Trade and industry, International relations, Science and technology, Health | Australia, South Asia

5 March 2015

Australia and India should combine their technology and entrepreneurship forces to foster innovation.

Healthcare tomorrow will have no resemblance to what exists today.

Imagine a world where 3D printing technology print bespoke organs, blood vessels, bones and joints and every one of us has a lifelong genome map that is tracked for mutations that are linked to their disease causing potential, enabling early diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.

According to consulting firm Visiongain, the forecast for the 3D-printing medical market is estimated to generate $4 billion by 2018. It is also well accepted that advancements in medical science have increased life expectancy in the developed world to over 80 years. There are 60,000 centenarians in the US today and it is estimated that there will be one million by 2050.

At a time when technology is transforming the world we live in, India and Australia have great potential to collaborate to leverage technology and innovate a better future.

As an entrepreneur, I am cognizant of the need to partner and collaborate in order to leverage new technologies that will propel business growth. Today, at Biocon we are focused on personalising our products for global markets by partnering with multiple providers of smart and innovative technologies. These companies are precursors of what the future holds – a vast and vibrant market place of millions of small medium and large enterprises (SME) symbiotically interconnected to deliver superior and sustainable solutions.

Bangalore is today the start-up capital of India and accounts for nearly 30 per cent of the country’s start-ups and Sydney is home to half of Australia’s. What these two cities share is a conducive entrepreneurial ecosystem that links research, capital and technology-led ideas to the market place. The opportunity lies in bringing these two ecosystems together through policies and mechanisms that unleash the combined strengths of all such ecosystems in both countries.

The IT industry in India, built largely by first-generation entrepreneurs based out of Bangalore, generates annual revenues of over $100-billion and employs some 3.2 million people in India. It is estimated that there will be two million IT workers in Bangalore alone by 2020, outnumbering those in California’s Silicon Valley.

Bangalore has also attracted a diverse number of life science start-ups over the years and has grown to be the biotech capital of India. I established my own company Biocon in a small garage in 1978 as the country’s first biotech start-up and built it up into Asia’s largest biotech enterprise today.

As a first generation entrepreneur who started my own business. I urge every jobless person to opt for self-employment. If I could build a billion dollar business on a foundation of innovative ideas and meagre resources; with no business experience but with abundant spirit and youthful confidence, anyone can do so. I have also learnt along the way that innovation creates value, differentiation builds competitive advantage and that businesses need to evolve dynamically as a way to adapt and leverage new technologies.

To me perhaps the most transformative power of technology is that of entrepreneurship. Technology is unleashing innovation through entrepreneurial zeal like never before. No longer is value creation linked to scale but to the power of the idea.

In 2014 the global biotech sector raised $40 billion through venture funds, private equity and IPOs – the highest ever to date. Add ICT and this number zooms to $200 billion. These ‘technopreneurs’ are all focused on breakthrough ideas and money is chasing every one of them.

We are today witnessing the birth of the ‘ideas economy’, where the value of a company is measured by its ‘innovation quotient’ rather than traditional metrics such as revenue, profit, physical assets etc. The potential of the WhatsApp messaging platform to change the way the world communicates led Facebook to pay an ‘innovation premium’ resulting in a blockbuster deal value of US$19-billion.

In medical and life sciences, the technology revolution is already apparent with the Australian invention of the Cochlear hearing implant and an Indian innovation for rapid TB detection. My own company is developing the world’s first oral Insulin as a tablet.

There is no dearth of innovative ideas in life sciences, but unlike the ICT sector, there does seem to be a dearth of investor appetite. The US is perhaps the only ecosystem that has drawn inspiration from the marvels of bio-medical science and created an investment environment that ascribes high value to innovative ideas.

I believe that Australia and India need to emulate the US model of value creation through backing innovative start-ups if we wish to create an ‘ideas economy’ that generates perpetual value accretion and thereby economic and employment growth.

Genomics and Big Data analytics are emerging areas where Indian IT skills provide an advantaged impetus. Combine this with advanced scientific and medical knowledge in Australia and we have a win-win.

However, unless our respective governments recognise the potential of this scientific synergy, it will remain rhetoric. We need foreign policies to reflect on the power of collaborative innovation, especially in a world that is truly boundary-less, interconnected and virtual, thanks to technology.

The building blocks for close cooperation between India and Australia to create a knowledge society are already there.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently paid a historic visit to Australia, reinforcing the importance of building strong bilateral ties between our two countries. Whilst the focus was on mega projects, the potential to create a partnership in the SME sector through technopreneurs and the scope of jointly taking innovative ideas to global markets is compelling.

The future will belong to those countries and companies that can unleash the power of cross border collaborations, invest in innovation and embrace entrepreneurship as an economic model of growth.

This is an abbreviated version of the 2015 K.R. Narayanan Oration delivered by Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on 2 March at Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. The complete text of the Narayanan Oration will be made available on the website of the Australia South Asia Research Centre and is not available for posting elsewhere.  Past Narayanan orations are also available at:

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