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Atal Innovation Mission & Ramanan Ramanathan Enabling World Class Holistic Innovation & Entrepreneurship

“The key aim of Atal Tinkering Labs is to fund schools to foster the joy of innovation and problem-solving skills among children.”  Ramanan Ramanathan, AIM

Mr Ramanan Ramanathan is the Mission Director at Atal Innovation Mission, the flagship initiative set up by Niti Aayog to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in India. He is also on board of directors at Defense Innovation Organization and Indo US Science and Technology Forum and Chairman at NZTE Beachhead India Advisory Board. Ramanan has an illustrious career in the private sector in technology and worked in leadership positions with multinationals including CMC Ltd and presently serves as a Senior Vice President at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). TCS is the largest Indian company by market capitalization and one of the most innovative technology companies in the world. Mr Ramanan is a tech guru, technocrat and key enabler driving multifaceted hyper-drive innovation in India. Nishant Malhotra, founder of The middle Road, interviewed Mr Ramanan at Atal Innovation Mission office in New Delhi, India.

Listen to the podcast here.


Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) is the driving force in promoting a start-up ecosystem along with boosting policy implementation for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). Formed under the aegis of Niti Aayog, the premier think-tank of the Government of India, AIM generates innovation within all actors in the society, including academia, non-profits, research organizations, Agri and Medical research to boost socio-economic wellbeing for all. It works as a collaborator and single point of contact in enabling socio-economic reforms generating measurable social change and impact. To foster world-class development and kick-start an entrepreneurship revolution, Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) works through a collaborative model of enabling social change and impact. To nurture the seed of innovation, entrepreneurship, and start-up ecosystem, AIM has launched five critical programs.

  • Atal Tinkering Labs
  • Atal/ Established Incubator Centres
  • Atal New India Challenge
  • Atal Community Innovation Centre (ACIC)
  • Atal Research & Innovation for Small Enterprises (Upcoming policy) ARISE

All these initiatives are backed by the nationwide set up of mentors through Mentors of Change program. They work as a circular theme knitting all of the policies together. To teach the spirit of innovation among children, AIM launched Atal Tinkering Labs. Under this program, Government of India funds schools, trains teachers and conducts Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) focussed festivals and marathons through public private partnerships, collaborating with global technology mammoths like Intel, Microsoft.

Under Atal Tinkering Labs, AIM has designed a kick-ass holistic national mission of bringing world class technology innovation to children at an early age of 12 years. (Class 6 to 12). The project has allocated a budget of Rs 1000Cr/~$141M, in PPP terms ~$544M (1 USD= Rs 18.34, OECD) to target 10,000 schools last year. The program establishes state of art technologies including 3-D printers, robotics etc for workstation for children.

Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is a crucial concept in economics. Although 1 USD = 71.88 (25/02/2020) rates, it doesn’t depict the actual buying power of the currency (Indian Rupee) within its specific jurisdiction. 1 USD= 18.34 INR implies that a dollar in the US is equivalent to ~19 INR since it buys roughly the same amount of a predetermined basket of goods and services. PPP is a good measure to nullify different price levels between countries. A loose approximation example is to compare the cost of Big Mac in the US and India. PPP is a good measure in measuring the standard of living within countries, forming a benchmark for peer comparison of standard of living. Although the GDP of nations are compared in real terms i.e. adjusted for inflation, PPP is a better way for peer comparison to understand the impact of value creation within the society. OECD takes a basket of goods and services priced is a sample of all those that are part of final expenditures: final consumption of households and government, fixed capital formation, and net exports. India’s GDP, when equated for PPP, is much larger as compared to that in real terms.  Tinkering Labs, apart from targeting schools across India, includes Tinkering festivals and marathons for reaching out to an increased audience. The aim is to invigorate problem solving approach through practical experimentation. Further, implementation of tinkering lab dashboards across India esp. districts to compare labs is a step in the right direction bringing in accountability within the system. Key partnerships with UN, UNDP, UNICEF, Singapore enables global coverage of local problems.

Ramanan “Marathons focus on key social issues including affordable healthcare, quality education for all, sanitation and waste management, climate change among others to drive practical aspects towards developing prototypes for problems. These festive and marathons promote foundation of scientific and problem seed in children backed by a self-assurance at an early age of life.”

Q). Nishant, The middle Road begins the interview with Ramanan, Atal Innovation Mission, highlighting India achievement in recent years in global arena in entrepreneurship and innovation.  Today India is the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world, thanks to the policies taken by the present Indian government. India has leapfrogged to present 63rd position from 142 position in 2014 in Ease of Doing Business through proactive and market friendly technology enabled processes and policies with an underlying foundation in best sustainable practices. Before we delve into specifics of policies, do share holistic journey in achieving this milestone. Going further India’s position in top 50 is assured, but would you like to discuss further initiatives to be in the top 30 countries in the Ease of Doing Business index?

The talk here is about numerous initiatives taken by the Indian government, Niti Aayog with a focus on both the steps taken and those upcoming. Sample chat above. Spotify Podcast Link here.

To structure an entrepreneurship and innovation focussed ecosystem, a multi-stakeholders model works best, which includes all actors within the development, business and educational sector including non-profits, corporates, foundations, academia, investors (seed/angel/ VCs/impact), philanthropists, mentors, subject matter experts, opinion makers, civic societies backed by a major thrust by the government.  Here, Atal Incubation Centres, one of the key AIM initiatives works best in facilitating Start-up ecosystem. AIM is launching 102 state of art incubation centres in 23 cities with 47 already funded. About 70 percent will be incubated in universities with the aim to enhance Lab2Market approach (refer The Venture Center article)  to circumvent the second valley of death faced by start-ups especially in deep tech and science. The first, valley of death is lack of funding for start-ups. Both these concerns are addressed by a well-equipped incubator with both the tech know-how and cutting-edge equipment backed by all rounded actors within the sector.


The Atal New India Challenge further solves the problem of addressing the commercial stage valley of death which comes after receiving early stage risk capital. AIM is sponsoring 1Cr/~$1,40,000 grants to build products of national and social causes. This policy has two deep social impacts. First, India is moving towards a product driven technological powerhouse from a service-oriented focus, moving up the value chain in global technology. Second, provides a renewed focus on generating social entrepreneurship. Listen to the podcast here. Nishant, The middle Road with Ramanan, Atal Innovation Mission

Q) Atal Incubator Centers AIC are fantastic enablers in kick-starting and sustaining the start-up ecosystem especially providing support to entrepreneurs at early stage of valley of death. Under Start-up India Vision 2024; you plan to generate 50,000 new start-ups’ generating an additional 2 million jobs. Atal Innovation Mission has already shortlisted 102 incubators covering 23 states out of which 47 are already funded. Please do elaborate on critical parameters in promoting these incubators of science and innovation. What key challenges are you facing when implementing this policy nationally? Another stellar achievement is fostering women entrepreneurship through start-ups wherein AIC has incubated more than 100 women start-ups. Do share your experience on the initiatives and policies for achieving milestones here.


Key takeaways from our conversation are the partnerships with women focussed universities in India to encourage entrepreneurship. AIM is also focusing on global partnerships example, AstraZeneca from Sweden, Government of France, Singapore and Japan. These partnerships are across different initiatives with the aim of bringing best business practices, enable tech transfer and make projects/ startups globally scalable.

Mentor India: The Mentors of Change is one of the largest mentorship’s programs in the world. (10,000 registrations against 4000 selected). Mentoring is significant part of community enhancing innovation and entrepreneurship within the business and social ecosystem. Ramanan shares the philosophy behind kick-starting the movement across India. The idea of mentorship is not to select solution providers but to promote coaching about youth and startups in India through a multifaceted approach of inducting subject matter- experts. Example those with expertise in design thinking, business planning etc. Mentors play a vital part in guiding innovation among children or startups. Revamping business and revenue models for startups, sharing paradigm provoking ideas in evolving technological entrepreneurship in India are selected assists by mentors.

Key Challenges: “7 million children in India disabled and 32 million don’t go to school” Ramanan
Chat includes Global partnerships with foreign governments, both domestic and global partnerships with private players, academia, foundations etc. Example, Indian government has a commendable initiative with Japanese government in biotechnology sector. Atal Research & Innovation for Small Enterprises (ARISE) modeled along the lines of US Small Business Innovation Research program. SBIR is a key policy initiative in the US to boost R&D among selected small businesses based on specific parameters.

Atal Community Innovation Centre (ACIC) is a significant step forward in removing inequities within the society, alleviating poverty through social innovation among the rural and semi-urban areas. ACIC is the most specific and targeted policy addressing upliftment of underserved population in India esp. in Tier 2 & Tier3 cities (J&K, North East, rural & tribal areas and Urban focussed Smart Cities. Example Rockefeller Foundation partnership in the solar sector with Tata Trust. AIM plans to establish 50 ACICs in next two years. ACIC are pathways to help marginalized communities and works through partnerships/ buy-ins with non-profits or local industry champions to enable social entrepreneurship through credible social projects. The Indian government supports partly funding these projects and has already received tremendous response from the private sector. This policy has multifaceted social impact; First nudges private/social participation through multiple actors, Second facilitates the free flow of best business mindset and innovation within the country and finally exponentially funds various projects leveraging and attracting private capital. Further, it opens doors for civic societies to involve in social good. 

Nishant interviews Ramanan, Atal Innovation Mission. Listen to the podcast here.

AIM works in tandem with other government initiatives including Invest India, Startup India etc. with a critical focus on social enterprises. Although AIM gives a lot of emphasis on the interaction of technology in social sectors, it’s essential to develop a vibrant social startup framework without overlapping technology enablers. A well rounded social and business sector works better than an unbalanced sectarian focus. Good to know the AIM is taking cognizance of the issue and building a formidable social sector presence through new policy measures in the development sector. To wrap in words of Ramanan; when two children in Sikkim, a pristine state in the wonderful North-East part of India come up with a kick-ass solution building a prototype to a ubiquitous problem facing the region, one knows the immense social impact both in India and Globally. All the policies are well integrated within the societal framework nudging each other towards enabling a monumental but measured social change and impact. The idea is to keep working and implementing proactive sustainable steps decisively. The rest leave to nature. Let nature do its work. The measures performed by Atal Innovation Mission are exemplary, quantifiable, replicable and globally sustainable, and benchmark for other countries and geographies, especially in the development sector.

Nishant Malhotra interview’s  Ramanan, Atal Innovation Mission.  Watch the full interview here.

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