Indian companies have a poor conversion rate of ideas into innovation because of a lack of structured processes’

Sridhar D. P. Founder & CEO and Dr. Shankar Venugopal, Chief Mentor, Thatva, say their company’s vision is to be a true enabler of innovation. Their strategy is to provide a software framework that could facilitate and enable innovation. Thatva came to be established when Sridhar was pursuing a program on innovation and IP at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in September 2007. He discussed the idea of enabling innovation with Dr. Shankar Venugopal, who was one of the expert instructors for the program. He encouraged Sridhar to pursue the idea and has been mentoring him since then.  Although the venture formally started in 2011, the Thatva team had already developed a concept framework, Thatva Innovator to address the challenges in the innovation lifecycle. 

In an interview with ProductNation, Sridhar D. P. and Dr. Shankar Venugopal explain why innovation is affected due to absence of scalability in ideas and how success of a product depends in customer empowerment, which makes it a game changer in the marketplace.  

How would you describe the current innovation practice followed by Indian enterprises? How mature are their processes?   

Every company wants to innovate – be it for business growth, survival in the market or for building brand image. Indian companies do manage to create a few impactful innovations and manage to take them successfully to the market such as Tata Nano, Godrej Chotukool etc. But for every idea that hits the market, there are several others that get killed. This poor conversion of ideas into innovation is primarily because they lack a structured process for facilitating innovation. Most companies lack a culture of innovation that encourages their employees to pursue new ideas.

How does a structured flow in innovation help in terms of time and effort? What are the pitfalls of an unstructured approach? 

Innovation has three components – the idea has to be insightful, the idea should create unique value to customer and it should overcome all barriers on its way to market. Most innovations start with an insight – a structured approach provides customer insights and helps in creating value to customer. Structured approach also helps to plan and take proactive steps to overcome barriers and create a path to market. 

You refer to statistics that state 100 ideas achieve less than five impactful innovations. Why is this number so low? How do products like Innovator help improve that ratio? 

Every great idea needs to be aligned and scalable from business growth perspective. Although business alignment is more easily achieved, scalability is not easily found in most ideas. Additionally, IP and defensive patenting by the company, is a must-have in order to guarantee long-term returns and to create an entry-barrier for competition. The final test for a product lies in customer empowerment, which is a game-changer. An aligned, scalable, IP-protected idea may still fail if it does not meet the final criterion of empowering customer. Thus the conversion rate is low because of these four barriers, each of which plays a pivotal role in the success of an idea as an innovation – alignment, scaling, IP and customer empowerment. Thatva Innovator helps in facilitating enterprises to cross these four barriers upfront.

When Thatva decided to innovate with a new product, what was the vision and development strategy? What has been the response to Thatva’s efforts so far?     

Thatva’s vision is to be a true enabler of Innovation. Our strategy is to provide software framework that can facilitate and enable Innovation, and complement it with Mentoring & Consulting Services.

Thatva believes that Innovation needs to be all pervasive, and in order to facilitate this, every individual in the enterprise should be empowered with tools and techniques to take their ideas further. Most enterprises have mere idea management systems where employees post their ideas and people vote on it, but what we have conceived is a true innovation enabler system which empowers individuals to generate ideas and cover the entire innovation lifecycle using tools and techniques. 

In short, Thatva’s Innovator serves as an Innovation Partner for enterprises by effectively enabling ‘Pain-to-Idea-to-ROI’, be it in their current or new initiative that may be new product development, cost optimization or revenue maximization.

We have received positive responses, and many enthusiastic early adopters have returned to us with their feedback that has helped us to improve our offering. We have had more than 350 users who have used the ‘Lite’ version of Innovator at our workshops. There have even been instances of some users who were able to develop patented ideas and others who were able to develop complete marketable products.

Referring to statistics that say 44 percent business projects fail to achieve their profit targets, what are your revenue targets and how optimistic are you about Innovator’s business success? 

Once we got the idea of enabling Innovation, we started meeting many people who were part of R&D in both large MNCs and Indian enterprises to validate our thoughts. Also, there was a need to look at Innovation holistically, and not just reduce it to Idea management. 

So, we validated our findings early on with lead users, market research, meeting experts and with our own experience in the Innovation domain. 

In terms of Growth – we are looking to create tangible outcomes with at least five enterprises in India this year, and we are getting traction from international markets. We have executed couple of Innovation FLOW workshops in the US, UK and Australia.  

What are the Innovator’s product modules and approach strategy? Do you have any metrics for measuring progress / results?

Thatva Innovator modules include Problem Analyzer, Idea Generator, Opportunity Mapper & IFR Manager that can be used by R&D scientists, engineers, operations team, and finance and product strategists. Thatva Innovator also has Innovation Management modules like Innovation Portfolio & Project Management Suite & Opportunity monetizer. 

Innovator has modules to launch Idea campaigns and seek solutions for challenges. Innovator has developed algorithms for tracking and stacking relevant information. It is integrated with patent systems and can provide information about trends & competitors. Innovator has automated workflow, intelligent search systems, and evaluation systems in place. 

Innovator has built in best practices that are both qualitative and quantitative. It helps Innovators in validating the concept that the user has generated and facilitates project managers / reviewers to measure the concept with quantitative data.

Are there any other products similar to Innovator? What are your differentiators? What are your future plans for Innovator? 

There are many idea management systems that are meant to simply capture ideas, rate ideas, and serves as collaboration platforms. There are some tools that are meant only for R&D, and limits innovation as a function of R&D.  However, there is no tool that helps in enabling ideas and taking them all the way to the point of monetization, and this is one of Thatva Innovator’s capabilities. 

We are planning to address other emerging markets that have similar challenges like the ones we have in India. Innovator will have vertical specialized versions that will be domain intensive; like Innovator for pharma, Innovator for chemicals, Innovator for hi-tech industry etc. 

What has been your experience in selling an IT product in the Indian market? How do you sell your story to an enterprise who wants to create new, innovative product or improve their existing process? 

Enterprises have been receptive but challenges are more in terms of marketing a new concept to customers that has a long gestation period.  Sometimes, organizations may not have a clear direction and are not sure about their approach to Innovation, and at times they do it because their competition is doing so.  We have to work with them in aligning their Innovation vision, which means tackling the challenge of getting the top management’s time and get their involvement. 

In India – we are going as a Co-Creation Partner, where we start by understanding the needs of an organization and then plotting an Innovation roadmap. We conduct Innovation FLOW workshops and identify the organization’s challenges, following which we customize and implement Innovator product. We will continue to work as Co-Creation consultants for at least one complete iteration of our client’s Innovation project to help give their innovation project team, a full understanding of how Thatva Innovator and its component modules should be used to optimize their work and reap the benefits.

In enterprises where the Innovation process is more streamlined, we directly start with the implementation of the Innovator Product.

What learning would you like to share with other product developers?

Product development is an iterative process. There were almost two releases that we had to write off because we wanted our mental map of the product to translate into real good user experience and had to validate our concept. This is true for any product development company that is working on new concept.  Another important finding is to involve and continuously engage with lead users. This became a source for our own learning. Workshops are another option wherein new concepts can be introduced to test people’s responses.