Thursday, May 29, 2008
We at L-RAMP look forward to working with Chennai's entrepreneur community to bring socially beneficial innovations from idea to market.
Monday, May 19, 2008
India lives in its villages. The food factory of our country is located among millions of villages scattered across the length and breadth of “Bharat”. The tropical ecological conditions favour cultivation of a variety of crops. It is a commonly know fact that any increase or decrease in the GDP of the country is attributable to the dynamics that rural India goes through. Why then are farmers in India getting their children out of agriculture? Isn’t agriculture a viable activity? While one witnesses this migration of individual farmers from farming, a new revolution is shaping up around corporate agriculture.
Agriculture, especially sustenance agriculture has been plagued with various issues. They range from poor quality seeds/planting materials to inadequate labour and poor irrigation facilities. And finally when the harvest is ready, distress selling leaves the farmer with little gain. Why are these issues chasing the Indian farmer? Are these really issues? Aren’t there solutions?
If one was to analyse corporate farming vis-à-vis individual farming, the glaring weaknesses of individual farmers would throw up. Can a small farmer make realistic incomes by cultivating in 3-5 acres of land? While the corporate cultivates in large tracts and brings hundreds of acreage under cropping. Can farmers be aggregated to produce like a corporate? We have examples of contract farming unleashed by corporates, which has worked to the benefit of farmers (in cases where the corporate does not default on its promises of buy-back!). Majority of the cultivable land, still remains in the hands of the rich. The Bhoodan Movement, a non-violent, voluntary movement initiated by Sri. Vinoba Bhave led to voluntary transfer of excess land owned by the rich to the poor. What a simple innovation! Fear of loosing ownership prevents rich farmers from leasing land to the smaller farmers. India needs another innovation in land leasing to make available vast tracts of fallow land to the hard-working small and marginal farmers.
While corporates have started off with precision farming, irrigation continues to haunt small farmers. If Israel could make wonders out of its dry lands, can’t India do it? There are innovations in micro-irrigation systems which the state can promote. Interestingly many of these products have proved to be sustainable business models while creating lasting social impact. KB Drip has lower life than competing drip irrigation systems but is affordable at one-third the price of competition!
Farm labour is migrating to urban India for want of regular employment. This has negative consequences in cities. How can farm machinery and tools replace the migrating labour? Can small farmers buy these tools and machinery? No, they cannot. But yes, micro-leasing and rental models could play a key role in making these tools and machinery accessible for the small farmers.
Spot and futures trading of fresh commodities are now gaining popularity among farmers. These bring in transparent pricing and payments. Institutional Innovations such as “producer companies” are now a legally permissible form of business organization that permits farmers to engage in business of their fresh or processed produce.
Will India’s small farmer start leasing his land to corporates and make wealth out of rentals? Can corporations make agriculture competitive? Only time will tell!
Friday, May 16, 2008
The purpose of the Pre-incubation Programme is to build the capacity of innovators to help them better understand how to innovate with the market perspective and the journey from idea to enterprise. The program consists of a series of skill and knowledge building sessions conducted by experts from various fields and we believe that the programme will definitely help the innovators to have a clear understanding of a sequential way of bringing their innovation to life.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
With our membership, L-RAMP joins a host of leading organizations in the social investment, traditional investment and clean technology spaces. Current member organizations include the IFMR Trust, Acumen Fund and Sequoia Capital.
We look forward to working with applicants to New Ventures India to prepare them for scaling up as well as having L-RAMP incubatees seek funding post-incubation.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
We are excited about this partnership and look forward to
- Our incubatees raising raise new funding from the Indian Angel Network to further their growth
- Helping strengthen applicants with socially beneficial innovations requiring incubation support before being ready for early-stage growth
Indian Angel Network - India's first and largest business angel group - brings together successful entrepreneurs and high profile CEOs who invest in early stage businesses across India which have potential to create disproportionate value for all stakeholders. The Network provides :
Monday, May 12, 2008
Leaving aside the risks of growing congestion, this is a good example of how radical innovation can lead to enhanced consumer benefit :: Tata's Nano has spawned (so far) one imitation which, competing with the original idea, will ultimately lead to a better quality product available for the consumer. I think it inevitable that the other major Indian players will follow suit and these ultra low-cost cars will lead to an entire new segment of transportation for India and, eventually, globally.
Tata's innovation has spawned a new world-view of transportation before a single consumer has logged 1km on the road.
Our two exhibiting incubatees were a great support to us. It was gratifying to see and hear first-hand how they appreciated the help we are able to provide and to use their example as an instant testimonial to our incubation programme (and the fact that we aren't going to steal people's ideas). Having the incubator and incubatee together is a great mutually reinforcing combination and one which we will most likely repeat in future exhibitions.
Nemate Gro (promoted by GloTech Organics, Trichy) and the Sugavari Sprinkler (promoted by Cosy Industries, Chennai) both ended the Expo with successful results, having each signed up many interested farmers for field trials and sold some of their products. It was interesting for me to see how quickly the farmers understood the value proposition of each product and how easy it was to sell a good product face-to-face. That being said, the ability of each promoter to quickly bring the benefits of the product to light was essential to drive interest and when both promoters were directly engaging the farmers, the clamour in front of the stall was often 2-3 farmers deep, rivalling that of the Coffee Board of India (2 stalls down from us, selling great coffee at a good price).
It was long, interesting, sometimes tiring, occasionally wet, often busy and full of learnings :: the Dinamalar Agri-Expo was a successful 4-day venture for L-RAMP.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Today was, as expected, another busy day. Our 3rd expected exhibiting innovation (pin pulverizer) was forced to withdraw due to logistical problems (his lorry couldn't reach Trichy) but between L-RAMP, Nemate Gro and the Sugavari Novel Sprinker, we had quite a few messages to send out.
The two innovations did good business signing up farmers for potential field trials with the Sugavari crossing the 40 farmer mark and Nemate doing well also. L-RAMP has distributed over 1800 brochures and fielded many questions from innovators with good ideas (and some who are still chasing that always elusive perpetual motion machine).
I'll leave it to the photos to tell the remainder of the story...
Zubaida and me, exhibiting and examining the sprinkler competition
Sugari Novel Sprinkler with its fancy new home made sign
Friday, May 9, 2008
A second innovation joined us today, with the Novel Sprinkler being promoted by Cosy Industries arriving to setup early in the morning. Actually seeing the device and watching the interaction with the farmers gave many clues on how it was going to be used, what the important aspects were to farmers and different ways that these products should be marketed. The Sprinkler's sales model on this day was highly unconventional -- he was offering sprinklers at 2% of their retail cost in exchange for field-trial data from the farmers (and using cash prizes as incentives for farmers to actually pursue trials). The number of farmers he signed up in 1 day is already double his target for the entire Agri-Expo. It was very interesting to watch the amazed look on the farmers faces as he explained the lack of moving parts, the simplicity of the design and the photos and videos of the device actually working. Simple design+useful output=socially beneficial innovation.
The booth was very busy with the crowd in front often among the largest in our bay of 40 stalls. Both Nemate Gro and L-RAMP had to print extra promotional material, with our 1000 brochures being distributed to the crowds in 2 days. We've seen both farmers and families passing through, with a small number of keen innovators sprinkled throughout.
In (short) summary, day 2 was another busy, warm and instructive exercise - we expect tomorrow to be the busiest day though, given the weekend and that all the booths will (finally) be completed. We will be joined by our 3rd innovation (the pin pulverizer) and so we're looking forward to more crowds, more questions and more social benefit delivered to those who can benefit most from it.
Special thanks to our friends from Samruddhi for helping answer questions in Tamil!
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.
-M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author (1936-2005)
Day 1 at the Dinamalar Agro Expo 2008. With 75 000 to 100 000 people expected to pass through the show in the next 4 days, it is a good opportunity to promote L-RAMP and its activities to both potential innovators and entrepreneurs. We have our booth set-up with standard promotional materials, we're also sharing booth space with successful L-RAMP innovators-turned-entrepreneurs who are marketing their own products. Today's product is 'Nemate Gro' – an organic fertilizer derived from the Neem plant, which promotes plant growth while also protecting against pests and disease. Our front display table has bags of fertilizer, which happen to closely resemble bags of dirt, sitting alongside L-RAMP pamphlets showing the sculpting of a clay pot (presumably meant to symbolize the creation of a new product). One attendee, trying to logically connect the items on display asked 'So L-RAMP, what do you guys do? Make pots using that dirt?' Yep, there is still some ways to go in promoting L-RAMP and its services within the local population. We may also need to re-think the front of our brochures.
The highlight of the day has been watching the amount of interest generated by Nemate Gro. It's been a long climb for the innovator Mr. R. Augustine. He started developing the product in 2006 and completed the initial product development and pilot scale tests on his own. L-RAMP met Mr. Augustine in 2007 and, at that point in time, helped with the final product development and large-scale product testing. The product is now starting the commercialization stage. It is currently sold via direct scales, Samruddhi and some other local stores. Mr. Augustine is now looking for large-scale distributors to expand the product reach.
Mr. Augustine is a good example of an innovator who is succeeding in making the transition to become an entrepreneur but, as mentioned in Devynani's post, not all innovators have the interest or aptitude in making this leap. Business incubation requires a very different skill set from innovation incubation. Through my work at L-RAMP, I've had the opportunity to meet individuals who are passionate about innovating and want to create real value and benefit to others through their products, but given the choice that's where their involvement would stop. Ideally, they would like to find someone else to take their product to the market. For this reason, it is important for L-RAMP to not just find and support innovators, but to also learn how to find people at the other end of the journey, entrepreneurs interested taking these products through to the market, and to facilitate technology transfer between innovator and entrepreneur.
We've been discussing different avenues for identifying potential entrepreneurs and linking innovation to entrepreneur. At the next agri fair we plan to showcase product briefs on innovations ready for tech transfer to see how much interest that generates. One never knows.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
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.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
L-RAMP teams (speaking both English and தமிழ்) will be available to discuss innovations with innovators, give information about our programmes to the interested public and accept applications for incubation for those so inclined. If you are an innovator with an idea, interested in our work or want to learn more about how we are helping alleviate poverty through innovation and enterprise, please stop by our booth and talk with us.
We are pleased to host 3 of our innovations at our booth as well - representatives will be demonstrating their products and answer questions. Innovations being demonstrated are
- Pin Pulverizer
- Novel Sprinkler
"Change starts with ideas. And when ideas become reality, they transform life.
Rural India teems with amazingly innovative ideas that can solve a huge variety of problems and create enduring prosperity. It is this potential that Rural Innovations Network (RIN) seeks to translate into reality.
RIN avidly identifies and incubates grassroots innovations, which can have a significant impact on rural lives and lie untapped, in spite of their potential to transform lives. RIN's incubation strives to make the difference between an idea that fails and one that sees the light of day."
My version of the work RIN does invariably includes additional words such as non-profit, social enterprise, rural development. The most common responses that I get to my description are "Wow," "This is Amazing!" It took me a long time to realise that people were actually reacting to a heady mix of the latest buzzwords (innovation, social enterprise, grassroots, non-profit etc) rather than appreciating RIN for the void it is trying to fill.
People seldom understand the power in RIN's mission of "enriching rural lives by enabling innovations to reach the market." This simple mission finds its roots in economic theory and is strongly backed by the history of developed nations. In his best-selling book "The End of Poverty," world renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs states "Lack of Innovation" as one of the reasons why countries fail to achieve economic growth. Sachs writes -
RIN is on the forefront of working with this under served community by providing a host of services (including recognition, mentoring, funding and networks) to innovators and enabling their innovations to reach the markets.
Efficient kerosene burners, insect traps, low-cost milking machines, pocket manuring sticks, rain guns, suncon cookers, low cost sanitary napkins, all represent the creative and innovative spirit that is waiting to be tapped. And going beyond the wow factor, the cycle of local innovation started by such innovations will one day lead India towards unprecedented economic growth!
Monday, May 5, 2008
(As Ajit says) when we are intervening in difficult areas, working with extremely poor communities, any substantial intervention in redeeming the squalor and abject poverty sustainably should be considered as an innovation, even if it is revival of tasar sericulture that these communities may have been doing for ages. Adapting an activity or a set of activities for poor people, identifying the right mix of modern and indigenous technology, creating sustainable and profitable market linkages, helping establish their institutions for providing these linkages and various services they require – all these lead to the poor people earning their livelihoods in radically “new” ways than what might happened earlier.
Recently we had a case in MP where NABARD rejected a proposal from us under RIF , because the proposal was for doing mulberry sericulture with poor people. The reason - it is an established activity. If it is, why are not large numbers of poor people in tribal areas in MP not doing it already? Adapting an activity for poor people requires innovation, and that has to be recognized. Innovation has a context. An activity that is successful on one area cannot be transplanted to another area without a great deal of adaptation. This adaptation needs innovative thinking.
Therefore, my opinion is that the innovation is not in doing something “new and different’ from our point of view, but in doing something in a way so that the poor families earn their livelihoods in “new and different” ways. The “innovation” is in the eyes of the user.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Here at L-RAMP, we help with capital, help implement technology and provide access to people when required. Perhaps policy is an essential element still to be considered.
Associate – HR & Admin
To manage the office administration and HR processes
CEO / Head – HR
Graduate + PGD in HR or PM (could be currently pursuing it)
2-3 yrs in Admin, no previous HR experience required
Documentation & Record keeping, Office Administration, Telephone handling. Good English language skills
Responsibilities / Outcomes
Activities / Tasks
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The article describes 6 of their innovations which they believe can help the world develop sustainably. The innovations (and their envisaged impact) are:
- Rare Cell Detection - Can replace amniocentesis and can be used for detection of certain cancers
- Erasable Paper - Erases itself after 24 hours - can reduce the amount of paper used
- Smaller and more efficient Solar Panels - Smaller, more durable and more efficient solar panels
- Spiral Cleaning - Can be used for wastewater treatment or water treatment
- Biomass plastic - Replaces 30% of the oil content in plastic with biomass
- 3D print preview - Helps view a document from multiple perspectives before printing
It is good to see that both PARC and L-RAMP share the view that impact requires both innovation and commercialization. The innovations listed are exciting and we look forward to being able to benefit from some or all of them in the near future.