Finding the Nail with Systematic Innovation

Nitin Sisodia, Founder & CEO, Sohum Innovation lab Sohum Innovation Lab develops market-driven solutions to improve the health and incomes of people living in resource-poor settings.

Dr. APJ Kalam said once “Do we realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance”. The thought is very relevant in today’s context of India. India is progressing with the will of young generations but need to find a direction by being self-reliant in multiple fields to claim its self-respect. In my journey in healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship, I understood that we are struggling to truly adopt a culture of innovation. Indian education and employment scenario is oriented towards developing and nurturing skills but not on finding and defining relevant problems. In other word, it is a hammer and a nail problem; we focus on the strength of hammer than finding the right nail. With systematic innovation training we can train ourselves to be better at finding the right nail first. Finding the right problem to solve is important for the industry and youngsters as it will ensure that we focus our energy and time on problems which are well thought of and also create relevant social & economic impact. Design education imparts this training and there is a one such program called as Stanford India Biodesign (now School of International Biodesign), a fellowship program of Department of Biotechnology (DBT) which focuses on the process of finding unmet clinical needs in healthcare system and solving them systematically. I did this fellowship program in 2010 and since then could find several unmet clinical needs in Indian healthcare system and could solve few of them, reducing the burden of disease and generating livelihood.The two such initiatives are Sohum New born Hearing Screening project which screens newborn for hearing loss to save their speech providing early intervention and the Aloka vision program, which solves the problem of affordability and accessibility of quality vision for people living in remote area. Both projects focused on the finding the key problem and then solved it with a novel technology component and a sustainable business model. The examples are
given to elaborate that if the problems are chosen with a defined process, it will lead to lasting social and economic impact.

Ecosystem and our readiness:
Everybody is excited about the new culture of startups, investments, nurturing talents, finding new business opportunities but the question to be asked is 'are we ready?'. Central and State governments are sponsoring events, establishing incubators, putting in seed money to bea part of the talk to the town and again we are most of the time focusing on the hammer than on the nail. These high energy places offer support to entrepreneurs in form of physical/virtual space, resources (seed fund, company regulatory work, networks) but hardly any incubator has the systematic framework of selection and nurturing entrepreneurs, lack advisors to ask the right questions at the right time & a long term strategy to support enterprises. In the complex puzzle of entrepreneurship, finding the right mentors- advisors, accessing low risk funds, recruiting from thetalent pool, handling complex market situations is still a challenge in India as we these entrepreneurial activities are new in the ecosystem particularly in specialized areas like healthcare. Most entrepreneurs are first generation entrepreneurs and what they rely on is their peer networks and they learn from their mistakes, which takes a toll on the time and resource of the already constrained setting in which they survive.

Most entrepreneurs are first generation entrepreneurs and what they rely on is their peer networks and they learn from their mistakes, which takes a toll on the time and resource of the already constrained setting in which they survive

What is required?
1) Advisory: In healthcare, it is important that advisors have experience in healthcare services and system as it requires a different mindset to serve and bring value to stakeholders.

2) Funding: We need funding organization whio have an appetite to trust young entrepreneurs in the early stage and could wait for considerable period to get returns as the gestation period for healthcare startups are longer than a consumer product or service. There are few funding agencies like BIRAC, GCC which are doing a commendable job of supporting early stage companies.

In conclusion, I am optimistic about the sensitivity that India brings in to solve problems of the world. India can truly be a provider of novel healthcare solutions for global healthcare problems. We could also set an example for the advanced healthcare systems through innovating affordable medical devices and healthcare services to bring down the cost of care.

We have the right ingredient for doing meaningful innovation, we need to use themsensibly to bring a positive change. I resonate to what Archimedes said on invention of lever 'Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. 'Similarly, India needs that right direction and platform where we can enable improve, energize the global healthcare with innovation and sustainable business activities using local talent and resources. I wish all entrepreneurs all the very best in their journey.