Design!publiC Panel Discussion 3: The Challenge of Start-up Innovation

12:59 Participant: In India, all over, there are so many entrepreneurs. What is interesting is that in India, at forums like this, you don’t see these kinds of entrepreneurs asking for money. Rather, you see startups asking for money.

12:55 Aditya M.: A lot of startups are not thinking about, or even aware of, the fact that they could be working for the public interest, working towards solving some of our grand challenges.

12:52 Participant: In a country as large as India, it is not right to say that you will have to give up on the state. The fact that you’re talking about Design for the Public Interest means you have to include the government.

12:49 Naresh: In India, as someone mentioned earlier, the government does not trust the people. It isn’t just about risk-taking, but in India if you want a startup ecology, you’ll have to give up on the state.

12:46 Subrahmanian: We’ve been talking a lot about private sponsorship and funding, but not about public institutes that encourage and fund startups, like in the United States.

12:43 Zack: Maybe having actual physical spaces that are architecturally open and inviting could be this fourth space we’ve been talking about.

12:41 M.P. Ranjan: An incubator space is a good idea and would need more thought, but how do we create more enabling cultures in our educational institutes?

12:39 Naresh: The big problem in India is that we do not have a culture of philanthropy here, unlike other countries where many organizations and individuals hope to fund startups that will improve the world.

12:36 Naresh: This conference is supposed to be about the public interest, but this last half hour, we’ve been talking about the private interest. We need to bring the conversation back to the public.

12:34 Adtiya M. lists a number of venture capitalists and angel investors all over India, talks about how much more funding is now available and that it is much easier than a decade ago.

12:32 Zack: A lot is happening at the middle scale, and we need more to be happening on the smaller scale startups, who also take bigger risks. If we supported more of those, we could either help them fail fast and learn from that, or to succeed.

12:30 Participant: I take issue with the point made earlier about how it is no longer difficult to find funding for startups. Also, many startups tend to focus on innovations in the process or on making something faster-better-cheaper.

12:28 Aditya M: Startups are extremely important because they can do things that established big questions cannot do. Experimentation at a commercial scale – and that experimentation leads to something new that would not have previously happened.

12:26 Aditya S.: But first, maybe we should ask why we consider startups important at all.

12:17 Naresh: Looking at it from what someone said earlier about the definition of innovation equaling invention plus commercialism – that’s a very narrow definition. There is also a very narrow and mono-culture definition of what is a startup. Is a new app or a new facebook enough? What about startups for governance innovation? The third issue is first to define what we mean by a startup ecology? Do we need a startup of startups – make a platform to help these companies take off. Lastly, the issue of space – the model of a garage doesn’t really work in India – it would be off somewhere in a far-off suburban area. The second model is that of the coffee shop – in India this just wouldn’t work because that’s where we go to drink unnecessarily expensive coffee, rather than being a space for innovation. And of course, finally, there’s the office space — and enough has been said on the death of innovation by processes in large companies. So is there a fourth space here in India? Is there a business model in that itself? That’s something I”m trying to do with some friends – to create a space that has all the advantages of the three other spaces and none of the disadvantages.

12:14 Zack: One of the limitations in Bangalore is the Mentor gap, which may also be because of the generation gap. Also, the range of risk taking over different institutions is very different. We need to learn to take risks if we’re going to have a startup ecology. If you’re going to be risk-averse, you can’t have a startup.

12:12 Aditya M.: When it comes to financial support, there is now an excess in this country. So that is no longer an excuse. The biggest problem is actually the problem of customer belief in startups. Second, we see a lot of entrepreneurs taking small steps but not big ones.

12:09 Aditya Mishra: We have these Startup Saturday sessions all over India now, but somehow we’re still failing at having a startup innovation. But first, what is a startup ecosystem? Ten years ago, people used to laugh. Now they no longer do.

12:07 Amit begins by introducing the panel and then asks Aditya Mishra begin with a brief introduction on Headstart’s Startup Saturdays

Many observers have argued that here in India, there is a surfeit of V-C money chasing too few viable seed companies with even fewer ideas. What can be done to change that? Where will new start-ups come from? What kinds of assistance do young entrepreneurs really need to get their projects off the ground? How can we train or enable people to build more viable businesses with world-changing consequences? Are incubators and accelerators effective models for this? Do we have enough of them in India? Can we direct and orient start-ups towards the most difficult challenges of our times? Can we solve grand challenges in the social and public sectors through start-ups?

Amit Garg of MXV Consulting is the moderator for this panel, which consists of  Aditya Mishra, the founder of the Headstart Foundation, which has built a support group for young entrepreneurs now operating in six cities across India, Naresh Narasimhan, an early investor in the start-up space with a specific interest in how design can positively impact the health and viability of seed companies, and Zackery Denfeld, a serial institution-builder, media artist and mentor, who encourages people to try to bridge technical capabilities with creative possibilities. Aditya Dev Sood, founder and CEO of the Center for Knowledge Societies will be the main respondent to this panel, bringing his wide-ranging knowledge and experience of design, innovation and social sector challenges to the table.

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