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We Look Forward To Closing 6 Scale-Up Challenges From Our Existing Cohort: MIF

In an interview with BW Businessworld, core team members of Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF), subsidiary of the leading FMCG company, Marico Limited, talk about how the foundation is helping SMEs to scale up and more

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What are the Marico Innovation Foundation and its objective? 

The Foundation aims to nurture innovations in India across the business and social sectors alike. They work closely with organizations that are innovative and impactful through their innovation forward and sector agnostic programs.

  •  Scale-Up Program-  identifies critical business challenges faced by an innovation, collaborates with its pool of mentors and provides implementable solutions; thereby leading to tangible impact and sustained growth of the innovation.

  •  Innovate2Cultivate: an Agriculture focused program that aims to solve current agricultural challenges with the help of innovations and bring the relevant ecosystem together to support these innovations. This is in line with their efforts to spur and then nurture innovations in the country, one sector at a time. 

  • MIF Awards- A platform that identifies and showcases innovations across Business, Social and Start-Up categories that hold potential to generate large scale impact. Over the previous editions MIF Innovation Awards has recognized more than 57 disruptive innovations and the next edition will be in Feb 2020. 

Marico Innovation Foundation helps SMEs to scale up. What is the reason behind your focus on SMEs?
India ranks 60th out of 128 countries on the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2017, a steady improvement over the years. Also, the number of incubators and accelerators has grown by 40% with tremendous traction in tier II & III cities. Therefore, there is no dearth of the spark that generates innovative ideas. However, when it comes to scaling and sustaining innovations, India is far from joining the big league of innovative nations.

Our engagement with the innovating organizations has a hands-on approach, where the MIF team works closely with the cohort. We have a 100+ strong mentor-pool (both internal and external) who volunteer their expertise for scaling of the innovations and the progress is measured through defined impact metrics. The effectiveness and efficiency of the engagement continues to evolve.

Please throw some light on the challenges that a small business ecosystem in India is facing currently. Highlight the difficulties being faced by Small FMCG companies who are wanting to scale up. 
The SME sector is witnessing diverse and broad growth owing to many domestic and global accelerants. Factors challenging the growth for small businesses are primarily lack of access to markets, capital and talent. The management also oftentimes lacks necessary skills which primarily are owing to a lack of experience. With thorough research, we have learnt that the innovators may not have all the necessary skill sets to run a business which in turn leads to hindering their growth 

We have had small businesses approach with problems affecting many areas; supply chain management, customer acquisition, sourcing troubles, quality process issues, setting up of new production units, choosing the right direction for marketing,  growing online sales etc.   

These diverse challenges for a small business could be make-or-break as there is limited wiggle room for errors while allocating already scanty resource.

Alongside, not only are most founders of startups very young, the ecosystems are also in their nascent stage. This directly points to a need for the ecosystem for SMEs in India to evolve where industry majors make available their experience and expertise to point SMEs in the right direction. 

To be effective, the available ecosystem needs to focus on creating value by customizing solutions through a deep rooted mentoring approach that addresses specific challenges the companies are facing, sticking to their field of expertise in doing so. Thorough review over a specific period is critical as is educating the young entrepreneurs alongside by giving actionable solutions they themselves are executing, and ultimately setting benchmarks for success for the innovations as well. This helps MIF measure the success of the initiative to help the innovations achieve scale. 

List out the offerings provided by the Foundation that helps an onboard company to scale up.
The program aims to help ‘innovative’ organisations in accelerating their growth through what we call ‘deep rooted and intensive mentoring’ by a domain expert. The MIF team works closely with the innovation to ascertain the business challenge they are facing; the mentors devote their time and experience in developing an implementable course of action to solve for the challenge at hand. This entire process is monitored through pre-determined measureable milestones. The engagement ends when the challenge is resolved and the organization is ready to scale up operations seamlessly. 

How do you select startups to support them? 
For MIF Scale-Up, the focus is on scalable innovations. The team proactively reaches out to such innovations through ecosystem partner recommendations and in- house research. However innovations can also reach out to MIF by writing to [email protected] The innovation is validated and then presented to the Founder, Harsh Mariwala who is closely involved in the efforts of this program. In fact, in some cases we seek strategic inputs on the challenges faced by innovations. Once on- boarded, the process is fairly structured as mentioned above.

As for MIF Awards- Applications are welcomed after an exhaustive out-reach program. These applications are shortlisted by two juries (one for social impact and another for the business category), comprised of an eclectic mix of subject matter experts. The shortlist is then further scrutinized by the Awards knowledge partner who will complete their due diligence of on-ground immersion, interviews with the CEO and management, commercial viability of the innovation and impact generated. This research is used to deliberate the final awardees to be showcased at the event.

The intake process for their newest program Innovate2Cultivate is fairly robust too- MIF conducted an exhaustive outreach for their newest program #Innovate2Cultivate where the team contacted more than 500 Indian agri-preneurs in a span of 45 days. After the closing of application window, the Knowledge Partners for the program IIM Ahmedabad's Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) to conduct a two- step evaluation. After the closing of application window, CIIE along with a panel of coconut business experts from Marico Limited Agri Team conducted the evaluation of the 100 applications received. The result was a focussed shortlist of 37 innovations seen as promising innovations fit to solve challenges faced by the coconut crop; thus making MIF’s first ever Agri cohort. 

How many companies have come on board so far? Can you name a few of them and highlight how advantage program has helped them scale up?

We have 25 innovations in our scale-up cohort over time and 37 innovations as part of our Innovate2Cultivate program.  MIF Awards has recognized the pioneering work of 57 innovations thus far. 

Success stories: Zaya Labs sells a learning software platform to affordable schools, after-school centres, and vocational training centres that runs online or on-device called ClassCloud. It  operates on a rotational-based model, also known as ‘blended learning’. The beauty of blended learning lies in equal participation on part of the teacher and the student during the learning process. 

Through the foundation’s  intervention with Zaya Labs has led to a drastic reduction in percentage of customer returns of damaged goods from a whopping 85% returns to now only 0.03% thereby increasing product credibility and sales.

Yet another impactful case is that of Educate Girls. While solving a supply chain management challenge MIF has managed to reduce the total per kit cost leading to an immediate saving of Rs. 35 lakhs over just 4 months of engagement. They are now able to scale their project that was going to 800 schools at a much higher cost to 6000 schools in one year of MIF’s intervention. They are now able to reach 1.5L girls.

Another example of Atomberg Technologies (India’s most energy efficient ceiling fan, consuming just 25W, as compared to the majority which consumes 75W, thereby cutting down your electricity bill by 65%). MIF’s intervention in their e-commerce sales strategy has led to 5 times increase in sales numbers in October 2018 as compared to sales in October 2017.

Please elaborate your future plans for 2019 and the global presence.
The year ahead seems exciting and action packed 

We look forward to closing 6 Scale-Up challenges from our existing cohort and hope to on- board new innovations for the mentoring program. Some of the exciting innovations we are working with are –

  • Open App: Newly on- boarded to our Scale-Up Program, Distinct Horizon has developed a patented Fertilizer/Urea Deep Placement Applicator for rice farming that increases productivity by 25%, thereby reducing fertilizer consumption by 40%.

  • Distinct Horizon:  is a startup focused on providing better security options for everyone. They have come up with unique innovative products that have made ‘unlocking’ really simple, secure and safe. By adding layers of technology to unlocking, they have transformed security with technological intelligence.

We also aim to see some outcome from the Innovate2Cultivate Program and will be planning the second leg focusing on another crop. 

The next edition of MIF Awards is in Feb 2020. Applications for the same will be open in July 2019.

We also are releasing a second book this year that chronicles the scaling up journeys of 10 innovations and draws insights from them. The first book from MIF was released in 2009 titled ‘Making Breakthrough Innovations Happen’, and I am delighted to note that this book is quite a benchmark for innovation. It has sold more than 65,000 copies thus far and is a bestseller in the genre.


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