Business Today

Times of innovation

Solving India's problems presents management aspirants an exciting opportunity.

M.S. Krishnan        Print Edition: October 3, 2010

India seems to be back to more than eight per cent economic growth and the traditional industries of manufacturing and services are back to campus hiring in a big way. As a young management graduate or aspirant ponders over his/her career options, the path taken by their seniors in the past to join multinationals, banks or the usual brand leaders in traditional functional roles may be attractive.

But such a perspective can be myopic. Career opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship to support India's unique growth curve are likely to be more exciting and morally satisfying. The growth pattern of developed economies that depended on consumerism and excessive consumption of resources at high price points cannot be imported to India with more than half a billion people living in rural parts of the country.

The challenge is to design business models and solutions with price and value propositions that create economic surplus and at the same time help address problems related to health care, education and quality of living. This is the emerging opportunity space for the young management talent.

Some leading multinationals and Indian firms recognise this both as a business opportunity and social responsibility. The handheld electrocardiogram from GE's research centre in Bangalore that costs less than $2,000, or Rs 92,000, a tenth of the cost of a standard machine, and a digitally-aided rural network for cataract surgery by Aravind Hospitals are some of the examples in health care.

The concept of customised fertilisers to improve crop yields and land fertility by Tata Chemicals and an inclusive approach by ITC through connectivity with farmers to improve the rural ecosystem of agriculture and employment are further examples of novel solutions to known problems in agriculture. A rice huskbased water purifier under $25 (Rs 1,150) from Tata and Godrej's Chotukool refrigerator priced under $70 (Rs 3,220) enable a better quality of life in rural India. These solutions also generate profits.

Opportunities for innovation are not limited to products. The successful IPO of SKS Microfinance indicates the confidence placed on this service innovation to reach a new market. Elsewhere, it would have been infeasible to deliver phone services through copper lines to 600 million customers at the price point of the metal - a low-cost business model built on wireless technologies and outsourced networks was the only way. Such instances abound.

I have limited the examples here to make the point that we may be witness to the beginning of a wave of opportunities for young managers in innovating business models and solutions unique to Indian problems. This does not mean that new startups are the only way. As noted in some of the examples, opportunities for innovation in large and established companies are plenty. But it requires a different approach to risk and capacity to face uncertainty. Still, if you look at these as opportunities for innovation and problem solving, this may be the best time to be a young management aspirant.

- The author is a Joseph Handleman Professor of Information Systems and Innovation, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

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