Kashmir has huge potential for entrepreneurial growth, says NITI Ayog’s Ramanan

INAM UL HAQ
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 14 2017 11:57PM | Updated Date: Nov 14 2017 11:57PM
Kashmir has huge potential for entrepreneurial growth, says NITI Ayog’s Ramanan

Additional Secretary of NITI Aayog Ramanathan Ramanan, who is also mission director of flagship programme Atal Innovation Mission, recently visited Kashmir to attend a conference at JKEDI. In an interview with Greater Kashmir business editor INAM UL HAQ, Ramanan talks about the purpose of the AIM and different other initiatives undertaken by NITI Aayog to boost innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

Can you tell us, what is Atal Innovation Mission? And why was it launched?

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) is the Government of India’s flagship initiative under NITI Aayog essentially to promote innovation and entrepreneurship across the country. It is a very holistic approach taken at school level, university level and industry level with the objective to develop new programmes and policies for fostering innovation in different sectors of the economy, provide platform and collaboration opportunities for different stakeholders, create awareness and above all create a flagship structure to oversee innovation ecosystem of the country.

Two core functions of the AIM are entrepreneurship promotion and innovation promotion by providing a platform to innovators and startups.

 

What are the different initiatives and schemes of NITI Aayog launched under Atal Innovation Mission?

There are four flagship schemes launched under AIM: Atal Tinkering Laboratory (ATL), Atal Incubation Center, Atal Vikas Challenge and Atal Grand Challenge, and then there are some other initiatives and sub-schemes as well, which include ‘mentor for change’, scale up support, tinkering marathon, awards, competitions etc.

 

Can you briefly tell us about these flagship schemes and how can different institutions, universities and others avail them?

Yes, to begin with, let's take the example of Atal Tinkering Lab. The aim is how do you promote innovative thinking and innovative mindset in the school students before they enter the university. And to make them familiar with the latest technologies that are happening in the marketplace because the technology is changing the way businesses are, and a lot is being created.

Purpose of establishing ATLs in the schools is to create a problem solving innovative mindset. You want students to start thinking not just to score marks, but what are the problems around them in the community and how they can use the technology to solve these problems. We are encouraging the schools to create challenges, which the students can solve. Children in the schools are being exposed to do-it-yourself-kits in the ATLs. We also give them miniature as electronics like Arduino boards so that they can put their own circuits together.

 

How do you select the schools for Atal Tinkering Lab?

Procedure for that is simple. We invite online application and all the schools across the country, who are interested in getting an Atal Tinkering Labs can apply. ATL is open to any school be that government or private. We already have two rounds of applications and in the latest round, 13,000 schools have applied out of which we will be selecting about 1,500 schools. DPS, Srinagar has last year got an ATL.

 

How can a school approach for the ATL? How do schools know when are the applications open?

On NITI Aayog website, there is a separate page for AIM, which provides all the guidelines, terms and conditions, the online application and all other required information for ATL. All the pre-requisites, everything is described in detail there. Requirements are very simple, the school should have, a 1,500 square feet of space, they should have a physics, chemistry, math lab, because we are expecting students are also learning those other areas. They should have maths, science faculty etc. These are the basic requirement, which needs to be met. Then the school is selected based on the track record etc.

However, keeping into consideration places like Jammu and Kashmir, we will make it sure that there is uniformity of schools across the country so that every district in the country would have at least one tinkering lab, if not more.

 

Does that mean, if J&K has 22 districts, it will get 22 ATLs if not more?

Yes, but if schools from the state apply. If they don’t apply, we cannot help them. State government and other institutions should encourage and help more and more schools for applying. They can hold outreach programmes with our help. To disseminate the information about it, we have officially written to state educational secretaries as well. We have done outreach programmes already and we will do more such in places like J&K, where not many of such programmes have happened so far. If a school has a tinkering lab, it has to allow neighbouring schools as well to use it.

 

Do you have any other initiatives for the schools as well?

We also organise Atal Tinkering Fest and Tinkering Marathons. In tinkering fest, a collection of schools with ATLs showcase the innovations and hold the competitions. And then we are having a tinkering marathon. It is a nationwide activity where 6 sectors have been identified and challenges have been forced. I think DPS Srinagar will be responding to that. We will be selecting 100 best innovations and then will be inviting them to Delhi, to showcase their innovations.  The all to boost problem-solving innovate thinking among students and these students will get prizes and internships and many corporates have said that they will provide top 30 innovators with internships. This will give them exposure and they can develop their ideas further.

 

This deals at the school level. Can you tell us about the initiatives like Atal Incubation Centres, which help startups and entrepreneurs?

The Atal incubator is the initiative to set up world-class incubators, mostly with higher academic institutions, like universities, engineering institutions etc. But it is also extendable to corporates, investment companies, who would like to partner with a university etc to create an incubator.

The whole idea is that they have a focal area; it could be an agri incubator, biosciences, horticultural etc. Mostly sector specific or industry specific or technology specific, like robotics etc. So what do we want, that an incubator should have a certain theme, one or two primary sectors of focus and that should the on that place were the institution or organisation is based. It all depends on the plan and what exactly they want.

This is again an online application. Everything is available on the NITI Aayog website. You have to submit a business plan and some documents and fulfil certain conditions like it should have available space of 10,000 sq feet and then certain other mandatory documents.

 

Again, if we talk of J&K, there are a lot of hurdles and the dissemination of information is not that good here. Universities or other institutions remain unaware of such initiatives. What are you doing on that front?

We do outreach events but probably could not do one here. Somehow, we have missed to do it here. But we would like to do one now, in collaboration with the JKEDI. I’m also planning another visit here to address universities etc telling them about the whole process. Besides, we have officially written to the state government about all our initiatives and they must have spread it.

Once an incubator is granted, it provides assistance upto Rs 10 crore. It is a five-year grant. The entire amount is not provided in one go. Objectives are set, milestones are fixed, and aid is released on achieving milestones.

 

Does AIM have anything for an individual innovator or startup, which is not associated with the ATL or Atal Incubation Centre?

Yes, the Atal Vikas Challenge is all about product innovations, which we are going to launch next month. There are eight areas, in which we will give innovation challenges. Anybody can compete in Atal Vikas Challenge, including those who are associated with a tinkering lab or incubator. They will give a product innovation response. What we are expecting is that you either have a proof of concept or you have a prototype, or you have a patented algorithm. And then you can realise a product based on what you have done. For that, we will give a grant of Rs 1 crore for developing that idea and then that product will get released into the market. We can also help identify beta sites, for testing all these products. And then that idea can be taken up by a startup, and associate it with an incubator and we will help market that through our network by connecting to various people.

The 4th initiative is that we are building a mentor India network, which we call ‘Mentors for Change’. We are registering mentors from across the country, because lot of professionals are there, who would like to give back and support the tinkering labs, incubators. The students, startups, incubators need mentors and we are soliciting professional experts to register.

 

What are the other initiatives?

Then the work in progress is Atal Grand Challenge, which we are launching next year. That is a bigger challenge and we will give up to Rs 30 crore of funding for such a challenge. Like universal drinking water, affordable housing, constructing a village road in 30 days or constructing a flyover in 60 days etc. It will be challenged at the national level, which will have national impact.

 

Anything related to J&K, you want to share?

Today is my first visit to J&K, I’m getting familiar with it. But my immediate reaction to what I have seen here so far is that there is a huge potential for entrepreneurial growth here. Entrepreneurial growth gets facilitated where there are no large companies. Here the only large company is the government; private sector is non-existent. That creates an opportunity for the entrepreneurs. You know innovation comes naturally to people in small areas, where they have a lot of hardships.

You take the small countries like Switzerland, Finland, these are very very small countries, and they have become a model for many countries even bigger ones. They say the finish education system is the best in the world, not the American or UK education system. They teach children life skills from the beginning, they just don’t focus only on grades and marks. In a small place like, Kashmir you can also experiment a lot more, and create an opportunity.