In the dynamic world of e-commerce, constant innovation is the key to fulfilling the requirements of online shoppers. As the pace of technology changes rapidly, it is also important that this ecosystem nurtures an environment of collaboration to foster innovation.

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Ecommerce firm Flipkart has gone ahead to nurture this spirit of innovation through collaboration with the academic world. Muthusamy Chelliah, director, academic engagement, Flipkart says, “We are all about innovation. We would like to re-invent online shopping through technology innovation.” The engagement with the top notch of the academic world for Flipkart began about two years ago as it realised that there were huge challenges with the online shopping world and such a relationship gives innovation the scope to grow by leaps and bounds.

Flipkart’s innovation agenda has a few successes to its credit. It engaged with an IIT to work on the area of product classification, given that there are lakhs of goods on its marketplace which includes not only of its own retail store but also that of the partners. Similar has been the case with product review. Chelliah says, customers find there is information overload but “we have come up with a solution while collaborating with IIT professors where there is easy sequencing of reviews”.

Some of the key technology areas under this collaboration has been machine learning, natural language processing, cloud computing and robotics.

Building Intellectual Property

The focus of Flipkartmirrors the strategy of global firms such as Facebook and Google, to build intellectual property that helps solve bigger challenges for the company and gain an edge over rivals.

Flipkart’s global rival Amazon is already experimenting delivery of small goods through drones in Cambridge in the UK.

Indian start-ups have recently started focusing on building research partnerships with universities as they build their business in areas such as e-commerce and travel. The focus so far has been to learn intuitively to solve problems as they emerge, often not documenting them as they move to another business challenge. This is in contrast with firms in the US, where start-ups collaborate with academics and doctoral students to solve problems, helping them publish papers that often are cited by other researchers working on similar problems.

Indian Startup Opportunity

With more than 3,100 start-ups and a predicted rise to 11,500 by the end of 2020, according to NASSCOM – the National Association of Software and Services Companies – India is building its very own Silicon Valley. India is the third-largest start-up location globally with more than 800 start-ups created each year and more than US$2.9 billion in funding received since 2010.The challenge lies in making India an extraordinary startup ecosystem.

The correlation between successful entrepreneurship ecosystems and the role of a key university in that ecosystem has been talked about time and again. The relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley is always used as an epitome for such a correlation and that makes absolute sense.Stakeholders involved such as Incubators, accelerators, mentors, investors, all are adding to thriving geographical-centred ecosystems around the country.

The start-up ecosystem growth has brought together faculty members and students at universities and institutions to join in with their own ventures. Many faculty members of various IITs and students from across India, are now working with start-ups either independently or collaboratively.

Universities, colleges and research institutes offer a wealth of knowledge, expertise and specialist facilities. This is where businesses and academia can make connections in all sectors.There are endless possibilities in the way in which businesses can engage with universities.