Analog Devices (ADI) is a leader in high performance signal processing with a large presence in India. Kathryn Cave catches up with Somshubhro (Som) Pal Choudhury, MD, to discuss local innovation and the desperate need for an Indian manufacturing industry.
“If you open up any electronics you will see ‘made in China’ or ‘made in Malaysia’ stamped inside,” yet many are designed in India, Choudhury explains over the phone. This, he believes is one of the fundamental problems India has:
“Look at how a typical developing nation grows. It goes from agriculture to manufacturing, then as the country grows, it moves into services.” India missed a step and “went from agro economy straight to a services economy without transitioning through the manufacturing sector. Now with all the young people joining our workforce, we have to expand beyond our typical white collar services sector and move into manufacturing.”
Choudhury believes that whilst India will have a job to build up its infrastructure in this area the good news is both state and central government officials realise how important this is. “Up to five years back they [government officials] were all talking about IT, IT and IT, nothing else. But if you talk with them now they’re talking about beefing up manufacturing. I’m seeing a lot of activity [in terms of policies and subsidies] but it is not going to be as easy as it was with software.”
In the case of software he believes it was comparatively straight forward: “You put up the software technology parks, provide internet connections, make sure you have power 24/7 and you’re ready to go. But in the case of manufacturing you have to be more diligent.”
Like many individuals in his position, Choudhury was based in the US for 18 years and only returned to India last year. This was for a mix of personal reasons and the growing potential within the country. “Professionally, where would you want to spend the next decade: which economies are growing? Where are the opportunities? It is still coming out in Asia…”
The mass repatriation of people who were previously based abroad is having a marked impact on local business innovation. Choudhury himself is a member of Technology Indus Entrepreneurs (tagline: “Fostering Entrepreneurship Globally”) and is amazed by the start-up environment which is really taking off in India (“it reminds me of when I was in Silicon Valley in the late 90s”).
Like elsewhere in the world, the majority “95 – 99% are focused on software”. There is a massive emphasis on eCommerce, banking and mobile payments along with a clutch in the data analytics and the cloud sphere. “My personal interest [though] is to find the typical systems and electronics companies,” he explains.
“In my search I found a bunch of companies which have sprung up to service the Indian defence market,” he continues, keen to tell me about IdeaForge. This organisation produces unmanned aerial vehicles and the first prototype was showcased in the Bollywood movie the “Three Idiots”. It has subsequently been used for social good in the Jagannath Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad and during a flood situation in Bharuch district, whilst Gujarat Police purchased two recently under a pilot project to boost surveillance. “Our product controls the autopilot in such a vehicle,” Choudhury says proudly.
“I’m seeing a lot [of innovation] in the low-cost medical side, but it is [significantly less than] eCommerce products,” he continues. “You also see a lot of innovation in large medium sized companies around solving unique problems in India.” General Electric, for example, produced a low cost ECG machine for emerging markets a couple of years back which proved very successful. There are also numerous variable suspension ideas emerging to counteract the inconsistent road system.
ADI itself, like many companies in India has laid its stake in fostering innovation for next generation. Its two most interesting initiatives are the ‘Design Project fellowship’ and its low cost ‘pocket lab’ solution. The Design Project fellowship is a student competition which mentors selected finalists to deliver a workable solution. This year first prize went to National Institute of Technology (NIT), Trichy, for its ‘low cost portable health monitor with spirometer & pulse oximeter’.
The second idea pioneered by ADI is to provide “very affordable, portable, miniaturised, personal lab for every student.” This seeks to help students who may otherwise struggle to get access to equipment. “The entire world has been miniaturised,” explains Choudhury “gone are the mainframes, gone are the PCs even, now it is tablets and smartphones - so why not a lab?”
“We took everything you need in a lab setting and miniaturised it to the size of your smartphone. Now all you need to run experiments is your laptop and this device.” This product launched last year and is “selling worldwide”. In the US it retails for the “reduced student cost of $100”, and it became available in India earlier this year. However it is “still a bit early” to see results and the cost conversions works out at around Rs 18000-19000 ($290-305) “which is still slightly high for students to buy this product. We are looking at the best approach to cost it down.”
India has an extremely talented young population all anxious to work themselves and their country out of poverty. Fuelled by the return of the diaspora, the start-up mentality is just starting to take hold on the ground, and there is no shortage of bright ideas. Maybe the missing link is more manufacturing to close the loop?
Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect
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