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MUMBAI: Industrialist Anand Mahindra is throwing a million-dollar challenge to solve two of India’s most pervasive and intractable problems—traffic stress and electricity shortages. The chairman of the automobile-to-aerospace Mahindra Group is calling for competitive pitch to develop a driverless car and a do-it-yourself solar power kit from desi innovators.
This is part of Mahindra’s first edition of the $1 million ‘Rise Prize’—being unveiled on National Science Day later this week—to spur breakthrough Indian innovation which captures the mainstream imagination.
The boss of the $16 billion Mahindra Group hopes the new recognition—at Rs 6.2 crore, it’s one of the heftiest awards in terms of prize money—would foster scientific thought that is aspirational and has potential to change everyday Indian life.“We have to set our own benchmark or metrics to value innovations which impact a part of our lives. Our best minds are used to looking for recognition outside India. The objective is to trigger disruptive innovation in the country,” Mahindra told TOI.
The inaugural Rise Prize will see Mahindra posing two challenges—a $700,000 one aimed at building a driverless car for the congested domestic roads, and a $300,000 challenge to develop a solar DIY kit for household energy needs.
Internet giant Google has been pioneering a project developing technology for self driving cars. Its lead engineer Sebastain Thurn and his team at Stanford created the vehicle prototype after winning a $2 million prize from the US Department of Defence.
“The twin challenges have been selected on the basis of relevance to society, potential to create disproportionate impact, scalability and probability of causing a multiplier effect in allied areas,” Mahindra said. “We hope this will ignite ecosystem building and change societal mindset. This is going beyond jugaad, or making do,” he added.
The competition will be launched on February 28 and candidates at all stages of technological readiness can apply. The first edition will have a timeline of 24-36 months split into three phases—first 90 days for submitting proposals, followed by prototype creation and real world demonstration.
Mahindra is lining up a 100-member team that will include subject experts who would engage with the aspiring innovators throughout the process. The group will not have any rights on the winning innovations. “It’s completely open source and has nothing to do with our group businesses,” Mahindra said.
The Mahindra move comes at a time when Indian entrepreneurial steam has gathered momentum in recent years, aided by the availability of patient private capital in Asia’s third-largest economy.
A recent Kauffman Foundation study shows that 33% co-founders of the US engineering and technology start-ups since 2006 were Indians leaving other immigrant countries far behind. IITs were among the top 10 higher educational institutes in the world that have produced founders of US startups that have raised venture capital funding in the past five years.
A decade-long economic buoyancy and a swelling middle class have created newer markets for products and services where entrepreneurs are kicking up action. Still, disruptive scientific and technology innovations that are ‘Made in India’ remain a far cry.