We are seeing a dispersion of innovation, with innovation hotspots emerging outside of the global North.
No shortage of problems to solve. We are in a pandemic century, from the Nipah virus outbreak in 1998 to COVID-19. There is a massive demand-supply mismatch in food; 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, while 800 million people who go to bed hungry.
Entrepreneurs are building local capabilities and capitalising on cost advantages. The vibrant startup landscape in India today stems from Western companies outsourcing support and maintenance work to India, then transitioning to building products with local talent who later became entrepreneurs.
New technologies are opening doors. Strong digital infrastructure (the “India Stack”) has enabled the Indian startup ecosystem. Carsome is harnessing the power of data to create competitive advantage. Advances in controlled environment agriculture have allowed Boomgrow to achieve up to 135x more land productivity for certain products such as Swiss chard.
Local solutions for local problems
Establishing a profitable business in Asia is difficult, with unique challenges compared to the West. India has different demographics, costs are in dollar values while revenues are in rupees, and a lack of full-stack solutions. Entrepreneurs are now shifting their focus from chasing growth to creating value for stakeholders.
However, there are also unique opportunities. The key is identifying the market gaps and creating a business model that captures them. Carsome successfully aggregated the fragmented supply of used cars in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, then offered ancillary services such as financing and insurance to provide a full-stack solution.
We need to democratise platforms to serve local needs. The Centre for Affordable Diagnostics and Therapeutics (CADT) aims to repurpose existing drugs for new indications. Boomgrow is expanding beyond hotel and restaurant chains to grocery retailers to reach new consumer demographics.
Failure is the mother of innovation. More often we see successful results but not the failures during the process.
Complexity is tough to manage. The innovative process is long and resource-intensive. A collaborative and open-minded team is crucial for idea generation.
Innovation is people-driven and facilitated by cross-disciplinary collaboration. Industry players should encourage diversity of thought and shared risk taking to increase the pace of scientific progress. For instance, NASA has enacted open-space policy and double-blind reviews to encourage innovation.
The key is to learn from failures and never give up in seeking new invention. Only 55% of Mars lander launches have been successful. There are many issues and new inventions will be created as a result of solving them. For instance, the Skycrane manoeuvre used to land the Curiosity rover in 2012 drew inspiration from helicopters on Earth.