Smart Citizens before Smart Cities. What does that mean?

Our goal is to stimulate impact ventures that empower newly digital citizens in non-metro Tier 2 cities. In developing countries, citizens are becoming digital well before cities are becoming smart. Thus, our emphasis is on Smart Citizens, because these Smart Citizens will play a key role in defining Smart Cities. In the emerging world, learning takes place without schools, transactions proceed without a formal currency, transportation solutions are built by companies that don't own the fleet, food is grown away from traditional farms, and digital information democratizes participation in civic matters. The innovation sandbox is focused on identifying, nurturing and launching key ideas with social impact. This will lead to corporate ventures, startup ventures or new research and insights.

What are the Innovation Center and Kumbhathon? Do they go beyond Kumbh Mela?

Impact ventures around newly digital citizens require an integrated effort and a large petri dish for experimentation. A single isolated venture is unlikely to succeed without deep engagement from multiple stakeholders, including local businesses, government officials, and well identified newly digital citizens. We have found an ideal venue for such a sandbox for venture experimentation. The vibrant and beautiful Kumbh Mela in the city of Nashik provides the grounds to test many of these ideas for technology and adoption. At the same time, innovators are bringing innovative solutions to the Kumbh Mela, many of which have been already put in place by the citizens. (Kumbhathon teams built the official app of the Kumbh Mela; it provides unprecedented dynamic graphical data to empower visitors and officials of the Kumbh Mela.)

Kumbhathons are year-round initiatives with quarterly camps used for identifying and addressing technology and market risks. Since innovators need more than just one specific event like Kumbh Mela, the Kumbhathon is NOT a traditional hackathon or a competition. It is a buildathon. After months of preparation, each buildathon is a week-long ideating and prototyping marathon that is part of a year long process. It includes tech talks by renowned industrialists and technological evangelists and a deep engagement with stakeholders of the city. It is a great platform to make ideas take shape. The innovation center now supports innovators and entrepreneurs in taking these ventures to other venues or morph them for daily use by the newly digital citizens.

How does the Nashik Innovation Center work?

The Nashik innovation center or LaunchBox is a year-round initiative to identify and address the challenges of cities in developing countries. The year-long activities are in four phases: (1) Spot, (2) Probe, (3) Grow and (4) Scale.

  1. The Spot phase involves spotting problems, potential solutions and collaborators. The Spot phase takes place online and via expert panels.
  2. The Probe phase investigates technology and market adoption risks by bringing stakeholders together. Probing takes place mainly at the quarterly Kumbhathon (or buildathon).
  3. The Grow phase supports development of the concepts throughout the year.
  4. The Scale phase again uses Nashik as a sandbox and brings in impact investors and initial customers during quarterly engagements.