INDIA: THE NEXT PRODUCT INNOVATION HOTBED
It is early Saturday morning 19 October, and I am sitting in the car with my colleagues Subbu, senior manager for communications in India, and Gunjan, head of CSR for SAP in India. We are on a 7-hour car ride back to Bangalore from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, where we had spent the previous day with Nativelead Foundation, our first NGO partner for entrepreneurship in Tamil Nadu, to launch the Foundation and its program to nurture entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in South India.
I had first met Mr. Sivarajah and Mr. Ashwin Desai, co-founders and trustees of Nativelead Foundation in December 2012, just a little over nine months ago, when they told me about their plans to start a non-profit organization to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in Tamil Nadu. Our head of marketing & communications, Sunder, had met them at a business convention earlier and was very excited about the social prospects of their plans.
The technology industry is the fastest growing sector in India which has created many jobs for its people; every year, some 500,000 graduates are absorbed into India’s IT industry. Most of these jobs are in IT services, and were created as a result of the global adoption of technology. But, because these jobs are dependent on the IT economies of various countries around the world, these jobs are at risk of disappearing should the global technology industry’s fortunes dip.
To put it simply, India needs to create its own quality “Made-in-India” innovations and products which can compete globally, so as to create, as it were, a “pipeline” of jobs for its growing population.
Sivarajah and Mr. Desai saw this need, and driven by a deep-seated desire to help their home town flourish as their businesses have, made a pact to set up Nativelead Foundation.
Both gentlemen hail from the South India region, and are founders and owners of their own successful businesses. As we spoke, they shared with me the many hurdles and challenges they faced especially when taking the first steps in becoming entrepreneurs.
A large proportion of India’s undergraduates come from the middle and middle-lower classes, where families struggle very hard to finance their children through tertiary school. For these young people to become entrepreneurs, they take on the very real risk of financial hardship for the entire family should their business fail.
In order to encourage people to start and build viable, sustainable businesses which will create jobs for Indians, it is imperative to create an environment that fosters innovation, aids business development, and boosts the chances of sustained business success for these would-be entrepreneurs.
To change the mind-sets of most Indians from that of “job seekers” to “job creators”, aspiring innovators need a supportive environment – from friends to parents to teachers – and initial handholding and guidance from experienced entrepreneurs to help them navigate the challenges and pitfalls in the early days of entrepreneurship.
In SAP and the tight knit community of business owners in Chennai and Madurai, Mr. Sivarajah and Mr. Desai found support for their dream to create a framework and nurturing environment to inculcate the spirit of entrepreneurship amongst university students and young people in the region. SAP provided some initial funding towards program’s establishment and more importantly, technology and business expertise from employee volunteers.
In the words of Mathew Thomas, vice president of Public Sector, SAP India, SAP is a “40-year old start-up” which has and is continuing to thrive because of its innovative spirit and its clear mission to help the world run better. Because of SAP’s success, over 50,000 people are directly, and thousands more indirectly, engaged in the business of developing ways to help businesses, corporations and all sorts of organizations run better.
Our colleagues in India have come forward to lend their support to this worthy cause, running workshops to show infocomm and engineering students from 20 colleges what they can do on SAP HANA technology, and taking time to mentor a couple of students and help them refine their ideas.
Despite being in the loop of all the developments taking place behind the scenes, nothing quite prepared me for the success the program has already achieved.
We announced the Foundation and entrepreneurship program’s launch only yesterday, but we already have a success story to share. With help from SAP employee volunteers at SAP Labs India, university student Ramesh Khanna is ready to launch a social enterprise which will utilize social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to channel excess food supplies at restaurants and hotels to NGOs, who will in turn distribute them to the poor and hungry.
The web-based solution sits on a HANA platform, which allows on-the-fly analysis of demand and supply, allowing quick decisions to be made – of critical importance as food is perishable – on the most needy recipients, and optimum distributions for the food.
The program now launched, Nativelead is now focused on bringing more educational institutions into the program, and connecting our young innovators with the right people to bring their products to market. The team is now working on building an incubation unit which will provide these budding businesses with a physical location to operate from, and to stabilize and grow.
Lots more work to be done, but work which we welcome with fervor because of the difference we know we can make. If you are inspired by this humble post and would like to be involved with the program, do reach out – we are happy for help.
At the risk of sounding like a corporate loudspeaker, here are a few links to the SAP newsbyte and media reports of the launch, with more details on the program.
- SAP Newsbyte: SAP India and Native Lead Foundation Nurtures Spirit of Entrepreneurship
- CIOL: SAP India and Native Lead Foundation nurture spirit of entrepreneurship
- The Hindu: On the lookout for innovative ideas
- Times of India: Madurai-based NGO to train engineering students to become entrepreneurs, Budding engineers offer solutions to make living easier
- India Blooms: SAP India joins NLF to incubate entrepreneurship
- NewKerela.com: SAP India joins NLF to incubate entrepreneurship
And so…. onward!
Head for Corporate Social Responsibility
SAP Asia Pacific Japan