Unlearn what you have learnt. That is the secret to coming up with good new ideas.

At a panel discussion on innovation, as part of the Chevening/UK alumni meet, young entrepreneurs from Chennai shared their views on what it takes to be an innovator.

Innovation happens only when you question the status quo and start thinking differently, says Ramesh Manickam, CEO, Centroid Design, an industrial design firm that has worked on several out-of-the-box ideas for a range of products — from tractors and pens to consumer durables and even public toilets.

According to Saleem Mohammad, CEO and Co-Founder, XCode Life Sciences, a biotechnology start-up, innovation is not a one-man show. “Innovation is a collaborative effort with your team and customers.”

Sorav Jain of echoVME, a social media marketing agency, agrees. Listening to customers is very important as their feedback is vital in further innovation and customisation of your product, says Jain, who has helped brands such as Hexaware, Biocon and Himalaya use social media effectively.

So, what is slowing innovation in India? The education system lacks hands-on project-based training, says Manickam.

“I don’t think I could have started XCode had I not done my Ph.D. in the US,” says Mohammad. .

However, Jain is optimistic about the opportunities. “I think India is on a high. Chennai has many start-ups and start-up communities. The challenge lies in convincing customers and impressing angel investors.”

A word of advice for budding entrepreneurs? Giving up that cushy corporate job and starting out on your own is not easy, but the highs and lows of your venture are worth the risk, the entrepreneurs say. “Make sure your product makes an emotional connect with consumers,” says Vikas Chawla, Head of Marketing, KoolKart, an online social shopping site that lets shoppers make suggestions and share their views on what’s trending.