A sudden rise in mortality among small investment houses in New York preceding the sub-prime lending crisis in the US was a godsend for the lurking entrepreneur in Amar Aujla. When Worldco, a boutique investment bank little heard of outside New York, went belly up in 2007, the graduate of Thunderbird Business School, Arizona, was among some 1,000 people without jobs.
"I was always interested in science, how patents work, innovation... and it struck me: why don't I do something in this space," Aujla, now 35, remembers. That something today is IdeaWicket, an online "open innovation platform that puts together innovation seekers and innovators" set up in 2007.
The sweet spot that Aujla, who holds her first two degrees from New Delhi's Shri Ram College of Commerce and Faculty of Management Studies, is aiming at is unlocking ideas and technologies hidden deep in India's immense scientific and tech talent pool (the country has about 150,000 scientists and researchers) and exposing them to the international business community.
IdeaWicket counts some 250,000 solution providers and academics with reach to a much wider audience, says Aujla, and companies such as Procter & Gamble have signed up. The US consumer products leader has sought solutions ranging from dispensers for professional hairdressers that accurately release colour to tissue dispensers.
An unnamed UK medications company wants an idea to make cough syrups stickier in the throat. For now, IdeaWicket charges "a simple fee" from solution-seekers posting problems on its site. Aujla will not disclose the amount. Later, it may take a share in the spoils coming out of long-term engagements that companies have with solution providers.
How easy will it be for a nifty competitor to come and edge out IdeaWicket? For Aujla, the answer to that question is in back-to-basics of any business. "Client servicing and our wider network of talent pool and solutions is and will be the differentiator. We take great effort and attention to service clients," she says.
Closing a deal with a company can take up to nine months, she adds. In future, Aujla sees the big value from IdeaWicket when innovationseekers such as NGOs ask thousands and thousands of problem-solvers for solutions to daily life problems. That would be a network effect of an entirely different kind.
FOCUS: Online marketplace for tech, design solutions
COMPETITION: None in India; Innocentive, 9Sigma in US
BUSINESS: Five clients
THE BEST ADVICE I GOT : My learnings have been from the school of hard knocks; we take advice from the market