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Modern Innovation in India

ILab Notes
Innovation Lab has been on a business trip to India. What did we learn about innovation there? Read along and get some answers.

India is complex. All religions are practiced with mutual respect. The country lives in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21'st century all at the same time. In some areas, India is moving faster into the future that we can possibly imagine, and in others, India lack basic requirements for society to grow as a whole. 

Innovation Lab was invited by the Innovation Center, at the Royal Danish embassy in India, to go on a 4 day round-trip to Bangalore, New Delhi and Kolkata (previously Calcutta). The purpose of the visit was two-fold. We wanted to map the start-up scene in India, to understand the potential for co-operation between Denmark and India. We were also invited to speak at the founding-ceremony of “Innovation Club” – An initiative to support innovation in India, hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry, or CII.

We spoke with start-ups from a wide variety of industries and levels of maturity. From the to two people team of data scientist who had developed a product recommendation engine and sold licenses world-wide, to an eighteen-year-old guy who made soft drinks in the kitchen and distributed them through the Indian equivalent of hot-dog stands.


India is Mobile-first. For many Indians the access to cheap mobile smartphones is the equivalent of access to the Internet
AirTel headquarters in New Delhi
AirTel headquarters in New Delhi

In New Delhi we had the pleasure of visiting AirTel. The biggest cell-phone and internet supplier in India. AirTel’s current focus area is infrastructure. There are simply too few antennas and too many subscribers so network congestion is a regular occurrence. AirTel has particularly focused on IoT and how their network will be able to leverage the IoT revolution. In Europe most households have a Wifi router and either a cable or optical fiber to connect to the Internet, in India, however, a very large percentage in private individuals rely on mobile technology to do the same. Naturally, this is both a concern and opportunity to AirTel.

Big Data is emerging in India, driven by major players, such as AirTel. The considerations are on the implementation of smart meters e.g. for registering the power and water consumption in households, as well as providing data storage and data mining frameworks for the IoT devices that will emerge within the next couple of years.

Generally, Big Data is still in its early stage in India. Except for very large companies like IBM who have research facilities in India, the startup society is mostly focused on generating products with immediate traction. Most added benefits of Big Data come at a later stage, when long term value is added to a given product and we belive Big Data will go main stream a bit later in India. Not from a lack of qualified data scientists, but from a lack of applications that have immediate relevance for the very price sensitive indian market.

group of start-ups Bengalore Mads Voigt Hingelberg Rikke Søndergaard india embassy danish
Innovation Lab meeting Young start-ups at the Danish Embassy in Bangalore.


There are five quite visible trends that we identified during our stay.

1.India is Mobile-first. For many Indians the access to cheap mobile smartphones is the equivalent of access to the Internet. Consequently, all business you want to conduct on the internet will have to comply with user interaction on mobile devices or apps. This puts India in a great position of providing as a test-bed for mobile services and validation of user experience.


2.Infrastructure is important. This may be stating the obvious but travelling a county with poor infrastructure and water supply, sewage, waste disposal, roads and digital connectivity makes you realize there is endless opportunity in providing services in terms of infrastructure improvements to India.


3.Diversity. All the world’s religions practiced at the same time is what keeps India together, well, that and the languages English and Urdu and Hindi amongst others. With over 300 distinct languages and dialects in India, English is the go-to language for all. This extreme diversity results in a wide result-space for the interpretation and solution of a problem. Indian and Danish innovators will have a very different look at the same problem, and this diversity in approach may be hard to grasp, initially, but partnerships will benefit greatly over time.


4.Farming and agriculture. There are 70 universities only concerned with agriculture. 43 percent of the population in India is engaged in agriculture and feed the 1.3bn large population. However, yields are low and there is somehow a tremendous gap between the scolar's scientific results and rural farmers' ability to implement these. This provides a great opportunity for companies from EU to export hands-on knowledge, seeds, machinery, etc. In order to feed the ever growing population, India is under pressure to come up with new practical ideas, to double food production in a sustainable manner over the next 10-15 years. We are so good at this in the EU, that e.g. 8% of agricultural soil lies fallow in Denmark as a result of overproduction.


5.Frugal engineering, is the paradigm of doing more with less. In India, you are forced to do a lot more with a lot less, reduce complexity and features to meet a market with high demand for cheap products. Working under great restraints has time and time again proven a great ways of inventing great products. It has saved astronauts and seafarers lives far away from home, when solving problems with limited resources. The larger population in India who can afford to purchase technology, being it a simple machine, a plough or a bicycle, cannot afford the quality and features of western products, and they don’t need them either. The people we spoke to in India said. “We need good western technologies, but at 10% of the price and with 50% of the features”


Mads Voigt Hingelberg speaking CII event Innovation club 2016 founding aloke mookherjea
As as kind gesture by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), chairman Mr. Aloke Mookherjea presented me with a plaque of honour, at the launch of the Innovation 2016 initiative and Launch of Innovation Club in Kolkata

Innovatio Club India 2016

 Doing business in India

Western society has golden opportunities for doing business in India, but it must be on Indian terms, with products developed specifically to the Indian markets.

In October 2016, the Royal Danish embassy in India and Innovation Lab, will host a tour to India for a select group of people representing Danish businesses. The group will meet with senior management in NASSCOM, IBM, AirTel, Cisco, and a selection of industry specific companies to match the delegations requirements.

If you want to be a part of the delegation or hear more about it, please contact me at or by phone +45 4141 6181

- Mads Voigt Hingelberg