Valley

Global collaboration, cross border entrepreneurship: ingredients for growth

A recent survey among science parks conducted by the IASP suggested that many of them are expanding their activities and sphere of influence beyond their physical boundaries, getting involved in managing other parks within their own region or country, and even participating in the creation and management of other innovation-based projects besides science parks. What the data doesn’t tell us though is that there is a growing trend of parks working or collaborating outside of their own countries – with some significant initiatives promoting cross border innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s clear that a lot more is happening across borders. For example, only this week there was a major initiative signed between Russia and China, and India has been developing its own Bangalore/San Francisco/Silicon Valley linkage.

One of the big announcements this week was the signing on 5th June 2012 of a framework agreement on collaboration between the Skolkovo Foundation and Beijing Zhongguancun Science Park (Z-Park), during the state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to China. The agreement was signed by president of the Skolkovo Foundation, Viktor Vekselberg, and general director of the Z-Park Administrative Committee, Guo Hong.

Skolkovo

Skolkovo’s strategic goal at its innovation centre in Russia is to concentrate international intellectual capital, stimulating the development of breakthrough projects and technologies.  In recent months large multinational corporations like Microsoft have announced they are establishing their presence in Skolkovo.  Other key partners working with Skolkovo include Intel, IBM, Cisco, EADS, Siemens, Ericsson, and Nokia. Most of them plan to set up their own R&D centers in Skolkovo, where Russian and foreign scientists, engineers and managers will be working together.

Before the signing ceremony this week in China, Viktor Vekselberg paid a visit to Z-Park and held talks with Guo Hong. Z-Park is home to the offices of 217 Chinese and foreign technology companies accounting for about a third of all investments in high technologies in China.

The Skolkovo Foundation president also held talks with deputy minister of science and technology of the People’s Republic of China, Cao Jianlin, to discuss in detail the prospects for innovation collaboration between the two countries. An agreement was reached to set up two joint working groups – the first will elaborate the collaboration strategy, while the second will propose specific cooperation projects in designated scientific fields. More details of the announcement are available on the Skolkovo Foundation web site.

In recent months, Skolkovo has also been building bridges in Israel and Japan. According to Globes newspaper in Israel, the Israeli Industry Center for R&D (MATIMOP) and the Skolkovo Foundation are to announce a call for papers for joint R&D project by Israeli and Russian start-ups to obtain support from Office of the Chief Scientist in Israel and the Skolkovo Foundation. The latter’s VP, Stanislav Naumov, said, “The difference between Russia and Israel’s entrepreneurial system required thinking together to find a formula for cooperation. The formula we reached enables us to move forward to the stage of extensive collaboration by ventures of the two countries. The special call for papers that we are publishing is another important stage in developing cooperation between Russia and Israel, which began a year ago with the fostering of innovation and the commercialization of advanced technologies.”

Two Israeli start-ups Indoorgo Navigation Systems Ltd., which is developing navigation systems within buildings, and Inango Systems Ltd., which is developing appstore applications for the smart home, are already operating at Skolkovo, outside Moscow.

Transforming from raw material to innovation economy

Skolkovo is part of the Russian economic development strategy to transition from a raw material-based economy to an innovation-driven economy. Skolkovo has been established to create an environment to promote and commercialize cutting-edge technologies. It is a town outside of Moscow which will be built by 2014, but the project is already underway, and will soon have 500 participants—technology companies and research centers. In 2011, foreign investments in technology projects there amounted to $150 million; in 2012, it is expected to more than double, according to the foundation. They are planning to be self-sufficient (i.e. no government funding) within five to seven years.

India’s Silicon Valley link

While India has strong links with the USA in terms of economic collaboration and trade, there is a cross border initiative of another kind, between Bangalore and San Francisco.  The cities have twinned together some time ago and were promoting the initiative at the recent TiECon 2012 conference in Santa Clara (CA, USA).  There is also a ‘Cross Border Entrepreneurship’ initiative between the Bay Area of Silicon Valley and Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India.

SF Bangalore

This latter initiative is based in the belief that innovation-lead entrepreneurship is the way to bring Indian start-ups on to the global platform.  Its key objectives are to a) help innovative, commercial and global product ideas move beyond the concept phase; b) create a global network of people, funds and resources and make it accessible to all entrepreneurs of Indian origin; c) curate and mentor ideas and help them be funded by investment capital, and d) encourage execution through global teams – increasing cross border collaboration.

One of the programs in India benefiting from this partnership is the ‘eHealth Technology Business Incubator’, sponsored by the Government of India’s department of Science & Technology. An innovation fund provides idea stage funding with a provision for scale up funding increasing the success rate. The incubator has entered into an MOU with University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), to collaborate on joint technology entrepreneurship development initiatives; on joint research and development, providing opportunities for start-ups to establish their operation in special economic zones (SEZ); on activities to enhance their growth potential and facilitating collaborative research; and to providing access to mentors in Silicon Valley plus access to venture capital firms and angel investors in the Silicon Valley.

The role of the Indian diaspora in the USA in enhancing innovation ecosystems – through capital and knowledge transfer – is increasingly becoming important. Over the last few years, many successful Indian entrepreneurs in the USA have been turning their attention to nurturing companies and ecosystems in India. Even the US state department recognizes the Indian diaspora’s importance both in the India and the USA, as we have seen in the remarks made this week to the U.S.-India World Affairs Institute in Washington DC.

This diaspora’s role in cross border collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship can be seen very effectively both with Indian and Chinese communities worldwide. As has been said on various platforms, the role of the diaspora is more than just providing remittances back to the home country. What we are seeing now though is how the BRICS countries – and in this article I have just highlighted Russia, India and China – are using global collaboration to really cement their place in leading-edge positions on the global innovation map.

Nitin Dahad, CEO & Publisher, The Next Silicon Valley

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