Jugaad – one word that describes India’s quintessential way of innovating. The colloquial Hindi word defines Indians’ capability to find low-cost solutions to prevailing problems. Today, the country that boasts its own Silicon Valley is on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, where the cyber world is synergising with the physical. An emerging breed of home-grown product and design startups are finding breakthrough solutions to grassroots problems in India and other developing nations, taking jugaad innovation to the world.
When the government announced its ‘Make in India’ campaign last year, it was not only an invitation for foreign companies to set up factories in India, but also an opportunity for the country’s product innovations to expand their scale. With the simultaneous emergence of India’s startup rush and the influx of technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, local makers began to leverage their software expertise to create hardware and systems-based solutions that performed novel tasks. Stakeholders across academia, industry and government caught the wave of revolution, and today, industry lobbies, angel investors, and product think tanks have emerged as key contributors to India’s hardware innovation ecosystem.
In less than two years, over 100 hardware incubators and labs have emerged across the country, creating opportunities for kindergarten students, college youth, and aspiring entrepreneurs to experiment, tinker, and make in India. Maker spaces, including tinkering garages, startup incubators and public laboratories, are encouraging citizens who have new ideas to take their proposed solutions from mind to market, with support from the government and India Inc. An interesting trend is that the maker movement is flourishing beyond the tier 1 cities, spilling over into smaller towns, where a unique blend of social entrepreneurship is thriving to address market gaps in tier 2 and 3 cities, home to two-thirds of the new incubators established this year.
Technology giants have collaborated with the Indian government and the local ecosystem to strengthen this innovation agenda. For instance, the Tinker Lab concept conceived in association with public think tank NITI Aayog is for ‘mini makers’ in India; then there’s Plugin, given rise to in collaboration with IIT Bombay’s business incubator and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which supports a hardware and systems startup environment. Evidently, public-private collaborations have been catalytic in expediting innovation in the country, bringing scale, funding, and domain expertise to identify and nurture citizen makers.
From solutions that enable farmers to manage their crops to wearables that prevent epileptic attacks, some of the most game-changing discoveries have been made under local maker initiatives. In the spirit of end-to-end everything, the modus operandi that has emerged has been a five phase model that takes a prototype to proof of concept, followed by customer trials and developing the go-to-market strategy, and finally, supporting makers in scaling their businesses and accelerating demand for their products.
As India becomes a hub for ideation, brainstorming, and experimentation, the country has huge potential to emerge from the prototyping phase to the manufacturing of technology-driven hardware en masse. Already equipped with the talent pool, with the right access measures to infrastructure, tools and technologies, hardware and systems solutions can address the real business and consumer needs that are unique to India, making the country less dependent on product imports and giving an impetus to a culture of technology adoption.
Ultimately, local innovation will fuel the curve of digital growth or digitisation in India, because the problems of India are unique and their solutions will be found locally. A billion connected and smart devices, for a billion people, through smart ideas. Imagine that.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)