Why Merely Copying Businesses From The West Won’t Help India Grow

Posted by Jatin Nayak in Entrepreneurship
February 27, 2017

At the recently concluded entrepreneurship summit held at IIT Bombay, CEO of NITI Aayog, Amitabh Kant, held the audience in rapture as he spoke of his efforts behind branding India through campaigns such as “Incredible India!” and “Atithi Devo Bhavah”. As a youth sitting in the audience, I was glad that my country was being led by individuals such as him.

Yet, throughout his speech, it was also evident that Kant was a patriot first and an entrepreneur second. He urged young entrepreneurs in the audience to focus on solving issues that plague India. Although he is a proponent of using technology to focus on these aspects, he urged entrepreneurs to forget technological marvels such as driverless cars as they hold no place in India’s future. But, according to me, this is not how technology has evolved over the course of our existence.

While I agree that India’s development in the 21st century should be a key focus of our efforts, disregarding technological innovation in any sphere or form can be a costly mistake. When the Americans put the first man on the Moon, it only created a sense of pride amongst the citizens of that country that they had conquered even the frontier of space. It did not solve any tangible issues at the time. Today, the development of space research has meant that we have companies like SpaceX, which have given us viable alternatives to life on Earth. The truth is that it is impossible to predict where the next game-changing idea can come from and hence, we must support innovation in any form.

Historically, India has known for its innovative thinkers; the ideas behind abstract concepts such as Fibonacci numbers coupled with the simplicity of constructs like the innovation of the number zero, meant that Indians occupied a special place in the context of scientific achievement. Today, with the spotlight on “Make in India” we must also make sure our products are “Thought in India”, because only innovative thinking can help solve the many problems that India faces today.

One such innovative thinker is Diwakar Vaish who is at the forefront of robotics research in India. His team has managed to develop a prosthetic arm at a cost of ₹ 15,000, something that usually costs upwards of ₹ 25 lakh in international markets. In the process, they ended up re-engineering the entire design and production process behind the prosthetic arm, making it more efficient, affordable and biodegradable; while also fetching them several patents. Diwakar’s work is inspirational, but such stories are few and far between.

Ola and Flipkart, which were recently in the news for asking the government for support against foreign entities, are both not revolutionary concepts but smartly adapted models that have worked in the West. The downside of such models is that their appeal to the customer is highly focused on lowering pricing and getting more people onto their platform. Ola, for instance, seduced consumers with prices even lower than those of auto rickshaws, and lured drivers with big incentives, only to drastically reduce them later, when they realised their offerings were impossible to sustain. The propagation of this “copy-paste culture”, can only lead to a world where every local market would have various versions of the same products, and not ones offering solutions that stand the test of valuations and venture funding.

Studying at an engineering college, and being heavily involved with the startup ecosystem, I have personally witnessed many individuals merely chasing the “entrepreneur lifestyle”, where valuations and ‘CXO’ titles seem to take centre stage rather than the drive to innovate and grow one’s company into a global behemoth. This frivolous attitude is one that we need to fight vehemently as valuable resources are diverted towards these initiatives. The need of the hour is for more companies like InMobi and Practo, who have innovated their way to the top, to scale and give India its first truly global technology giant.

Jatin Nayak is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the February-March 2017 batch.