Calling Elvis

vista-bharat-final-logo-2 below

Another member of the High-Tech Defence Innovation ForumVihaan Networks Ltd., (VNL) – has won prestigious awards that make us Indians proud and revive hope in indigenous innovation.  VNL won the Bronze Award in the Wall Street Journal 2009 Technology Innovation Awards, as well as the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneer Award in 2010 – for inventing a solar-powered telecom network for cellphone access ideally suited for rural areas. This may also be classified as frugal innovation at work.

This and similar indigenous technologies can solve India’s rural connectivity issues.

The equipment can be assembled by anyone and VNL’s technology was certified by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), set up to subsidise rural communications and other worthy socio-economic goals.

In fact, with an available balance of around Rs. 30, 116 crores, the USOF should be used more aggressively to spur a telecom manufacturing revolution in India, which should also receive a fillip under the New Electronics Policy. The need for indigenous telecom equipment and standards for national security reasons is obvious and the USOF can be used to fund a vast increase in indigenous R & D and thereon high-tech, manufacturing capacity, several decades after C-DOT’s initial successes. Unfortunately the link leading to DOT’s page is not functioning- here – check it out for yourself. Completely dead or comatose.

And, service providers should be obligated to invest in R & D and manufacturing capacity to create a market for the product. But the Government can start by first using the USOF to create an indigenous telecom sector. Employment, R & D generation, national security, all this can be achieved with one stroke.

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Waving the Magic Wand!

An Indian invention Rohildev’s RHLvision, which can help people operate gadgets through thumb/ hand gestures, funded through the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo was invited to TechCrunch CES Hardware Battlefield in America to showcase the unique product.

Um, TechCrunch CES Hardware battlefield is not a battlefield, totally metaphoric, it is about supporting “the best hardware start-ups in the world”.

Here’s the other good news: RHLvision raised US$200,000 through Indigeogo, only the second Indian company to do so.

Hmm..a good place to go for tech start-ups from India struggling to make it. It seems a way around regulatory and other obstacles to setting up a “brick and mortar” company with embedded technology.

RHLvision has made waves elsewhere too, in Vienna to be precise.

Seriously, India is fast moving towards creating indigenous IPR in embedded technologies, something John Chambers had said India should gear up for, and I had quoted him in my work “2001 Can India Overtake China” as follows “The influential economic daily The Economic Times reported that John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, said this on embedded technology as the next frontier of growth as he exhorted India to take the leadership of the next IT – driven Industrial Revolution, during his January 2001 visit to New Delhi: “You don’t realise how many different areas the Internet technology would spawn. Every electronic device would be connected to the Internet. And each of these devices will have different software to run applications on them…”.

Product Nation in India is supporting tech start ups. It would be good if they joined up with such international platforms.

Never heard of TechCrunch before but glad I have now – everything about this event is about innovation, from the support of the world’s largest crowdfunding platform to the showcasing and rewarding of tech start-ups. Indigegogo is about making what you love and support happen, anyone can contribute to support a dearly loved cause.

Printing Cars, not just Parking them, in your Garage

With the Chinese Government’s support, China is poised to become the largest 3D Printing market in the world.  Just check the official website of the China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance and see how busy they are, learning, touring (not as in junket touring), adapting, applying…

A US company is going to print an electric car this September already and deliver it at the Chicago auto show.  This technology will reduce costs!

Our industry organizations – SIAM, ACMA, CII, and FICCI – may like to follow these developments closely as the Indian auto sector has so far been one of the more forward-looking manufacturing sectors in our country and needs to retain its competitive advantage.  We had learned at the University of California, San Diego’s Fourth Summer Training Workshop on the Relationship Between National Security and Technology in China (July 21–August 3, 2013; incidentally, they are holding another workshop this year, for anyone interested in understanding how our neighbor is approaching innovation, S & T, and defence production), that Chinese industry associations provide services and support for R&D in individual firms.  Our industry associations should also aim at performing these functions for Indian industry.

Catch 22 or Kafkaesque Nightmare

High-tech SMEs in the Indian “brick and mortar space

The other day, a small, high-tech Indian firm informed us of the Kafkaesque obstacles it was facing in winning an order from a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) for a path-breaking technology – because…

  1. Procurement rules in our country insist that an SME selling a new high-tech product for the first time, which by definition can have no competitors, cannot take the single vendor route as a technology pioneer, but has to go through the conventional route of multi-vendor procurement (L1 tenders).
  2. It must also have proof of having supplied it to another PSU.
  3. It has to be at least five years old, but no start-up can be that old.
  4. If it is not tenderable – it has to go through a very elaborate, opaque vetting process which can drag on for years with zero accountability for delays.
  5. In the end, PSU and Government officials express inability to take a decision in view of the prevailing vigilance culture.

But there can never be a first time, because it has to produce proof of a first sale which cannot take place unless it produces proof of a sale before the first sale. Sound absurd? It is.

 This is a huge opportunity loss for India. SMEs the world over are the most efficient vehicles for successful induction of R & D into the eco-system and are the basis of mass manufacturing revolutions. Look at Germany. The system needs to be changed so that this energy can be tapped.

Talk about Catch-22 situations!

As a result, our company had to run around for years trying to get the technology vetted, and was finally told that the deal breaker remained its inability to produce proof of prior sale to another public sector company despite this being its first attempted sale!!?! This technology was indigenously derived from pure science and was more environmentally safe, efficient and cost effective than any comparable solution worldwide. Any Indian should have been proud of it.

The International Maritime Organization also chose to dismiss an even more high-tech product from this company without giving a proper reason for the same.  Needless to say, no one had time to help this company and push its case with either body. Contrast this with how other countries push their products!

Reductio ad Absurdum!

We are not even talking about the harassment this company suffered in obtaining land and other necessary permits and connections (water, electricity, not the political kind). Because our patenting system is incredibly, tortuously slow, they still don’t have a patent. All this needs to be urgently addressed if our companies have to succeed in the “brick and mortar space”.

Not surprisingly, the company found that no proprietary technology product from a high-tech Indian start-up manufacturing firm had EVER been sold to a PSU!! A company director told them that with existing rules and the prevalent vigilance culture it was practically impossible to do so! We would like to be corrected.

Thus, Indian procurement policies have no provisions for innovative technologies generated by high-tech start-ups, SMEs and even large firms, which end up throttling innovation. But DPP 2013 provides for single vendor foreign purchases if the technology is strategic. It is as if GOI never imagined an Indian company could produce world class technology!

If this absurd state of affairs is true then how can we ever hope to encourage manufacturing innovation?

There is a need for a mindset change here and also changes in the rules.

We tried to come up with recommendations for manufacturing technology start-ups, and we would welcome comments on any improvements and suggestions:

  • Reform economy-wide Procurement/ CVC Guidelines to encourage procurement from start-up/ innovative firms with new, pioneering technologies.
  • Establish single window clearance with new vetting, technology friendly procedures, fixed time frames, accountability and penalties for delays.
  • Permit single vendors for such products, not insisting on prior supply to another public sector unit. Recognise that if it is an innovative product, there will be no competitors.
  • If tech evaluation proves the technology is viable waive five year old requirement for company.
  • Improve the Patent process: it takes too long for an Indian patent to be granted.
  • Provide for sharing of information between PSUs so that testing does not have to be repeated over and over.
  • Our Report of 1st meeting on common infrastructure for SMEs in tech parks to prevent harassment on account of land and water connections etc stand.
  • Government should also inculcate a patriotic mindset which equates the success of Indian manufacturing with national progress. Then automatically the bureaucrat will choose to promote Indian rather than automatically go for an inferior foreign product.

At the same time Indian industry must be competitive, which is difficult as a PSU pointed out – a competitor MNC’s R & D budget dwarfs their entire revenue stream, which is where a PPP should come in. Also shockingly our LOCs support foreign companies which have set up assembly operations in India in the name of manufacturing!

This (change in political and bureaucrat mindset) is slowly happening but not fast enough, there are many dedicated and sincere Officers who are working to promote Indian industry but we need many more.

Need for Sound Public Finances to Fund High-Tech Economy

Everything is connected.  To have a high-tech sector, the country needs a strong manufacturing sector, a sound economy and sound finances.  Instead, it seems “India’s fiscal deficit in the first ten months of the 2013/14 financial year (at 5.33 trillion rupees) crossed the target for the whole year”,  and “India’s economy grew a slower-than-expected 4.7 percent in the three months through December, dragged down by a contraction in manufacturing and mining”. As the links show, I didn’t make this up.

So, where are we headed?  A huge fiscal deficit means that India has few funds to upgrade the educational and R&D infrastructure that our country urgently needs to strengthen and expand the high-tech sector.

Setting up another Pay Commission, especially when the economy is showing signs of a slowdown, could only fuel inflation and deepen the deficit. This is the time instead to invest in education, manufacturing and R & D. Or we continue to lose international competitiveness, which stokes the current account deficit, which stokes the fall in the value of the currency, which stokes inflation and further loss of competitiveness.

Eco 101.