Rajasthan-based Open Innovations Lab is making tech innovation accessible for small-town businessesSohini Mitter
Open Innovations Lab is bridging the gap between innovation and industry through a platform that helps ideate and develop product prototypes.
At a Glance:
Startup: Open Innovations Lab
Founders: Sanjay Jangid, Neha Maheshwari
Year it was founded: 2016
Where it is located: Jodhpur
The problem it solves: Access to tech innovation in Tier II and III towns
Sector: Emerging tech
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
‘Innovation’ is a buzzword today, and its saleability is at an all-time high. Oftentimes, innovation remains confined to big companies or even small but well-stocked-with-good-talent startups. The rest of the universe - the medium-sized companies, the SMEs and MSMEs, and micro-entrepreneurial setups in small towns - are bereft of it.
It is not that these enterprises lack the appetite for innovation, but the dearth of access is their real pain point. Open Innovations Lab (OIL), the brainchild of IIT-Kharagpur alumnus Sanjay Jangid, endeavours to solve this problem of access to innovation.
His two-year-old startup, based out of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, has created an ‘open innovation’ platform that brings together technical experts, co-creators, product developers, “implementation specialists”, mentors and strategists to craft innovative tech-enabled solutions for businesses. These businesses are largely in Tier II and Tier III cities, where access to cutting-edge tech is limited.
But, the ecosystem might well be changing, with nearly 20 percent of domestic startups now emerging from Tier II and Tier III towns, according to a recent Nasscom-Zimmov study. Most of these startups are using emerging technologies like AI, advanced analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to service sectors like healthcare, agritech, financial inclusion, edtech, and energy.
Hence, OIL has chosen its market well. It is presently engaged in a few projects in Rajasthan. It has been incubated by the Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (RIICO), the premier agency of the local government. The startup receives grants and mentoring support from the government and also gets networking opportunities.
OIL is also backed by the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM Ahmedabad.
Founder Sanjay tells YourStory,
“As an innovator, you need an open platform for problem identification, ideation, brainstorming and concept development. Our ideal playground is the field of emerging technology.”
The bootstrapped OIL develops prototypes using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), cloud computing, and big data. It provides engineers and product developers the access to resources to help validate their ideas, build a minimum viable product (MVP), test, research, and interact with co-innovators and mentors from the industry.
“We encourage students and entrepreneurs to come and collaborate on any product prototype that suits their skill set. We then introduce those ideas and solutions to corporates who need them. Projects with exceptional ideas are promoted to the physical lab for acceleration and further development.”
How it started
Sanjay was pursuing a career in software engineering at US-based IT firm Syntel until 2016, when his entrepreneurial Marwari genes egged him on to start his own business. He, along with Neha Maheshwari (his classmate from BTech days), co-founded OIL in March that year.
For the next two years, they went about building the platform and refining OIL’s services suite, which now includes technology scouting, R&D, problem-solving, ‘Idea Rallies’ design thinking, thought leadership and more, in addition to product prototyping, its core offering.
“When I was working for Syntel in Mumbai, I realised there were several developer and startup events every week, and it was easy to network. But that was not the case in Rajasthan, my home state, or in many small cities. There was a clear gap between lab and industry.”
He acknowledges Ritesh Gautam, Vice President at Memphis-based Syntel, as his mentor and motivator. “Even though I had a US visa to go and work there, he encouraged me to do my own startup because we had identified a problem.”
Key projects and biz model
OIL has developed InnovAd, an augmented reality-enabled ad network, and InnoTrek.ai, a GPS-enabled travel guide with an interactive, AI-powered voice assistant. “We have two products on the shelf. But, we have ideated 10+ prototypes in AI, VR and IoT,” Sanjay says.
OIL claims that it has received a collaboration opportunity from HDFC Bank’s fintech department. The startup has also conducted “50+ open sessions on latest technology”, product showcases, and design thinking workshops. “Over 500 techno giants and experts have connected on the OIL platform,” Sanjay says.
The business model is simple: OIL charges corporates and collaborators on a per-project basis. Prototypes and implementation are accounted for separately. Sanjay, however, refuses to divulge revenue figures. “We are making enough,” he says.
The startup maintains a lean team of 12, which consists primarily of the founders’ “personal connections”, and mentors are engaged on a consulting basis. Sanjay says this has served them very well, “This model is great because there’s so much we can draw out of collective wisdom,” he adds.
Overcoming challenges and the path ahead
OIL reveals that the initial challenge was to build credibility and assemble a “like-minded team”. Backing from the government of Rajasthan helped as well. The corporate collaborations are trickling in by and by.
“Doing a startup is a perilous and lonely journey. You may have co-founders, but you may not necessarily possess the business acumen to succeed. Having a brilliant idea is different from making that idea a business success.”
But OIL says the response from the student community was “tremendous”. It gets a vote of confidence from Vikram Ahuja, Chairman of Euro International School, Jodhpur.
Ahuja, who also serves as Chief Mentor & Advisor of OIL, states,
“Open Innovations Lab enables students to learn from each other and build on their own knowledge. It is for innovators who want to share their knowledge with the open community.”
The startup wants to now expand beyond Rajasthan. Sanjay says, “We are in discussions with some angels for a seed round. It might happen in a few months.”