14 students of the course “Innovation in Flux: An Asian Perspective” around Prof. Sudhanshu Rai embarked on an innovation journey to India in late June. By collaborating with Marico Innovation Foundation in Mumbai, our professor established a hands-on learning experience on innovative social start-ups in the developing country context and picked three local innovative projects for us to work on. We set out for Mumbai being fully energized and confident to be equipped with the “right” toolbox. However, despite our eagerness to deliver solution-oriented consultancy to these three start-ups, we were very uncertain and hesitant to what this learning experience in India might hold for us.
Once we all settled in our new base for the next 10 days, a B&B in the city’s bustling business district, we divided into three groups to immediately start our work within our respective company. One social start-up we consulted was Samagra. Their goal is to solve Indian slums’ sanitation problem by offering effective toilet management coupled with well designed toilet facilities. Another start-up, Zaya Labs, innovates around education technology and offers a software platform which allows teachers to deliver personalized learning to students at a very low cost. The third start-up, Eco-cooker, deals with energy efficiency of the cooking process in large kitchens. Despite operating in different markets and unique customer segments, all three companies face challenges around scaling-up their business model and adapting along the innovation process. These challenges would keep us busy for the next working days: They were filled with frustrating dead-ends and enlightening aha-moments. This zig-zag path led us directly to our ultimate goal to which we had set out at the beginning of our journey: immersing ourselves fully in the innovation process in a developing country context and conquering the steep learning curve tied to this uneven path. Every evening all students gathered and under the auspices of our professor we sorted our individual group’s experiences and extracted the essential take-aways of our eventful days.
Although our working days were long and the chaotic Mumbai traffic commute cost a fair share of time, this did not keep us from exploring numerous places in and around the megacity and mingle with the locals. In the evenings we enjoyed events about the Indian music industry and Bollywood, the country’s religious heritage, and culture and gained deep insights from Sune Kaur-Pedersen, Deputy Head of the Innovation Centre of Denmark based in Delhi, on the Danish innovation landscape and how to engage India. At the weekend we teamed up with students from the Mumbai IIT and climbed the Kanheri Caves. Moreover, many interesting encounters happened over delicious meals which were not only spiced with the finest ingredients of the Indian cuisine, but also with deep conversations that led to new friendships.
In sum, this immersion experience into innovation, Indian business and culture has impacted us students – novices in these three dimensions – far beyond the possible learning experience taught via textbooks. Our initial confidence derived from this exact “toolbox”. However, it was only during this journey that we were able to add some extra “tools” that will equip us for our future professional and personal endeavors.
We thank Sudhanshu Rai for his countless efforts to teach us about the process of innovation and the importance of reflection. The realization and organization of this field trip to India would have been impossible without his sheer infinite amount of energy and invaluable insights into the Indian context in terms of both business and culture. Our gratitude also goes to Marico Innovation Foundation for providing a great learning platform and the extraordinary support we received from their team.