Shaping the Future-Why-Building-an-Industry-Academia-R-and-D-Ecosystem-is-Crucial-for-Innovation

Shaping the Future: Why Building an Industry-Academia R&D Ecosystem is Crucial for Innovation

By the beginning of 2020, as the COVID-19 Pandemic swept across the world, the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca joined forces with Oxford University’s Jenner Institute to work on a vaccine based on the work that they had begun earlier on a weakened version of the common flu. The vaccine, now known as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (labelled as Covishield in India) has been administered to an estimated 2 billion people in over 170 countries worldwide and has had a significant role in ending the pandemic.

Time and time again, media plays this narrative when someone of Indian origin gets placed as the Chief Executive Officer of one of the world’s most valued companies. For the first three weeks, social media is abuzz with messages of pride and how India continues to lead the world. And then the tide turns. Questions arise as to why they left India in the first place and why India is unable to produce an environment where companies such as Apple, Google or Microsoft can bloom.

The key to both these scenarios is building a thriving and global Innovation ecosystem – and the crux of it is Industry-academia partnership.

India is on an ambitious economic growth path – whether it is the union or the state governments, efforts made in every way possible to spur the economy and grow by leaps and bounds. To enhance capability, systems designers usually present two options: scaling up or scaling out. Scaling out involves hiring more people, but to achieve the desired growth goal of 100 billion dollars in the Information Technology Industry in Tamil Nadu, an additional 2.5 million workers will need to be hired. The industry will need to recruit all graduating talent of the next three years to meet this target, a strong immigration policy to attract talent from other states and nearby countries is required. While this aligns with the welcoming and hospitable culture of the state, the influx of migrant workers and the necessity for massive infrastructure upscaling within a decade may lead to infrastructure and societal issues faced by other cities such as Bengaluru.

The alternative approach is to scale up by increasing employee productivity and enhancing innovation.

The Average revenue per employee in the top 20 tech companies globally is close to $480,000 per employee [1]. Higher RPE is a result of productivity and embeds a culture of innovation which is a key driving factor that makes them stand apart from the rest of the companies. The RPE of Indian IT Industry is somewhere in the $50,000 range, indicating an opportunity for productivity efficiency and for the need for innovation.

Companies in India have lower RPE and productivity problem at large scale. Leveraging innovation through collaboration and co-creation to harness higher RPE, building R&D ecosystem that benefits both in developing the R&D ecosystem and driving their respective goals is essential. The current state of innovative ecosystem needs a tectonic shift to address the problems faced by industries. The solution rests with industries utilizing the research capabilities of institutions in the state that is home to 550+ Technical institutes and around 560+ Arts and Science Colleges through collaborative efforts.

Academia can utilize the opportunity to strengthen their involvement with industries and develop their research capability yielding more revenue through research collaborations, grant funding for new initiatives, establishing highly equipped labs and funding for PhD programs. The student population can be exposed to gaining real-world experience in emerging fields like deep tech and solving hard problems thereby getting a chance to contribute and learn, also enabling value-based recruitment for core skills. The National Education Policy (NEP) aspires to attract top 100 QS World Ranking universities and bring higher-level exchange program and institutional mobility [2], Academic institutions with strong and shared commitment for industry collaborations with strong research outcomes can stay ahead of global entrants in the market.

Government enabling academia and industry to collaborate will foster better outcomes and the Tamil Nadu Technology Hub (iTNT), India’s first emerging and deep tech innovation hub has initiated the creation of the innovation network program that connects industries and academia to collaborate and co-create on research activities and innovate on the needs for tomorrow. Such kind of initiatives provide favorable environment with support from government and utilizing the innovation hub to build solutions that address not only problems at national level but build solutions that meet global standards.

The problems that we face today in India are also problems that more than 120 countries that are emerging face. If we solve the issues that we face today as a developed country, we also solve for the growing pains of all emerging markets – which is 5/6th the world. The demand on a climate-positive growth story means, almost every facet of our living will have to be reimagined, re-engineered and built for reliability, scale, and affordability. That is the opportunity and the answer to building the valuable companies of tomorrow – and Industry and Academia coming together has a key role in bringing about that future.


Ajay R, for Writing the first version of this draft and Shivendra Kothandaraman, for his inputs towards this article.


  1. Infographic: The Top 20 Tech Companies by Revenue Per Employee (
  2. India is becoming a huge market for foreign universities: 5 major developments to dominate the segment - India Today

About the Author

Vijay Anand is the Chief Executive Officer of Tamil Nadu Technology (iTNT) Hub.

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