Can startups dance with grownups?

2nd Feb 2018, BUSINESS STANDARD

Nature teaches us that even a big herd of mighty elephants can be distracted and deranged by tiny bees which buzz around their flapping ears

2nd Feb 2018 , BUSINESS STANDARD

R. Gopalakrishnan

Email: rgopal@themindworks.me

(*Distinguished Professor at IIT Kharagpur and Author of A biography of innovations from birth to maturity).

Nature teaches us that even a big herd of mighty elephants can be distracted and deranged by tiny bees which buzz around their flapping ears

There is much happening in the Indian entrepreneurial space. In December (BS 8th Dec, 2017), I had wondered whether we would benefit by a more systematic development an Indian innovation ecosystem, consistent with our background. The transplanted Silicon Valley model can do only that much here. Every society has its own peculiarities, belief systems and ways of working. The subject is a vast. I hope to explore some aspects over the next few columns.

There are several elements that define a national ecosystem. Prof Mohanbir Sawhney of Kellog is an experienced and international academic. He counts at least ten elements in his broad definition of an ‘innovation ecosystem’—Partners, Institutions, Alumni, Professional Societies, Universities, Government Agencies, Entrepreneurs, Innovation Marketplaces, Industry Cohorts and Venture Capitalists.

One important aspect is the collaboration between start-ups and established companies. The case for this is self-evident—combining scale with agility, creativity with systems, and energy with stability—but building such a relationship has executional complexities. I recall a TATA group attempt to develop a supercomputer by working with a renowned mathematician of Mumbai. Some short term dramatic results were achieved, but TATA and the innovator could not work together for long.

Nature teaches us that even a big herd of mighty elephants can be distracted and deranged by tiny bees which buzz around their flapping ears!

SPJIMR, Mumbai’s premier business school, has an ongoing drive on thought leadership through which it aims to positively influence management practice. I was happy to participate in the annual SP Jain Business Academic Conclave, SBAC for short. The theme for SBAC, January 2018 was about how large companies can leverage the agility and innovativeness of small start-ups. Prof Mohanbir Sawhney of the Kellog School of Management participated through a theme paper titled “How to dance with Startups.”

He illustrated with international examples of idiosyncratic programs: the Unilever Foundry Process, the Siemens Idea Contests, the G-Mill of General Mills, the Start-up garage of BMW and the Bosch Chicago Connector. He did not use Indian examples. Two case studies on Tata Innoverse and Tata Open Innovation surfaced later in the day in a preview of an ongoing research study being done by a team of SPJIMR faculty and Founding Fuel. I feel that it is ripe now for Indian academics to write case studies about success and failures.

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