A Step Ladder to the Moon: Moving beyond Jugaad to Real Innovations

Posted By: Rise Team|Dated: March 20, 2014

This is a part of  the Rise series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in India. In this guest post, Vineet Rai- Founder and MD of Avishkaar Group, talks about how the challenges of everyday life give birth to an innovator.

I started my career as a forester, and one of the first innovations I saw was a ropeway to slide down cut bamboo poles from steep slopes in the hills – a very old contraption but very useful  in my profession. This innovation was my introduction to the term, jugaad.

My first reaction at that time was to appreciate the ingenuity and spirit of constrained entrepreneurship, born out of the necessity to deal with everyday life challenges. When I moved in as CEO of one of the first incubation funds in India, I had an opportunity to witness some amazing innovations by the common man – from a tilting bullock cart, to three wheel tractors to innovative cotton stripping machines that deal with local cotton issues. The more I travelled, I realised that such innovations are not rare but take place in thousands across the country.  My first task was to make some of them successful and in doing so, I realised it was a challenging experience to say the least.  This was my first introduction to innovations that were inspired by daily challenges and termed jugaad, which incidentally also refer to a local transport arrangement in many parts of North and West India. The challenge that I noticed with these amazing local innovations was to find ways of converting them into real products – with strong barriers to entry at the price point that made sense to Rural Population.

To address the entry barrier, I later launched a venture fund that invests in the ordinary vision of common entrepreneurs, trying to drive extraordinary results.  We managed to find many such visions and with sheer commitment, hard work and ingenuity of the intrepid and inspired entrepreneurs, we converted them into great investments.  I must admit that my own ventures started with the same jugadu spirit, when we decided to innovate around the western concepts of venture capital, consulting and investment banking and align them to local market constraints.

Over the years, with insights on the functioning of our own business and many others that we invested and incubated, as well as better exposure of how innovations are taking place in the rest of the world, I recognised that the path forward with innovations have to be chosen differently.  Real innovations need a different mindset, high quality infrastructure and the ability to look beyond the obvious. Just as the path to the moon cannot be traversed on a bigger, better and longer ladder, complex and larger problems come with multifaceted challenges that need inspired and out of the box thinking.

I am not advocating shunning jugaad but rather seeking to recognise its role and relevance on the timeline of innovation. A young India with its youthful demographic dividend faces a very challenging and unstable world. If we have to remain relevant to the growing aspiration of an extremely young India we must aspire to find those with extraordinary vision, talent and imagination and back them with capital. Heartwarming jugaad stories of great survival are truly inspiring however to fight the challenge of the 21st century and fulfill the aspirations of the young generation, we need to rework our agenda on innovation and aspire to leapfrog the development paradigm that continue to challenge us collectively. What probably India needs is an innovation revolution to deal with the challenges of the new generation just like we successfully dealt with challenges in the last generation through the white and green revolution.

At Aavishkaar and Intellecap, with time and growth, we had to rework our mindset to find our feet in the cutting-edge global competition – to make the world a better place, and to attract the best global talent.   A handful of young, talented individuals with one lakh Indian Rupees in the bank, managed to raise INR 1500 crore of assets under management, and brought together the best and the brightest 600 leaders – it needed more than Jugaad to make this happen.

In an institutional journey, perhaps the real change has been our ability to drive systemic change and create larger impact because we have moved from just ideas, idealism, passion and energy, which we had in plenty in our early years, to leveraging people and capital now.

I would conclude with what Dr. R. A. Mashelkar as the Chair of National Innovation Foundation once mentioned in a discussion- “The number of Innovations is probably less relevant than the quality and potential to bring about a paradigm change by the innovation.”

Author- Vineet Rai

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.
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About the Author
Vineet Rai

Vineet has received numerous awards including the G 20 – SME Innovation in Finance Award 2010, UNDP-IBLF –ICC World Business Award in 2005 & Lemelson Venture Fund Award in 2007. He has also received the Ashoka Fellowship and Honorary Membership of XLRI Alumni Association.  Driving on Indian roads is one of his passions and he tries to cover 50,000 KM every year.

 

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