In today's world where competition is ever increasing and costs are rising, companies—small and big alike—need to continuously innovate if they are to stay ahead of rivals, says Harsh Mariwala, chairman of Marico.
Mariwala, who has over the decades built the fast moving consumer goods company with successful brands like Parachute and Saffola, now spends a large part of his time on the Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF), a socio-economic iniative he has founded with an aim to nurture innovation across businesses and social sectors.
“Innovation is something which I was very passionate about, because when ever we had innovated in the past, we had seen whenever the innovation succeeded, there was a discontinuous impact on business. Key is to identify newer ways of doing things, take risks and many times you succeed, sometimes you fail,” he told THE WEEK.
He stressed on the need for organisations to encourage risk-taking and an environment of innovative thinking, to succeed in a challenging and constantly changing business environment.
“Innovation impact, if successful, will be far higher. Competitors will catch up with you on costs. But, if you are innovative on a perpetual basis, then others will find it difficult to catch up with you,” said Mariwala.
He cited the example of Baba Ramdev's Patanjali, which has aggressively made its way across FMCG categories, eating into the market share of incumbents. There is also increasing competition from modern trade outlets, which are invested in their own private brands and e-commerce companies too will have their own private labels.
“So, you need to be two steps ahead of all your competition so that you are able to beat them. That's where innovation comes in,” he added.
He says one can't take Patanjali lightly any more and lauds the company for its ability to launch a wide range of products and enter new categories in a short period of time. But he feels, the company may be stretching itself too far, by entering into newer categories like apparels.
MIF runs a Scale-Up programme, an intensive mentorship engagement, where the entrepreneurs work closely with MIF to ascertain and solve challenges they face in their businesses.
The focus is on areas of where Marico has been competent, like innovations in agriculture and supply chain management, while also backing innovators in areas like education technology and clean technology.
MIF doesn't fund such innovations, but provides mentorship and wants to connect successful innovators with people who are looking to fund new technologies.
“Over the next 1-2 years, our agenda is to build an ecosystem where we tie-up with incubators, they will be a base for us to get innovations; we are also looking at creating an entire VC-PE (ventural capitalists, private equity) angle. We don't fund or cut a single cheque. But there are entities that would love to evaluate innovations and good entrepreneurs,” said Mariwala.
Marico has also roped in its own managers, who can mentor some of the organisations, while several ex-chief executives like Sudhir Trehan (former MD of Crompton Greaves) and Sanjeev Aga (former MD of Idea Cellular) among others have also been lending a helping hand for MIF.
Apart from Mariwala, MIF's governing council comprises eminent experts including R.A. Mashelkar, Anu Aga (ex-chairperson of Thermax), R. Gopalakrishnan (former Tata Sons director), Naushad Forbes (co-chairman of Forbes Marshall) and Ravi Venkatesan (Infosys co-chairman).
Mariwala says that the number of applications it receives for the awards has been going up in recent times, and he sees signs of increasing frugal innovations, companies developing products at substantially lower costs compared to the existing. However, he rues the fact that not enough new ideas are emerging out of India.
“If you look at technology being the biggest disruptor, India is falling behind. We have a good opportunity to create innovations and jump start wherever we are unique. We have started sowing seeds, but to say that we have had a huge impact on the international level, I think we have a long way to go,” he said.
MIF is also scaling up its accelerator programme, helping businesses as well as social organisations, who may have very good ideas, but don't know how to scale up.