Reflections on Business and Innovation: A Journey through India

Published 05/14/2024 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by David Tang-Quan | 05/14/2024

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about my experiences traveling through Taiwan, particularly regarding my observations on its approach to innovation and my first-hand experience with one of its most innovative startups. This past February, I had the opportunity to travel again in Asia, this time to India, one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world.

In addition to once again enjoying “Tasting & Learning” with the many amazing foods across the country, I had the opportunity to visit Stimuli, a Delhi-based fragrance startup that leverages scent to enhance branding and customer experiences. In meeting with the co-founders, I was able to learn more about the broader Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem and begin to draw connections not only to my experiences in the US, but also with my recent experiences in Taiwan. This essay seeks to bring all three of these countries’ approach to innovation into conversation with one another.

A Little Context

India's startup ecosystem is burgeoning, driven by a young, tech-savvy population and significant investment in digital infrastructure. The entrepreneurial spirit in India is palpable, characterized by a willingness to innovate and disrupt traditional industries. Unlike the relatively mature, saturated markets of the United States, India presents a dynamic landscape where startups thrive by addressing unique local challenges and opportunities.


Several trends highlight how innovation is shaping the future of entrepreneurship in India:

  • Rapid Digitalization: India's digital infrastructure has seen exponential growth according to Invest India, primarily fueled by the government's push towards digital initiatives such as Digital India, which aims to make government services accessible electronically. The surge in internet and smartphone penetration has created a fertile ground for tech startups, particularly in fintech, e-commerce, and edtech sectors. For instance, India's Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has revolutionized the payments landscape, enabling startups to innovate on top of a robust digital payments network. It was so common across all the different cities I visited and made making purchases so easy!
  • Focus on Sustainability and Social Impact: There is a growing trend among Indian entrepreneurs to tackle social and environmental challenges through innovative solutions. This shift is partly driven by the increasing awareness and commitment of the younger generation to sustainable practices. Startups in sectors such as clean energy, waste management, and sustainable agriculture are gaining traction, reflecting a broader shift towards impact entrepreneurship. While I didn’t get a chance to visit any of these startups myself, I did get to take in a lot of natural beauty in Kerala, as some of the photos capture!
  • Government Support and Initiatives: The Indian government has launched numerous initiatives to bolster the startup ecosystem, such as Startup India, which offers tax benefits, easier compliance, and funding opportunities. Moreover, policies are being continually updated to ease the doing of business, attract foreign investments, and promote R&D activities within the country. These efforts are aimed at creating an environment that nurtures innovation and supports the growth of startups.


Stimuli: Innovating Brand Experience Through Scent

During my trip, I met with the co-founders of Stimuli, a scent marketing company founded by Oxford MBA alumni. Stimuli’s approach encapsulates a brand’s essence through custom scents, enhancing overall customer engagement and loyalty. This innovative use of olfactory elements in branding underscores a distinctive aspect of India’s startup innovation—leveraging underutilized senses to forge deeper brand connections and memorable experiences.


The effectiveness of their strategy is backed by research indicating that scent can significantly influence consumer behavior, making it a powerful tool in creating memorable brand experiences. Their focus on experiential marketing places them at the forefront of their industry, enriching the use of multisensory experiences in business to boost customer satisfaction and loyalty. This insight into their operation provided me with a broader perspective on the innovative applications of sensory elements in marketing, or in customizing just about any experience.

Comparison with Taiwan’s Technological Innovations

Reflecting on my earlier visit to Taiwan, where I explored the operations of Bezalel, a leader in wireless charging technology, the contrast becomes evident. Taiwan's focus is heavily inclined towards high-tech and electronics, supported by robust government R&D investments and a strong manufacturing base. Taiwanese startups like Bezalel are deeply integrated with global technology supply chains, whereas Indian startups such as Stimuli are carving out new consumer niches by tapping into local cultural and sensory experiences.

Learning from the U.S. Entrepreneurial Framework

The entrepreneurial environment in the United States is significantly influenced by the innovation ecosystem's maturity, diversity, and the scale of venture capital. U.S. startups typically exhibit high levels of innovation with a global reach, supported by a culture of risk-taking and substantial financial backing. Comparatively, while Indian startups are increasingly attracting investment, they are often more focused on scalable solutions tailored to domestic needs rather than global expansion, at least for now. Considering the population of India represents more than an eighth of the world’s total population, focusing domestically still provides plenty of market potential!

Entrepreneurial Insights and Global Implications

My experiences in these diverse entrepreneurial ecosystems highlight several key insights. First, the importance of local context in shaping entrepreneurial ventures cannot be overstated. For instance, Stimuli’s success in India can be attributed to its deep understanding of the cultural significance of fragrance in Indian society. Secondly, the approach to innovation varies significantly; where Taiwan doubles down on its reputation as a technology and electronics hub, India capitalizes on its cultural depth, both striving for a global impact in contrasting manners.

Challenges and Opportunities

A recurring theme from my travels has been the potential for greater collaboration and knowledge exchange among global startups, whether from India, Taiwan, the US, or another country entirely. By integrating these themes and learnings across, startups can create hybrid innovations with a wide market appeal. This collaborative approach not only overcomes individual market limitations but also sets a stage for a more interconnected global startup ecosystem.


The entrepreneurial ecosystems in India, Taiwan, and the United States, while distinct, offer valuable lessons on leveraging local strengths and global opportunities. The comparison between Stimuli and Bezalel highlights the varied approaches to innovation—cultural and technological—underscoring the potential for interdisciplinary strategies that could define the next generation of global startups. As a Milken Scholar, these experiences enrich my understanding of global business dynamics, offering a multifaceted perspective on driving innovation across diverse economic landscapes.