Saturday, April 26, 2008

The difficulties of an inhospitable environment

During a recent visit to a nodal institution, my colleague and I had the good fortune of spending the day with an experienced manager of their 'Technology Business Incubator'. They are one of India's top private engineering colleges and so it could be expected that their students are similarly bright, well supported by their families and have the drive to become successes.

The discussion turned to the difficulties of making these students into entrepreneurs. Our host began telling us the realities of working with students nearing graduation and how difficult it was to get students to consider trying to launch a business fresh out of university. He told of us the pressures they face from their families who most often want them to take the stable and lucrative salaries being offered by IT companies. He told us of the pressure from peers and friends to accept a respected job obtained under intense competition, when the alternative offers no guarantees. He told us about the way that failure is viewed -- a failure venture would lead to the promoter himself being labelled a failure, difficulties in getting married and difficulties in obtaining future employment.

We thought a lot about this and ways that we could help to make the environment for innovators and entrepreneurs more hospitable. As we walked and discussed, we came across the career placement office with a raft of bulletins discussing the year's placement activity. Prominent in the notices was one from the Dean, calling on students to repay the faith that their families, friends, the institution and God himself had placed in the students by accepting the first employment offer which came their way.

It became clear to us that the environment for innovators and entrepreneurs must be improved.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Innovation in Entertainment - IPL cricket

The inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket is an innovation in entertainment which is changing the world of cricket, globally. Bringing together, for the first time in India, sport and entertainment on a mass commercial scale, the success of this innovation is new being examined for replication in England, the original home of cricket.

While the social benefit of the IPL is easily debated, the innovative way in which the IPL has launched and packaged sporting entertainment cannot. In a few short months, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) have taken cricket, a sport normally contained to staid multi-day national matches and used a new format (Twenty20), added music, dancing, splashes of Bollywood, convenient timing and TV coverage to create a new sector of entertainment in India and for cricket globally.

Innovation can produce unfair competitive advantage in any sector - through innovation, the BCCI have created something for the world to watch and learn from.

We at L-RAMP applaud the innovation behind the IPL but remain convinced that while innovation innovation is good, innovation which also delivers social benefit is better.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Even today, children in India are born with a question mark over their lives. That’s because the Infant Mortality Rate in India is a high 70. Look a bit deeper and we find that neo-natal mortality accounts for about 40-50 and Acute Respiratory Infection for about 10. Of the roughly 26 million children born in India each year, 1.2 million die during the first four weeks. That's 30% of the 3.9 million global neonatal deaths. The current neonatal mortality rate (NMR) of 44 per 1,000 live births accounts for nearly two-thirds of all infant deaths (death before the age of one) and nearly half of under-five child deaths in India. Thus, reduction of the neo-natal mortality rate becomes a top priority.

L-RAMP presently partners two innovators in advancing the progress of their solutions for neonatal care.

A neonatal care device innovated by Perfint, a Mysore-based company. Neotherm seeks to overcome the negative features of the high-end closed and open neo-natal care devices available in the market. The base module will be a closed warmer and the other version will be an open warmer and an incubator designed to suit the needs of hospitals and primary heath care centres. L-RAMP has thus far supported the product with assistance in prototype development, clinical trials and studying the Voice of the Customer.

Infant Warmer
The innovator is Dr. Sathya Jeganathan, Asst. Prof. of Paediatrics, Chengalpattu Medical College, Chengalpattu working in the Neonatal unit. She has worked on this innovation to address a number of practical problems in the existing warmers. The innovation is a cost-effective infant warmer designed in such a way that it can be manufactured and maintained with resources available near a hospital situated even in the interior parts. This makes the innovation especially relevant for rural hospitals and primary health centres. It can be made by village carpenters and local electricians. The innovation effectively substitutes common and local material for heating. L-RAMP has approved incubation support up to Rs. 9 lakhs for product development, developing a business model and implementation activities.


Women in rural areas need affordable products that help them raise their levels of personal hygiene. In this context, low-cost sanitary napkins are one of the most essential needs. Sanitary napkins are normally manufactured in large quantities with machines that require high investments. An innovative machine developed by Mr. A. Muruganantham, a Coimbatore-based innovator and entrepreneur, manufactures sanitary napkins in small quantities using rayon wood pulp as the adsorbent. The innovation lies in the simplified production method. Napkins made with this machine are on par with many comparable brands available in the market. By fabricating this simple machine, the innovator has been able to bring down both the initial investment and production costs. The investment cost for a single machine is minimal (Rs. 50,000/- approximately). If production and distribution can be decentralised, these low cost sanitary napkins have the potential to create a wider impact in personal hygiene, improve health, quality of life and also contribute to the creation of livelihoods in rural and semi-urban areas. L-RAMP supports this innovation with assistance for field-trials for establishing a viable business model with rural self-help-groups (SHGs) as the primary manufacturers and distributors.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pre-Incubation Program

An innovation is like the growth of a plant. A seed of an idea is sown in the mind of the innovator. The seed germinates and sprouts a stalk. Any additional information to strengthen the idea act as leaves. The stalk becomes firmer and eventually becomes a plant. You do not always realize that you have an innovative idea right when the seed is sown. Depending on the preparedness of the mind, people may realize this at various stages of development. Sometimes you may have to consciously add the leaves to the plant.

Seldom can one take some time off to sit and think of radical new ideas. Nevertheless, chance favors the prepared mind.

With this premise, in order to cultivate an innovative culture and encourage great ideas to spurt innovatively, we have come up with the Pre Incubation Program. What we hope to do is prepare your minds to look at things differently.

The program is structured to enable the participants to receive practical and theoretical guidance from professionals in various fields who will serve as mentors to share their knowledge and experience. In addition, the mentors will also review a few participants promising innovations which would be in the formative stages and offer them suggestions to bring their innovations to light.

These programs are run every two months in Chennai and are open to free registration from interested innovators. For registration drop in an email to

India enters Business Week's "Innovation Ivy League"

On Friday, Business Week announced its list of the '25 most innovative companies' and, for the first time, Indian companies have made the list. Tata and Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Group have joined the likes of Apple, Google and Toyota, ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Tata, placed 6th, ranks ahead of stalwarts such as Nintendo and Amazon and just one position behind Microsoft. Reliance, at 19th, beats innovation blue-chip 3M and upstart Facebook. The full list is available here.

It was just over 1 month ago when Bill Gates spoke to the US House Committee on Science and Technology about the importance of innovation in driving national economic performance. Gates said "For decades, innovation has been the engine of prosperity in this country" - it is apparent that the same engine has started in India and while prosperity has arrived for some, the road to be travelled remains dauntingly long.

With the Tatas and Reliance as models, we at LRAMP encourage the rest of India, from the city corporates to the village farmer, to think differently about your products, services and business models so that India can increasingly prosper and to build businesses where the prosperity will include those currently living in poverty. As Gates says, innovation is the key.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Big business and social enterprise

A recent article from the 'Ethical Corporation' magazine, found here, makes for interesting reading on the role of big business in our social enterprise sector. While many large institutions are taking steps to join the social enterprise sector, the proportion of this business in relation to their overall business is often minute, making it possible to raise claims of 'greenwashing' or perhaps more appropriately, 'CSR posturing'.

Nevertheless, the fact that blue-chips are awakening to the market potential of the currently underserved, even if the social benefits are ignored, is heartening. Microfinance is one sector where many corporate banks have started to enter the market and LRAMP is looking forward to the entry of corporates into other sectors, following the lead of industry heavyweights such as Hindustan Unilever with initiatives as Project Shakti and the ubiquitous '1 rupee sachets'.

The rural market is just that, a market, ready to avail the benefits of products appropriately designed, marketed and priced. LRAMP is there.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What is LRAMP

LRAMP is a joint initiative of Rural Innovations Network (RIN) and IIT-Madras. We are a non-profit business incubator which provides funding (up to 25 lakhs) and mentoring to early stage ideas having the potential to grow into viable enterprises and thus provide social benefit on a large scale.

LRAMP is currently mentoring 20 innovations in sectors including agriculture, energy, water, dairy and ICT. Past successes include a kerosene burner using 30% less kerosene, a non-chemical and non-electrical device to reduce insect infestations in stored grains and a irrigation device using less energy and less water. Current incubations include a rural BPO, a low-cost sanitary napkin making machine and a infant warmer suitable for rural areas. Enterprises incubated by us have generated sales of Rs. 6.2 crores and led to Rs. 19.2 crores of social benefits.

Current Interns

LRAMP is pleased to be currently hosting 5 interns . We are always open to interns who are keen to contribute to our mission of social benefit through enabling innovation to reach the market.

2 students from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai are working on our 'Plant-Oil Stove' Innovation, seeking to identify sources and availability of plant-oil in India.

2 students from the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal are conducting case studies to supplement our knowledge management and provide material for our Pre-Incubation Programme (a training programme for aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs).

1 professional from Dallas, USA is working on mapping the social enterprise and innovation incubation 'space' in India and building relationships with suitable partner organizations.

Welcome to the LRAMP Blog

Dear All,

Welcome to the new home of LRAMP's blog. We will keep this updated regularly with information relating to social enterprise, innovation, technology and poverty alleviation.

We're excited to be here and welcome your comments and feedback.

-The LRAMP team