Triple Helix Model of Innovation – An overview and perspectives on India
Blog: NASSCOM Official Blog
In the 90s, Henry Etzokowitz and Loet Leyesdorff introduced a term called the Triple Helix Model of Innovation. In essence, it captures the interplay or relationship between the government, industry, and academia.
With this model, the wheel of motion can create a self-sustaining cycle of innovation. For example, the Government may choose to apply technology or innovation to solve critical problems at scale (e.g. providing quality healthcare and clean water to all). Academia may choose to focus on basic research and/or applied research where feasible with industry. Industry may then look to develop these innovations into market leading products growing the economy.
Now, each has the freedom to operate in its space and can choose to interact or intersect with the other, leading to either positive mutually reinforcing or negative outcomes. Also, their individual relative strengths can influence outcomes in different directions. In the ideal world, everything would be equally balanced in terms of both strength and overlap. This said, there are two variations –laissez faire and etatic. In the former, each operates at its own pace and in the latter, the government assumes the responsibility to drive the other two. Some countries may choose either or something in between.
Over the years, it has been argued that the three circles can be expanded to “n” circles, which means that there are other forces at play, but for the time being, let’s restrict this to three.
If you look across the world, while there are numerous examples of the triple helix model at play, I will touch upon some of the common parameters that appear to be ingredients for success:
- Need for a strong catalyst: It is often said that necessity is the mother of all invention. True transformation has occurred only when there is there is a strong catalyst. In the history of the world, war has assumed that role. World War 2, in the form of a bitter pill, provided the conditions for a stronger embrace between academia, industry and the government.
- Need to have a long-term vision : To galvanize a country, a long-term vision is essential. If we were to borrow an example from the Cold War, both the U.S. and the erstwhile USSR needed to demonstrate pre-eminence in the space race. This in turn spurred massive innovation in aerospace and space technology. This propelled the growth of the integrated circuits industry, and by the early 1960s,the demand was almost entirely fulfilled by military and space related contracts.
- Openness and transparency are critical :While Silicon Valley is one of the most cited examples of the triple helix model of innovation at play, there is a model that pre-dates its rise -Route 128; an ~100 km highway around Boston in the eastern United States. Between the 1960s and the 80s, it was THE place to be, so much so that it was titled “America’s Technology Highway”. Home to world-class universities such as MIT and Harvard, and hallowed companies like Bell Labs, it was a cradle of innovation. However, fast forward to now, while it still serves as an important hub, Silicon Valley has raced ahead. One of the principal reasons for Route 128’s relative decline is that it was home to several “vertically” oriented industries ; those that did not really need to share information and perhaps focused on themselves. For instance, the level of open-ness and transparency seen in Silicon Valley did not exist in Route 128’s ecosystem and consequently, they were less amenable to change.
- The creation of an ecosystem and the competitive forces: The role of the ecosystem cannot be overstated, as no one company can fulfill everything end to end. Collaboration, sharing of information and network building are all critical components. It is through these forces that competition arises, thereby pushing everyone to do their best. Also, this fosters the taking of risks.
- Attracting talent : The strength in any model ultimately reflects the talent that you can attract and retain across the three dimensions of industry, academia and the government. The overall environment must be stable for everyone to live and should provide learning opportunities to grow.
So, what could be the implications for India ? Here are a few considerations.
First, as a country, in the last several decades, we have not articulated any clear goals on what India will need to achieve. Doing so may serve as an aspiration that all the engines of the economy can strive towards. For example, the EU has launched a Horizon 2020 program, an €80Bproject funded over6 years and under the ambit of the Innovation Union. Correspondingly, the US has the National Science Foundation (NSF)and Israel, the Israel Innovation Authority under whose auspices run the R&D Fund, Incubator Program and Magnet.
Second, the genesis of Silicon Valley was primarily academic led through Stanford University. We will need to build our strength in basic sciences and create strong incentives for researchers to thrive. Applied research is an area that industries can support academia through “sponsored” research(business unit funding), research grants or supporting start-ups incubated outside academia.
Third, India will need to move beyond urban centres to expand the ecosystem. For example, several states are developing policies specific to Research and Development and it is essential that we spread development for India to grow.
Fourth, India being a very large, heterogenous society can serve as a model for scale. As an example, India can serve as a testbed to become a laboratory of sorts to help test, deploy and refine solutions at massive scale cost effectively. This will ensure that technologies can be made accessible to the next 6 billion people in the world, primarily in developing economies.
Fifth, the focus in India today from a start-up standpoint is primarily on app-based interventions. By and large the investments in high CAPEX areas like manufacturing and hardware are very limited. Industries need to come together with the Government and academia to create an ecosystem to ensure that start-ups have access to technologies. Another approach would be to setup dedicated parks or facilities where innovative technologies can be developed.
Sixth, data is all-important. To move up the value chain, especially in AI/ML, we need access to powerful supercomputers and high-quality datasets. Currently, data is virtually non-existent in many areas. India will need to provide for a transparent environment where anonymized data can be made available to the relevant agencies and parties.
And finally, I referred to the notion of the catalyst that is needed to propel countries forward. Could COVID-19 cause the ground-swell towards positive intervention?
Submitted by : Ravishankar Rao – Head of Strategy and Operations, Cisco Engineering India Site
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