July 9, 2010
Acycle that runs on water and land, a scooter-powered flour mill, a solar mosquito killer, a cycle-powered
washing machine — these are just a few of
the over 100,000 innovations that have
come from school dropouts and poor people from rural India.
Although some of the innovations, like
the scooter-powered flour mill, made a
debut in the film 3 Idiots, a majority of
them are yet to be recognized. Thanks to
the relentless efforts of the National
Innovation Foundation, under the guidance of Professor Anil K Gupta, these innovations are changing the stereotypical perceptions of rural India.
“We have a culture that dubs innovation
as craziness, but our success would lie in
identifying more crazy people and their
craziness so that the innovation revolution
can spread across India,” said Gupta, also a
professor at the Indian Institute of
Management-Ahmedabad. “The present
generation is losing out on scientific knowl-
edge. Never before in the history of human
civilization has so much of scientific knowl-
edge been lost due to sheer neglect.”
With a database of about 140,000 inno-
vations mostly from uneducated innova-
tors, NIF has been striving for a decade to
connect innovators with society and enter-
How has your experience of working with
rural innovators been?
Working with innovators has been one of
the most exciting things in my life. Despite
lack of education, power and money, grassroots innovations exemplify the struggle to
find a better and cheaper solution to
address our problems. There is a lot to
learn from their lives and achievements.
These tribals are the true pride of India.
I found the villages in Bastar district to be
one of the best in hygiene and sanitation.
They have developed a medicinal variety of
paddy. If we add such products to our
nutraceuticals market, this will have a huge
impact. This agro-bio diversity should be
catalogued and marketed. I had talks with
the National Gene Bank, but nothing has
The youth do not want to join Maoists,
they are so talented that we should be able
to guide them in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the administration is indifferent to them. We are initiating a program
to bring out their talent. There are so many
ideas that can drive the Indian economy.
How far has NIF succeeded in bringing
out innovative entrepreneurs from rural
The NIF has a database of about 140,000
innovations. But there are many more
across India. Unfortunately, we are not able
to reach as many people as we should. We
have succeeded to some extent in building a
Professor Anil K Gupta with villagers. In the last 10 years, NIF volunteers have walked about 12,000 km in rural India in search of innovators
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTES Y: NIF, SRIS TI, GIAN
Over 100,000 innovations from
rural Indian school dropouts
National Innovation Foundation founder Anil K Gupta shares the excitement of
discovering India’s best innovators with Manu A B
link with scientists and designers to add
value to the innovators’ technologies. We
provide a micro venture innovation fund to
convert innovations into enterprises and
help protect intellectual property rights.
We also conduct competitions for school
students. An encouraging aspect is the
Indian president rewarding our innovators
every year. This year President Pratibha
Patil allowed us to hold an exhibition of the
products at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
How important are innovations in a coun-
try like India?
Innovation is not a common cultural trait
in India. But we have found that India is
rich in creative and talented people. In
India, there is a congenital failure to identify innovation and creativity. There should
be complete change in parental and educational mindset to promote innovation and
channelize the energy of our growing
young population. Our scientific organizations should acknowledge and recognize
their talent and work in tandem to develop
these innovations and make it to use in our
Innovation is the only way to sustain
India’s growth. There are about 200 trou-ble-torn districts in India. Instead of
declaring war on them, their capabilities
should be channelized in the right direction.
India cannot take pride on a growth rate
which is just benefiting 20 per cent of the
total population. There should be an inclusive growth accommodating the entire
Has any innovator been approached by
companies for commercial production?
Around six companies have come forward to license products. T R Rajesh from
Kerala developed a low-cost solution for
sewage treatment, which has been adopted
by a company in Goa. A company in
Andhra Pradesh has paid an advance royalty to license six to seven herbal products of
an innovator. We are in talks with TI
Cycles. We have some brilliant ideas like
the amphibious cycle, cycle-powered washing machine, etc. Companies are now realizing the need to harness low-cost tech-
nologies, but this is happening at a very
How many of the innovations have
About 250 patents applications have
been filed. Our innovators have got 35
patents in India and 5 in the United States.
The US patent office did not charge us any
patent fee when they heard that the innovations were from people who had no formal training. In India, also we are charged
The research at NIF is unparalleled.
However, without value addition and conversion of these ideas into a larger entrepreneurial activity, there is no future. We
are taking efforts to build an open source
database where anyone can adopt these
technologies in daily life or propagate them
among the masses.
We should have a fast track system for
innovators. We also promote the format
where anyone can use the knowledge we
have shared to build a product or a service.
The patent right belongs to the innovator
and NIF has no role in it.
How does NIF find innovators?
Our volunteers go on a journey of discovery to remote areas across India. We conduct a Shodh Yatra every six months. We
have many students who volunteer to look
out for innovators.
Once the innovations are identified, a
trial and search is done to make sure this
innovation is unique. Sometimes the product may be distinctive though it may be
already in existence. It could be a modifica-
Anil K Gupta