By Rohan Puri

Rohan Puri worked as a research specialist at the MIT Media Lab in the Camera Culture Group where he built devices for health and human-computer interaction.  He has also worked at TechStars Boston, and was a mentor at Harvard i-Lab, Startup Weekend, and Startup Institute.

Rohan runs the newsletter Fives, where he shares cutting-edge research and technology. He currently resides in San Francisco, CA working on his next soon-to-be-announced project.

Nashik, Innovation, and You

I had an amazing experience connecting with bright minds and resourceful people in Mumbai and Nashik this past January. At REDX, the Welingkar Institute of Management was gracious in helping support our model for rapid, multi-threaded innovation. The gatherings with selected participants in WeSchool allowed them to select new projects and showcase existing projects to key stakeholders from the Mumbai area. Then, teams were offered an opportunity to better validate and prototype their projects in the supportive city in Nashik.

Never before have I seen such a strong gathering of like-minded yet diverse people in one place. Innovators, mentors, government officials, local business owners, and everyday workers came together to help design better solutions to India’s toughest problems. Tata Consultancy Services helped craft a detailed approach strategy for each of the grand challenges and our MIT team helped guide teams focused on the health track. I encouraged members of our team (led by Alicia Chong) to go out on field trips and evaluate their hypotheses by actually talking with real people about some of the problems they face in their everyday life and what might limit their access to health.

Back in the Nashik Engineering College, teams built prototypes to help address some of the health problems and put them up against diverse panels of specialists from Nashik and all over the world. The panels put the teams’ thinking to the test and helped the teams ensure that they thought through every possible side of the challenge they were attempting to solve: culturally, technically, and financially.

So, what happens now?

We wait a bit. This is where where the magic happens. You see, I’ve found that the most ambitious, resilient, and relentless people in the world become obsessive with the work they are passionate about. They can’t stop; they keep pushing. This is what we are already seeing from the innovators on many of our projects and I can’t wait for the most passionate individuals to bubble to the top. We’re waiting for the self-starters and self-pushers to keep going.

I hope we see many more of our innovators take this initiative as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is not a hackathon, not a networking event, not even a learning event. This is a doing initiative. The TCS, MIT, Nashik, and WeSchool teams have done an incredible job providing a foundation and infrastructure for innovation to happen. We have the resources, connections, and influence to make many of these projects come to life in a record amount of time. Take advantage of the hype, ride the wave of momentum you started in Nashik and take the projects to a place where you can say “I deployed that.” In general, I hope to see a much stronger emphasis on completing one project rather than just starting a bunch of projects as you see with many hackathons these days.

For the initiative as a whole, I hope to see more companies donating their support and infrastructures. In India we have a unique advantage in that organizations are incredibly well connected with one another. They can pull in partners, collaborators, and resources at the snap of a finger. I hope to see many more organizations offering their support for this platform in any way they can -- these innovators need all the support they can get and the last thing they need to worry about is funding, internet connectivity, development resources, or access problems. They need to focus on one thing and one thing only: building, implementing, and deploying these projects to the people who need them. To produce winners, we need to build a strong foundation and I think we have a great start.

But, there’s still a lot to be done. If we can launch a satellite to Mars at a greatly reduced cost, there’s a lot that can be done here on earth if we put our minds together. Let’s stop thinking independently about our own problems/goals and learn to work together to help one another. As a recent transplant to Silicon Valley, I’ve seen it myself. A strong network of support is vital. Sometimes you need to give a little before you can get anything. Let’s create a culture of giving.

To the innovators: Keep pushing, we’re here to support you.

To the organizations: Let’s help each other. There’s no reason that Nashik and India can’t be the best place in the world to rapidly iterate and deploy hugely impactful technologies and systems.

To the observers: Stop observing. When did you ever get credit or passion from watching from the sidelines? There are ways for everyone to help out and get involved. Don’t wait until you have more experience. The best way to get experience on how to innovate for billions is, well, to start innovating for billions. We’re here to pick you up if you fall down along the way.

Remember, people rarely regret action. It’s inaction they regret.
Here we go!