India’s best chances to make its mark on innovation may be in cleantech and other disruptive technologies that can improve the quality of life for the world’s poor while enriching their inventors and investors. One such invention along that vein, a low-cost, durable, prosthesis known as the Jaipur foot, has restored function to amputees the world over and is probably the best-known Indian innovation to have found a global market.
Other recent inventions that hold similar promise include:
• A hybrid electric/kerosene stove that saves 70 percent on fuel costs compared with conventional stoves that burn liquefied petroleum gas. The stove uses a 6-V coil to heat kerosene for cooking. One liter of kerosene lasts for eight hours, and the stove consumes one unit of electrical power for every 20 hours of use.
• Mitti Cool, the so-called village fridge. Invented by a potter, Mitti Cool is made from special clay (mitti) and uses evaporation to cool three or more storage chambers for water, fruits and vegetables.
• Modified lanterns that produce light equal to a 100-watt bulb but run on kerosene, diesel or ethanol. The lamp has a wick coated with high-temperature materials, such as silica; a self-cleaning nozzle; and a special glass that reduces the chances of explosion.
• A diesel motorcycle that doubles as a tractor when the back wheel is removed and replaced with a spiked cylinder.
• A micro-windmill-based mobile charger that uses wind power to charge phones and laptops.
Alok Mittal, a partner at Canaan Partners, noted that while India has engineering talent in spades, that’s not enough to build successful startups. “You need product managers who are able to chart out the road map and carry it through. And you need customers who would like to buy tech innovation from India—and right now, we don’t see customers rushing to buy products from startups. This, in turn, affects the availability of capital” for Indian tech startups.
The dearth of global customers for Indian innovations reflects Indian companies’ inability thus far to get the hang of global marketing, said Ravindran Govindan, executive chairman of Singapore-based Mercatus Capital.