Experts discuss the enablers and gamechangers of the next frontiers of innovation


Startups and innovation are said to go hand in hand. So how do founders equip themselves with the right tools to create thriving technology companies and sustainable communities from the ground up, while also building a distinct identity for themselves?

This topic was the focus of a panel discussion at the 10th edition of YourStory’s flagship event TechSparks, between Madhurima Agarwal, Leader, NetApp Excellerator and Adrit Raha, CEO, Vivant. Moderated by KT Prasad, Country Director, Zendesk India, the discussion centred around how founders can create next-gen data-driven innovation to take their companies to the next level, and make them market-ready.

The discussion began with the simple question – what is innovation? For Madhurima, innovation is the way you turn ideas into a cheque. Adrit said innovation is about creating something new. Prasad added, “Bread is not new, a knife is not new, but when you put it together, slicing is new, and that’s innovation. Over the years, pieces of puzzles have been put together, and that’s innovation.”

The panellists spoke about what entrepreneurs need to do if they want to build a culture of innovation in their organisation. Madhurima has worked extensively with startups and represents a corporation known for innovation. She has observed first-hand that you need a leader to pull the reins of innovation. “A leader will have the ability to think imaginatively, take a holistic approach and create a fine balance between intuition and rational thinking. It starts with the leader, and percolates down to the organisation.”

She said that the top three things leaders should do is invest resources and time to innovate, let people think creatively and respect failure, and finally reward them when they succeed. Adrit added, “Empower your team to go ahead and experiment, let them fail, and learn from that failure. Also, we need to listen, we don’t do enough of this.”

Talking about the top challenges that startups go through, Adrit said that unless you have relentless focus, you end up much more than what you can, and fail. “As startups, we have great ideas and innovative product roadmaps, but it’s all about how you execute against what you want to do.” Madhurima, who works primarily with B2B tech startups, has observed that when startups are in the early stages, getting early customers is a challenge as their sales cycles are longer. Secondly, startups spend a long time raising funding while they could have spent it building their product. The third challenge, which goes for well-established companies as well, is picking the right people and building the right team.

Prasad asked the panellists if they think innovation and disruption go hand in hand or one after the other. Madhurima said, “Disruption is a subset of innovation that happens across the spectrum.” According to her, in the corporate world, they are constantly innovating, but it’s not always been disruptive. Sometimes the disruption is in the area of cost efficiency, sometimes it’s an increase in team productivity, and so on. When disruptive innovation happens, it’s game changing. She added that startups are doing a far better job in this context.

Adrit thinks that the ‘Uberisation’ of healthtech, an area of specialisation for Vivant, is yet to happen, but there’s still a lot of innovation taking place.

According to Prasad, in order to be a market leader, you need to continuously innovate and keep disrupting a market of your own. “It’s a vicious cycle. Some companies reached the pinnacle of their business and haven’t innovated enough to be disruptive. When the leader stops innovating, that’s the fall of the company.”

The panellists then spoke about the importance of maintaining a unique selling proposition for your business, and how it should evolve with time. “If you remain in the same USP zone, there’s something clearly wrong. Someone else will be innovative and be disruptive. Ensure you don’t get left behind,” said Adrit.

Madhurima added that every individual, organisation, community and country has a USP, the challenge is to recognise and articulate the value to others. “This happens in the startup world. Many of them do fabulous work, but it takes us hours to bring out that USP. Finding out your USP takes some introspection. Talk to people and figure out your landscape. The faster you communicate your USP, the better it is,” she said.

Your USP can be your pricing, brand value, discount or even your value system. “As startups, we get bogged down by wanting to be uniquely different. A differentiator is anything that’s perceived in the eye of the customer – brand, discount, disruptive technology – either of them or a combination,” said Adrit.

They also discussed how it’s important to build an emotional angle with your USP, to retain your customers and create a ripple effect, where they refer you to others. “At the end of the day, humans are driven by emotions. We can be clinical at times, but we’re shaped by our experiences and emotions drive our decisions,” said Madhurima.

YourStory's annual extravaganza TechSparks brings together the best and the brightest from the startup ecosystem, corporate world, policymakers and, of course, the investor community. Over the past decade, TechSparks has grown to become India's most loved tech and startup platform for knowledge sharing and networking. A big thank you for all your support over the years and a big shoutout to our sponsors