Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Innovators Behind The Innovations

So far on this blog we have given you a taste of some of the innovations that we support. But we haven't told you much about the innovators behind these innovations.

This year one of the projects that I'm working on is to be able to paint a clearer picture of the grassroots innovators that we work with. This will help us to better tailor our Pre-Incubation Program, which Zubaida blogged about earlier, to fit their needs. I am on the road at the moment, and have just begun my visits to some of these innovators. I've interviewed four of them so far.

The dominant theme in these interviews has been the struggles, criticism, derision, or at best indifference that these innovators have faced in their journeys. Mr. M. Manikandan described this criticism as enough to "break his mind." Not surprisingly, it was learning about the numerous challenges that other innovators face that was one of the aspects of the Pre-Incubation Program that was most appreciated. Mr. Kesavan C.P. requested that the struggles of innovators, such as Edison's efforts to get his inventions patented, should be given even more prominence in the program.

Nevertheless, these innovators have persistently worked to perfect their innovations over several years. Mr. Vrishabadoss Jain has been working on the Suncon cooker for 12 years, and in that time has made 10 different versions. Mr. Manikandan has been working on a robot that can rescue children from wells for 8 years. Mr. Mutthaiah has been working on a device for climbing palm trees for 25 years, and in that time has made 14 models.

These innovators face the same social stigma that Arun described in his earlier blog, titled, "The difficulties of an inhospitable environment." Yet these individuals have persevered in the face of these challenges, and strongly identify as innovators.

What keeps them going seems to be the sheer joy of inventing. None of them were at a loss for words when I asked them what their next innovation was going to be. But when I asked them how they were going to take their innovations to the market, the question L-RAMP is most interested in, the responses were mostly that they expected us to do it. One innovator frankly stated that he wasn't interested in marketing, and felt that he didn't have the skills to do it. Another said that he was going to try to transfer his technology, as companies that were already in this business would know the needs of the consumer. Many of these innovators cited lack of funds as the reason they had not gone to visit potential buyers directly, but a distaste for meeting customers seems to be a trait shared by innovators around the world.

What can L-RAMP do for these innovators, who are often poor, display an immense capacity for self-learning, and a tenacity and passion for their innovations? One idea that comes to mind immediately is to hone our own skills in technology transfer, so that we bring to the table an in-depth knowledge of the industries who could potentially partner with these innovators, and use our experience to craft successful partnerships. This will allow innovators to go on doing what they do and love best, and make the journey from idea to market a smoother one for all of us.

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