There is widespread acceptance globally about the high and positive correlation between innovation and economic progress and without a strong innovation and research focus, high growth cannot be sustained for long. Having lived and worked in three different continents, Riku Makela understands the innovation ecosystem and its relation with broader business environment more than most others. Currently working as the Senior Innovation Expert, Finland-Vietnam Innovation Partnership Program, Vietnam, Riku has worked in different innovation system development roles at FinNode innovation network and Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) in New Delhi, Finland and Silicon Valley since 2001. His earlier work experience includes start-up entrepreneurship in ICT and travel sectors, marketing of healthcare devices in corporate sector, ICT consulting and ICT related research. His interests include innovation systems, entrepreneurship, sustainable businesses, partnership creation and teambuilding, business development and frugal innovations. In a conversation with Anand Mishra, Editor and Rajesh Mehta, Consulting Editor, Governance Today, Riku shares his understanding of innovation landscape in India.

Edited excerpts:


As a leading Innovation expert who has seen the innovation trends in different parts of the world, could you let our readers know the prominent innovation trends globally?

I want to highlight few innovation trends that are not technology based, such as Internet of Things and robotics, but more like methodological and mindset issues. One of the mindset and paradigm trends is related to frugal innovation. More and more companies and innovators are trying to figure out how to create cheaper and less resource consuming solutions to the needs of today and tomorrow. Another key trend is the growing interest towards startups and entrepreneurial mindset.

Do you think India can ever create a Google or Facebook? What kind of changes do you think are required for achieving it?

In today’s world, Internet based solutions can be created anywhere. That said, it is easier to find talent, financing and other needed resources in some places. India is not the easiest place to create unicorns at the moment and at the same time India has much more talent available than most of the countries of the world.   I personally believe that we will see globally dominant internet services that have been originated in India.

By the way, I personally still check travel options first from MakeMyTrip after living outside of India already for two years.

The Finnish Prime Minister when he came to Make in India event in Mumbai, mentioned about “Slush” in Finland. How do such events facilitate and catalyze innovation, especially in new technology arena?

Slush is the largest startup and investor event in northern Europe taking place in Helsinki every November. Events like that bring together thousands of people and thus create opportunities for new ideas, collaboration and business. The key is to engage everyone in the preparation and execution of these events so that nobody comes there only to listen but to also contribute.

Since you stayed as head of Tekes in India, what are the best examples of frugal innovation which you would like to highlight?

I led the Finnish FinNode innovation network and New Delhi office of Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation in 2011 – 2014. During that time, I had an opportunity to see and experience a huge number of frugal innovations and to meet many really wonderful innovators. Many frugal innovations are not providing as good value as more expensive solutions to the same needs. My number one example of a great frugal innovation is the highly cost-efficient Jaipur Foot prosthetic leg. Its total cost is 3-10 per cent of the cost of the cheapest prosthetic leg available in Europe and it works much better for its users. Another example is the inexpensive cell phones and mobile plans that required several innovations over the years before India had more than half a billion mobile users, the Finnish Nokia being one of the key innovators of those days.

What are the chances of India emerging as a major center of Innovation? Which are the areas in your opinion in which Indian scientists/ technicians have maximum intellectual capability to emerge as world leaders in innovation space?

India will be a center of innovation. Actually, India is so big that there will be several innovation hubs well visible in the global scene. India is not maybe the next as so many localities are moving forward to become recognized innovation centers. Amongst many areas where India has good core competencies, India should foremost invest more efforts into becoming a recognized world leader in frugal innovation mindset, methodologies, processes, products and services.

What changes you would like to see/ suggest in academic/ institutional system in India that would foster and encourage students and faculty to take up and succeed in research activities?

We already have plenty of technologies and research results and most of them are not used in their full potential. Thus, academic sector and educational institutions should encourage innovation more than research. To do that, educators must increase their efforts in fostering entrepreneurial and innovation mindset of the students.

According to you, who are the most inspiring innovations and innovators of last twenty years and why?

We have seen plenty of great innovators and innovations in the last 20 years. The top innovators in my mind are each and every individual who has dreamed big, started to develop their innovations and took their solution into the wider use. The value of innovation is hard to measure. If we ask from hundreds of thousands of users of Jaipur Leg, they might say their artificial leg is the greatest innovation. Actually, the most inspiring innovation for me is the Jaipur Leg as it made me to realize the opportunities we have if we can start to think innovation differently, changing our mindset from more is more into less is more.

What kind of assistance and help can be offered by Nordic & Scandinavian countries to India in research and innovation arena? What can India offer to these countries in return?

Nordic countries are looking for collaboration opportunities in research and innovation. The collaboration is beneficial and sustainable if participating organizations from all sides can get benefits from the collaboration. The benefits should include at least new knowledge and future financial revenue

Government has been pushing the “Startup India” initiative over last one year. What do you see the future of Indian startups?

India has millions of people who may have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. India needs millions of new startups so that tens of thousands of them can become internationally growing companies generating serious tax revenue and jobs. Startup India initiative is highly promising mechanism for speeding up the growth of interest towards entrepreneurship and helping those who want to start developing their new businesses.