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Atal Innovation Mission – Its Importance To Our Nation

India was somewhat left behind in the industrial revolution that swept the world in the last century. But India does have a fantastic opportunity to contribute in the knowledge based revolution that is sweeping the world today.

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India, over the centuries, has never had a dearth of great thinkers, scientists, engineers, doctors, innovators, philosophers, artists. Indian intellectual, engineering, artistic capabilities are second to none with some of the greatest scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the world like President Abdul Kalam, Shri S Ramanujan, Sir CV Raman and Dr Vikram Sarabhai coming from various regions of India. Our philosophy, culture, fine arts, temples and sculptures also bear testimony of the same.

What India has been lacking however is a holistic innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem that stimulates, enables and supports Inspiration, Imagination and Innovation in our schools, universities, industries across the length and breadth of the nation. Whenever Indians go abroad they excel and reach the highest levels of eminence and achievements be it in technology, business, academia, and even governments. Many Indians are leading innovations in some of the largest and most innovative tech, medical, financial companies of the world including Google, Microsoft , IBM, Adobe.

Access to an innovative ecosystem in these developed countries has allowed many Indians to realize their aspirations, convert their dreams into realities, and helped them flower and blossom to their full creative potential.

With over 1.4 million+ schools, 10500+ engineering and related institutions, 39000+ colleges, a demographic dividend that is the envy of many a country, a fast growing economy, the imperative in India is therefore to ensure that an estimated 150+ million youth of India entering the work force over the next few years can also realize their true human potential through access to a world class innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem nationwide, leveraging rapidly advancing, accessible, affordable technologies transforming the world we live in and enabling an incredible set of opportunities for innovation and new job creation.

Revolutionary technological advancements are indeed transforming the world giving rise to new technology and business innovations at a dizzying pace. Electronics miniaturization has enabled a computer the size of a room to fit our pockets aided by the convergence of computing, storage  and communications at incredibly lower costs. Robotics and Artificial intelligence are driving next generation productivity and automation. 3D printers are making real time conceptualization, design, prototyping and manufacturing at an SME level a reality. IOT or the Internet of things are connecting sensor Technologies to mobile and satellite Technologies in every Industry  - from enabling precision agriculture, healthcare, water cleansing and conservation, climate change controls, disaster prediction and management, driverless cars and space shuttles. Big Data and analytics and Artificial Intelligence are enabling complex decision making through advanced easy to use tools. India ia country of a billion people with thousands of challenges, which are also thousands of opportunities for innovative entrepreneurial startups to succeed with possible global impact.

The Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), a PMO initiative of the current government, conceived by a Think Tank at the Niti Aayog, and approved by the Cabinet on Feb 24th 2016 was launched during the same year to create such a world class innovation and entreprenurial ecosystem in India.

As the Hon Prime Minister Shri Narenda Modi has been constantly emphasizing, we need to transform our nation from one of job seekers to job creators of the future.  All of AIM’s initiatives are linked together to ensure they inspire, enable and create a nation of innovators and job creators of the future.

The Atal Innovation Mission has therefore adopted a holistic linked framework to achieve its objectives through initiatives which can create both immediate impact as well as ones which are necessary long term.

Atal Tinkering Labs is AIM’s flagship game changing initiative at a school level aimed to transform a rote learning, marks oriented mindset to a problem solving innovative mindset in school students nationwide. AIM has launched the establishment of thousands of Atal Tinkering Labs across the 715 districts of India, enabling students from grade 6 to grade 12 to have access to and tinker with state of the art innovative tools and technologies like 3D printers, robotics, Internet of Things (IOT), miniaturised electronics, Do IT Yourself (DIY) kits thus stimulating a problem solving innovative mindset to solve problems in around the communities they live in. AIM gives a grant of Rs 20 lakhs per school selected to establish an ATL. The schools are selected through a challenge process to ensure the viability and capability of the school to support an ATL. The ATL of a school can also be leveraged by neighbouring school students who do not have an ATL.

Theoretical class room based knowledge in various fields of science, physics, chemistry, math trigger the spark of curiosity in a child to acquire more of such knowledge . Practical knowledge, access and tinkering with these latest tools and technologies ignites the imagination of children to apply theoretical concepts learnt in the classroom to real world solutions thus exciting their interest to learn more and research more.

All these ATL tools and Technologies are available and affordable too from a learning perspective. It is imperative that our school children have access to these Technologies tinker with and design solutions with them, prototype, test and refine them, allowing unbridled expression to their imagination and creativity.  If you can create prototypes and solutions in the school level you create also a mindset and confidence in being able to become entrepreneurs and job creators of the future

AIM has already implemented close to 5000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) across 660+ of the 715 districts of the country with over 2.5 million students having direct access to Tinkering. 70% of these schools are government and government aided schools. 70% of them are also girls and cooed schools. 112 out of 115 Aspiring Districts already have ATLs. Every school would have a trained ATL in charge and a voluntary qualified mentor. Through a series of Atal Tinkering Challenges at the school level, Atal Tinkering Fests at a regional level, Atal Tinkering Marathons at a national level, students are constantly inspired and stimulated to innovate in small teams with design thinking, communication and other 21st century skills and a knowledge of Sustainable Development Goals integrated into their innovations.

The results of these interventions are amazing to watch. 10th grade girl students team from a remote government school have been able to develop a solar panel, IOT device for irrigation management and water conservation using soil sensors that is being piloted into farms in the local community. Another team of students from one of these Tinkering labs have designed an innovative Robotic waste segregation and management system. In the recently held Atal Tinkering Innovation Marathon an estimated 50000+ students created over 6000+ prototype innovations through 1500 schools. The Top 100 Innovation Teams have been recognized and are undergoing special exposure to Student Innovation Bootcamps at Atal Incubators and our corporate partners. Many corporate partners have adopted hundreds of ATLs to mentor the young students joining the innovation bandwagon.

Before the end of this year the target is to have over 10000 ATLs operational in the country.  14000 schools have already been selected for this purpose through the challenge route. ATLs are a game changer in our education system, and has come to be noticed as one of the largest such initiatives globally.

Atal Incubators is AIM’s initiative at the Universities, Institutions, industry level, to create an ecosystem and a network of world class Atal incubators (AICs) supporting early stage start-ups and entrepreneurs. AICs would foster world class innovative start-ups to become scalable and sustainable enterprises, enabling them to overcome valleys of death typical in a startup life cycle because of lack of proper technology, research, mentoring, venture capital, hiring and infrastructure support. AIM gives a grant of upto Rs 10 crores for each such incubator through a challenge application process.

To date AIM has identified 102 universities and institutions to establish world class Atal Incubators in diverse areas (agritech, biotech, water management, ecommerce, edtech, electric vehicles, renewable clean energy, etc..) across 23 states, each of which will foster creation and nurturing of 40-50 world class Startups every four years. 50+ Atal Incubators are already operational with 1200+ operational Startups. AIC Incubator and Startup Bootcamps enable these incubators to learn from best practices and also enable access the network of resources for mentoring, finance, venture capital and domain expertise. Atal Incubators also work closely with other AIM initiatives in a supportive manner.

Atal New India Challenges (ANICs) is AIM’s initiative to stimulate Product and Service Innovations with national Socio-economic impact .  India is the world’s largest democracy with over a billion people, 29 states, 7 Union Territories, multiple languages, with each state having different issues and problems to solve both from an economic growth point of view as well as societal needs point of view. There is therefore an urgent need to incentivize relevant problem solving and innovations at local, regional and national levels across the length and breadth of the country. AIM has launched over 24 Atal New India Challenges in partnership with five different ministries and departments of central government. 52 winners have been selected for grant aid and hand holding by Incubators / mentors of AIM out of 950+ applications received for the same., each of whom would receive a grant of upto 1 crore for converting their innovation to a commercially deployable product.

Atal Community Innovation Centres (ACIC) initiative of AIM is to ensure that the innovation and entrepreneurial needs of Un-served and Under-Served regions of India would be addressed. To promote the benefits of technology led innovation to the un-served/under-served regions of India including Tier 2, Tier 3 cities, aspirational districts, tribal, hilly and coastal areas, AIM is targeting to set up Atal Community Innovation Centres in a unique partnership driven model wherein AIM would grant up to Rs 2.5 crores to an ACIC subject to a partner proving equal or greater matching funding. Over 300+ Applications have been received across the country and 50+ ACICs will be established during the next two years.

Applied Research and Innovation for Small Enterprises (ARISE) is yet another initiative that will be launched this year to stimulate MSME industry innovation . To promote innovation in a phased manner in the MSME/Start-up sector AIM will be launching ARISE (Applied Research and Innovation for Small Enterprises) along with partner Ministries and Industries so that great research ideas are converted to viable innovative prototypes followed by product development and commercial deployment.

Collaboration and links would be the key for success of all of AIM’s initiatives, with accomplished individuals as well as organizations in academia, government, public and private sector

AIM has therefore launched a Mentors of Change, Mentor India Network across the country and accessible even to international mentors. Over 10,000 mentors have registered in the AIM portal and over 5000 are directly now associated with ATLs, AICs and startups. More than 30 corporates have adopted Atal Tinkering Labs for mentoring them. In a connected world remote or distance mentoring can be a reality.

Many regional, state and international governments are also actively supporting AIM in sharing best practices, and extending access to their innovation ecosystems. AIM has developed strong innovation partnerships with similar entities an multinationals from Singapore, Sweden, France, Germany, Russia, USA and with organizations such as UN, UNDP, UNICEF. Large NGOs and multinational companies who have a stake in one of the largest democracies of the world are collaborating with AIM on almost all these initiatives. None of these initiatives will succeed without a certain degree of selfless commitment and passion to the cause of innovation and to the cause of betterment of the world we live in.

In closing, India was somewhat left behind in the industrial revolution that swept the world in the last century. But India does have a fantastic opportunity to contribute in the knowledge based revolution that is sweeping the world today.

That is why the Atal Innovation Mission initiatives are so important and needs to be embraced by all. The children and youth of our country and the world deserve it. We all need to collectively collaborate to make it happen.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Atal Innovation Mission

R. Ramanan

The author is currently working as the Mission Director of Atal Innovation Mission, Additional Secretary Niti Aayog. Atal Innovation Mission is a flagship Government of India initiative responsible for creating a vibrant Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem across the nation.

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