As the world dramatically reshapes itself post-Covid, innovation has come to the fore; disruption becomes the new normal. Speaking of innovation, there has been very little attention paid to the role of students/youngsters. The 14-year-old Aditya Pachpande, a child prodigy and CEO, Nextgen Innov8, encapsulates the new breed of youngsters who believe in innovation being the solution to India’s challenges.
Joining him in the discussion organised by MMA on the theme “Unleashing Creativity and Innovation in Next Gen Leaders” are two stalwarts who have etched their own strong footprints of success in the realm of leadership, entrepreneurship and marketing, and his dad, Dr Sandeep Pachpande—an educationist leading ASM Group of Institutes.
G Ramachandran (GR): Aditya, Do you think that your innovativeness and uniqueness happened because of parental control or did you have it in you?
Aditya: I started my creativity journey by reading Tom Kelly’s book, “Creative Confidence.” When I researched about the concept of innovation, I realised that it was in me. I had the internal drive to solve a particular problem. In school, I was teased as ‘lecture man’ just because I used to go beyond the syllabus of the class.
When I told my teachers about design thinking and innovation, my teachers would discourage me saying that it was not important as it would not come in the exams. I feel every child has the capacity to solve complex problems. My parents supported me and encouraged my passion. I got support from others like you too.
Were your marks good in exams?
Honestly, my marks were not good. Topping the exam was never my objective. I gave importance to my passion and I think that exams are not everything.
How should school children approach innovation?
Don’t be afraid to be different from others. Age is just a number. It is no barrier to success or innovation. Children should definitely have focus on the exam but more focus on where their heart leads them.
Scarcity is the mother of innovation. Most innovations came during crisis or recession.
Apurva: Is innovation overrated and execution part played down?
Execution is a part of innovation. When you are improving a certain product to solve someone else’s problem, it is innovation. If the solution is not executed, there is no use in that. So innovation and execution go hand in hand.
What was your first innovation?
I made some thing out of Lego. My father had bought a voice box. I put it in Lego and made it to speak.
Many people complain of lack of resources to be innovative. Should all resources have to be in place for innovation to happen?
Scarcity is the mother of innovation. Most innovations came during crisis or recession. If you take the case of Iron Man movie, though it is fiction, the hero is kidnapped by enemies and because he wants to get rid of them, he creates a space suit and escapes. He does not have all the resources for the suit. Innovation is like ‘jugaad.’ It is doing more with less.
You studied in Harvard. How was that experience?
When I was 11, I wanted to start my company to pursue my passion. I applied to the Harvard Summer Business Academy. They said my application was brilliant but due to my age, they could not admit me. I was heartbroken. Afterwards, I convinced them to have a Skype interview and I got in.
I met different kinds of people there. The most innovative people were the professors who taught in a very different manner than a traditional teacher would teach. They used many case studies and examples and the sessions were very interactive. It was an absolutely amazing experience and I made a lot of friends.
Sandeep: Aditya, can you tell us about the innovation that you made during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, I realised that people had a challenge in sterlising vegetables, groceries, parcels, and other such necessary items brought from outside to the home. I was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who said, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’ and wanted to provide something for frontline warriors.
I began thinking about how one could sterilise these items. Exposure to sunlight, or washing them with soap/baking soda/potassium permanganate, or using sanitisers are all options but each one has its drawback. This is when I got the idea of creating the Suraksha Box, which works on the principle of using UVC light to sterilise.
The Covid crisis has made all educational institutes adopt to technology. With technology, we can give personalised learning and solutions to students.
The box has a mesh on which the items are placed and subjected to UVC light in a controlled environment. This was launched on October 2, 2020, Gandhiji’s 152nd birth anniversary, with a Government of India (MC&I) patent published. It has also been approved and certified by the CSIR-CMERI of the Government of India.
The box can protect against all kinds of viruses, bacteria and fungi. The goal is provide 15,000+ Suraksha boxes to the underprivileged, needy and frontline workers. There are two versions of it, one being a do-it-yourself (DIY) version which costs a lot lower. It can be assembled in under 30 minutes. It is fully made in India.
Apurva: Sandeep, what were the challenges you had in being a father of a child prodigy?
It is absolutely a proud moment for us being parents of a child prodigy. Initially when we saw the spark in him that he was different, we were a little bit worried. His mother felt that when he started his company, he should not lose his childhood. Soon we realised he was someone who could balance everything together. We provided him all the support, took him where ever he wanted us to, for his learning. We were okay with his marks. He scored well in the subjects that mattered to him. We decided not to pressurise him in his studies and marks and allowed him to follow his passion.
Aditya: Now let me ask a few questions to the panellists. What is the biggest mistakes that most entrepreneurs make?
GR: They don’t have a game plan and a ‘go-to-market’ strategy. When they have some ideas, they think they have arrived. Unless consumers accept your product, you cannot be a success story.
Aditya: How can innovation be incorporated in the classroom?
Sandeep: It is a challenge since the traditional system is marks and exams based. We focus more on the memory of the student. The Covid crisis has made all educational institutes adopt to technology. With technology, we can give personalised learning and solutions to students. In ASM Group, we provide blended mode and asynchronous teaching. We now use case studies method and this should be adopted not only in colleges but in all schools. Problem solving, innovation, design thinking can also be made part of the curriculum. Jobs of the future require these.
Aditya: As one of the top angel investors in the country, what should entrepreneurs do to be innovative?
Apurva: Innovative companies outperform other companies by over 60%. One of the traits I find in such companies is extreme customer centricity. There are two ways to be innovative. Do something which nobody has done before. Or do things in a way which nobody has done before. The second one should not be underestimated. Innovative entrepreneurs spend the best part with customers and consumers in trying to solve their needs.
We also need more social entrepreneurs. We used crowd-funding to promote our DIY Suraksha kit.
Aditya: How can we change the fear of failure mindset in entrepreneurs?
GR: Fear of failure is the fear of the unknown. Entrepreneurs in India start off with the thought, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” Planning is very important. They need to know how much money is needed. Some start a company with their little savings, more as a hobby than a serious profession.
They need to have coaches and mentors to help them ride over a crisis. When they are not good in taking the product to the market, they lose focus and deviate. The entrepreneur cannot be a one-man army. Preferably, he must have a co-founder with whom he can have different sets of priorities established. Unicorns are not having just one founder. They are a team. They must think through carefully and roll out priorities and plans. Above all, customer recognition is the need of the hour. If they take care of all these, the fear of failure mindset can be conquered.
Aditya: How can creativity be leveraged and taught better to students?
Sandeep: Kids are more innovative, and innovation is there in all of us. The society and the education system block out much of our creativity and makes us think inside the box. If kids are given space to think about their problems and innovative solutions by their community or parents, they can come up with radically innovative ideas. They must get the right mentors so that we can have many more Adityas.
Aditya: Do we have enough of young entrepreneurs in India? What is holding them up?
Apurva: We are quite behind in this scenario. India is a land of opportunities and has a lot to offer the world. QR code based payment model started in India and went global. We are not seeing many young entrepreneurs. As parents, we need to encourage our children and friends to be entrepreneurs.
Aditya: We also need more social entrepreneurs. We used crowd-funding to promote our DIY Suraksha kit. We are creating a world record to assemble on 8th August 2021 the maximum number of UVC kits in a single day. It can be used for self-use or donated to the needy, underprivileged or front line workers. I would appeal all to support and promote this social cause.
I would like to know why social entrepreneurship is not taking off amongst youngsters.
GR: We think that getting into social entrepreneurship is not a great career. Today people think cricket is a career because there is money involved but that social causes cannot provide career. We need to remove this mindset. We need to catch people young. You don’t need to be innovative and entrepreneurial at the same time but if you have both, then you have the DNA in you to make it big. We don’t have the ecosystem for encouraging youngsters in social work. If our kids collect money for a cause, we tell them, “Don’t waste your time. When will you study?”
When young children wanted to clean Juhu beach, their parents told them, “Why do you waste your time? It will again get spoiled.” They posted it in social media about the challenges they faced. So elders need big time education not to dissuade youngsters in reaching out through social causes.
Apurva: I suggest that children must be given internship in big corporates so that they can understand how the corporates work.
Aditya: What is your take on the new Education Policy?
Sandeep: The new national educational policy is good as there are many positive features and flexibility for students with an integrated approach. But I feel that we cannot have a one-size-fits-all model for such a diverse country as India. This aspect needs to be thought of.
Mr G Ramachandran, Chairman, Advisory board, Innoserv Group, ORAI Robotics, Director – Keiretsu Forum, Co-Founder & Mentor, Z-bat
Mr Apurva Chamaria, SVP & Chief of Staff to CEO & MD, Tech Mahindra and Author
Dr Sandeep Pachpande, Chairman, ASM Group of Institutes
Mr Aaditya Pachpande, CEO, Nextgen Innov8