Pawan Goenka Of Mahindra & Mahindra Says Disruptive Innovation That Combines Frugal Engineering & IT Expertise Is A Must For Indian Automotive Players

Pawan Goenka, Executive Director of Mahindra & Mahindra, says disruptive innovation that combines frugal engineering and IT expertise is a must for Indian Automotive players.


Today, almost all major global OEMs have an India development centre with plans to increase sourcing and use India as its manufacturing base. With the government’s support, OEMs and suppliers have put in herculean efforts in shaping the industry’s achievements. There’s no surprise that India is ranked 10th in the auto segment of the Future Brand’s Country Brand Index (CBI) for 2014-15 – the only segment where India is featured among the Top 10 across industry sectors like FMCG, electronics, fashion and luxury.

Having said that, one still needs to wonder, ‘Have we established a rational and emotional value proposition of Brand India?’ It is still associated as an LCC (Low Cost Country) with lower level of manufacturing quality and has a long way to go to improve its aspiration quotient. Will a customer in the UK aspire to own a car because it is ‘Made in India’ or will he rather pay a premium for one designed and made in Germany?


We do need to find the platform on which to build (automotive) Brand India. I believe we have two platforms to build on – frugal engineering and IT expertise. The latter has been an acknowledged strength of India for some time but more in terms of providing software expertise to the world and not in terms of building this expertise into our own (automotive) products. Can we take a pole position in this? In the last several years, frugal engineering is being recognised globally as a strength and not a way to cut corners. The world acknowledges that India invented it and frankly all others are now imitating it, thanks to the exposure they now have to Indian engineering ecosystem. Can we translate these two strengths into a brand image of India – not that of an LCC with low labour cost as the only advantage, but of a country that has the ability to design products differently and use its IT expertise to give customers a product that others cannot?

Brand building has an extremely long gestation period to reap any formidable result. In spite of challenges, the automotive industry has continuously steered the path of creating world-class products, building a manufacturing ecosystem and frugal innovation.

Read his entire column written for Autocar Professional here.

MIT’s Tata Center -Affordable Next Generation Mobile Health Devices Will Use Machine Intelligence And Advanced Algorithms

MIT Tata Center for Technology + Design was founded in 2012 with funding from Tata Trusts.

Since then the centre has been working to address the challenges of resource-constrained communities, with an initial focus on India. Amongst the many projects that they are working on, this current project seems really interesting and had the ability to scale not just in India but to other emerging markets as well has a chance to become reverse innovation for the developed world.

I am talking about their project “Machine intelligence to enable the next generation of mobile health tools” .


What the MIT team wants to do is elaborated on MIT news website:

Although pulmonary testing equipment such as the body plethysmograph, impulse oscillometer, spirometer, and gas diffusion meter are available in many modern hospitals, this equipment typically costs over $100,000 and is extremely scarce in developing countries.


Fletcher and Chamberlain teamed up with pulmonary experts at the Chest Research Foundation to develop a more general solution for diagnosing pulmonary disease that employs a simple mobile stethoscope and a common peak flow meter, which together cost less than $50 in low volumes. Using a combination of input methods — including the microphone, USB, and augmented reality — they developed a mobile application that is able to reliably capture various data on a mobile phone, and then run machine-learning algorithms to predict the probability that the patient has a specific pulmonary disease.

They initially built the world’s first USB-powered mobile stethoscope collaborating with the Chest Research Foundation in Pune, India. According to the Mobile Health Lab’s website:

Plugged into a smartphone, its companion app transforms the device into a low-cost diagnostic tool, which health workers and nonspecialist physicians can use to diagnose lung disease.

This team won the $100 000 third prize in Vodafone’s 2015 annual Wireless Innovation Project awards program.

This is a a quality, accessible, affordable solution- Meaning a true Frugal Innovation!

Below is a really informative video on how they plan to use new technology to make affordable pulmonary healthcare solutions.

Winning Design Of The Affordable Dialysis Prize Can Fit In A Suitcase And Costs Less Than 1000 USD

According to The Lancelet, somewhere between 5 and 10 million people in the world need dialysis right now for terminal kidney failure, but only 2.5 million have access to it, mostly due to cost – the rest will die an unpleasant death. The news gets worse: the number of people on dialysis is set to rise to 5 million by the year 2030, and most of the increase will be in developing countries.

A year on dialysis costs about US$90 000 per person in the USA, and many thousands of dollars in low-income countries—an unaffordable price in places where the annual health spend might be just a few hundred dollars per citizen.

The first dialysis machine was invented in 1943 and apparently since that time not much has changed in the design of it nor were there any real attempts at making the machine more accessible and affordable. And a dialysis machine these days can cost more than $10 000 each. And top of it these dialysis machines need to be attached to elaborate water purification systems based on reverse osmosis which also often cost at least $10 000 again. And of course the way the machines work are that most of the time the dialysis machine can only be used in a hospital setting or in homes that have all the needed infrastructure.

To truly make a dialysis machine accessible and affordable that can also be used in infrastructure poor areas, three of the leading players in global kidney health have joined together to create a world-wide competition, with a prize of US$100,000, to design the world’s first truly affordable dialysis machine. The prize is sponsored by The George Institute, the International Society of Nephrology and the Asian Pacific Society of Nephrology with the support of the Farrell Family Foundation.

The Affordable Dialysis Prize encouraged inventors around the world to develop an innovative dialysis system which works just as well as a conventional approach, but runs off solar power, can purify water from any source, has low running costs and can be sold for less than US$ 1000.

The winning design by engineer Vincent Garvey is so compact it can fit into a small suitcase, and uses a standard solar panel to power a highly efficient, miniature distiller capable of producing pure water from any source.

Source: Affordable Dialysis Machine Prize Winner,
Source: Affordable Dialysis Machine Prize Winner,

So, how does the winning design work? According to the Prize distributor:

Vincent Garvey’s winning dialysis system recognises the critical barrier to affordable dialysis is the lack of cheap, sterile water in countries where the electricity supply is unreliable and water sources may be contaminated. Using a standard solar panel, it heats water taken from any local source to make steam, which is used not only to sterilise the water but also to fill empty peritoneal dialysis (PD) bags under sterile conditions. PD is potentially much cheaper than haemodialysis, but in poor countries the cost of transporting thousands of foreign manufactured two litre bags of PD fluid to remote locations can make it prohibitive.

The winning entry will be just as useful for short term dialysis for acute kidney failure, supporting children and young adults whose kidneys have stopped working temporarily due to infection or dehydration, and for whom just a few days of dialysis can be lifesaving. The design also offers detailed plans on how the system could be used for affordable haemodialysis, the more common type of dialysis.

A truly wonderful frugal innovation! Thank you Mr Vincent Garvey. The world needs more people like you.

Fraunhofer-ISI & Nesta UK Just Published An Interim Report On A Conceptual Analysis, Trends And Relevant Potentials in the Field of Frugal Innovation (For Europe)

There was an EU tender last year to write a report on Frugal Innovation that was won by Fraunhofer-ISI and Nesta UK. They have just published an interim report titled “A Conceptual Analysis, Trends and Relevant Potentials in the Field of Frugal Innovation (for Europe)”

Source: Fraunhofer-ISI and Nesta UK
Source: Fraunhofer-ISI and Nesta UK

In their “Study on frugal innovation and reengineering of traditional techniques”, therefore, Fraunhofer ISI and NESTA, together with external experts, will establish what Europe can do to better capture the potential of frugal innovative activities at various levels.

  • First, by establishing if and in what way frugal innovation could be a central success strategy for and on the European market.
  • Second, by analysing European firms’ situation on emerging markets where frugal innovation remains a main driver of growth.
  • Third, by finding how frugal innovations can help address concerns with regard to resource efficiency, waste reduction and the preservation of cultural heritage.
  • I have been eagerly awaiting to read about this interim report as well as obviously the final report slated for 2017.

    I am an evangelist of Fugal Innovations and we started our non profit The Nordic Frugal Innovation Society to show these innovations’ relevance for both emerging economies and the developed markets.

    The issue here is that emerging economies require solutions that have “affordable excellence” for B2B and B2C sectors. But increasingly because of the economic crisis in 2008 and it’s repercussions even 8 years later in Finland and much of EU and other developed markets, there is an increasing relevance for frugal solutions in the developed world.

    Frugal Innovation Meaning_Urban Mill

    Coming back to the interim report from Fraunhofer-ISI and Nesta UK, they put forward 8 hypothesis and propositions as a conclusion to their report:

    On mentality
    1. A mentality for frugal innovation and technological recombination is not exclusive to emerging
    economies. It played a central role in Europe’s past development and remains prevalent in
    many market oriented, mid-sized firms. Even in technology-driven contexts, frugal mindsets
    can be (re)gained through active engagement.

    On routines
    2. Current routines of technology development will have to be substantially re-thought to enable
    frugal solutions. Concrete applications of technologies under development will have to be
    considered at much earlier stages (TRL4-5) and additional actors will have to be involved to
    integrate a market dimension from the outset.

    On openness
    3. In Europe, many innovation processes remain contained within firms and fail to relevantly
    involve potential users – creating a “closed world” with a lack of market awareness and an
    overt affection to high-tech solutions. Successfully creating frugal solutions will require firms to
    shift innovation practices towards more open models.

    On transformation
    4. Key enabling technologies (KETs) will open up new avenues for frugal innovation. In particular,
    newly available technologies such as various ICT applications, 3D printing and industry 4.0 will
    not only open up new options for frugal products but, at least equally, for new, frugal
    processes of innovation and production.

    On markets (European)
    5. In principle, many trends in European markets spur rising demand for frugal solutions – based
    on needs and out of choice. While the refugee crisis has added further momentum to the
    former, aspirations and preferences for the latter remain to be shaped. Finally, the public
    sector itself can be an important customer for frugal innovation.

    On markets (emerging)
    6. Frugal innovation is a business opportunity for European firms in emerging markets and many
    larger corporations have devised strategies on how to leverage it to the best of their ability.
    Moreover, exposure to emerging market contexts is a suitable tool to engage with differing
    mentalities, enable learning and improve business models in a holistic sense.

    On scale
    7. Achieving scale is a key challenge for frugal innovation as solutions will only develop a relevant
    impact when delivered at large scale. Localised frugal solutions of the grassroots type,
    however, may in fact not be scalable. In Europe, cultural, linguistic, regulatory and other
    barriers between nations complicate the challenge.

    On tensions
    8. Increasing access for more people is not unanimously positive with a view to ethical, ecological
    and social impact. Detrimental and potentially conflicting outcomes have to be considered.
    Hence, policy makers should not only promote frugal innovation, but also consider how to do so
    in a way that addresses and manages potential tensions.

    Stanford Medicine’s Biodesign Program Will Focus More on Teaching Inventors To Make Health Care Better And Cheaper

    Stanford Biodesign is an ecosystem of training and support for Stanford University students, fellows, and faculty with the talent and ambition to become health technology innovators. It’s program in co-operation with India ran till 2015 under Stanford-India Biodesign and helped focus on innovations focusing on affordability, i.e frugal innovations.

    Source: Stanford Biodesign

    According to the recently published article on Stanford Medicine- At what cost?

    After 15 years of teaching the art of patient-focused medical-technology innovation — resulting in the formation of 41 companies that have developed devices to treat more than 500,000 patients — Yock and his colleagues are expanding Stanford Biodesign’s focus to include medical cost innovation: developing devices that help patients at a cost that provides maximum clinical value.


    He (Prof Paul Yock) stresses that medical cost innovation isn’t a shift to lower-quality innovations. Complications, longer hospital stays and readmissions — all things patients would rather avoid — also add to costs. Innovative devices to reduce those outcomes would lower the cost of hospital stays and get patients back to their lives more quickly.

    The challenge is to revise the training model to include reasonable cost as a goal for innovations.


    In its 15-year update, Stanford Biodesign isn’t changing its process, which has proven successful time and again. Instead, it’s moving cost evaluation up front, and teaching fellows about health-care economics.

    Read the whole article by Amy Adams.. it is very engaging and informative.

    hearScreen – mHealth Solution for Hearing Problems & Costs Six Times Less Compared To Traditional Devices

    I first met DeWet Swanepoel on the sidelines of the biggest Nordic Startup Tech Festival Slush in November 2015. He was representing his South African based startup hearScreen, as part of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s Global Impact Accelerator at Slush Impact


    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “Over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss (328 million adults and 32 million children). Disabling hearing loss refers to hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear in adults and a hearing loss greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear in children. The majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries.”

    Also the latest Global Burden of Disease Study estimated that 1.23 billion people had some form of hearing impairment (20 dB or more), of which 414.5 million had moderate or greater hearing loss.

    So basically what we have is a situation where 1 in 7 people in the world have some kind of hearing impairment.

    The reason I really like “hearScreen” apart from it’s affordability is the fact that it is clinically validated and can be used not just in low-infrastructure places like emerging markets but can easily be imagined as a clinical tool in developed markets.

    Also according to the team behind hearScreen – “The screening process for hearing loss takes under one minute and can be conducted by people without audiology training. The data from the screening test is then easily uploaded onto a cloud-based server for evaluation.”

    Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 19.19.52

    hearScreen is a true frugal innovation – quality, accessible, affordable and sustainable solution

    Wharton Knowledge – The Power Of A Missed Mobile Call In Emerging Economies

    Quick.. If you want to have an effective way to do mobile marketing in emerging economies, what do you do?

    Well… try this proven technique.

    There are different names for it.

    In India it is called missed call.
    In Philippines it is called miskol.
    In Africa it is called beep.
    In Indonesia it is called memancing.
    In Pakistan it is called flashcall.

    In an insightful article on the culture of missed calls, UPenn Wharton takes us through the origin of this issue 5 years ago and how it is thriving in the here and now.

    If one has ever heard the concept of “collect calls”, this must sound familiar. This is the concept of reverse charge call where the calling party wants to place a call at the called party’s expense.

    Under the concept of “Missed call marketing (MCM)“, a similar thing is happening in the emerging economies.

    According to an article on The Hindu, Ozonetel Systems– a pioneer and a leading provider of on-demand cloud communication services in India has handled 700 missed calls in 9 months leading upto February 2016 and will handle a billion missed calls in a year.

    Consumers call back in response to ads targeted at them, but hang up without connecting.

    Companies then call them back or send messages with deals, coupons and offers.

    More than that, the companies gain valuable information of customer interests, preferences and profiles so that ads can be more precisely targeted. Ozonetel has been handling missed calls for the past four years.

    Such has been the power of the MCM phenomenon that ZipDial, an Indian startup that was successful in capitalizing on the prevalence of “missed calls” and was bought by Twitter in early 2015.

    The way in which these MCM marketing firms work is quite simple and is illustrated in this figure below:


    According to the Wharton article, the missed call marketing has even crossed the income divide, where in recently a luxury housing project had a “Give a missed call to xxxxxxxxxx for more information” tucked away at the bottom of each page.

    Politicians and political parties, have been using them to reach to their followers and for their membership drives.

    Employer provident funds and Banks are using MCM to help their members with tracking their account balance.

    Nestlé’s Bunyad is an iron-rich product specially focused on school-going children to prevent iron deficiency. The brand offered free talk-time top-up to anybody who gave a missed call and listened to the Bunyad message. “We called the user back through an automated system, educating them on the issue,” says Jafri. “The response was way beyond our expectations. Also, we now have a database of these listeners to engage them further with Nestle Bunyad.”

    How big is the business in India? There is no simple answer. Three years ago, The Economic Times put it at Rs. 5 billion (approx 75 million USD). But that was in the days before Big Data came into the picture. “Trial prices start at Rs. 1,000 (less than $15) a month,” says Sunil Jain. Add a substantial dose of number crunching and the bill could shoot up to 100 times as much. “The size of the market is difficult to estimate,” says Rajesh Jain.

    FranceCol’s Frugal Innovation – A Wheel Drive Built To Travel 100 kms In A Single Charge Is Winner Of France’s Creativenext India Contest

    Just came across this on google news feed that FranceCol, a French startup, was named the winner of the Embassy of France and its international business development agency, Business France India’s Creative Next India competition.

    FranceCol has developed an embedded wheel motor, which allows the electrification of any bicycle, motorcycle or wheel chair, without any structural modification.


    According to the report on the French Embassy in India:

    This cost effective solution for urban mobility converts mechanical energy to electrical energy and is poised to revolutionize transportation in India. It is environment friendly, durable and presents a perfect solution to using public transport in the cities as well as in rural India. The battery operated bicycle is built to travel 100 kms in a single charge and is ideally adapted to young Indians who do not want to depend on public transport, and would like to commute efficiently and at a reasonable cost.

    You Know What Will Always Be In Fashion? Quality, Affordable Solutions. Here’s Why.


    Emerging Economies will always want Quality, Affordable solutions.

    Developed Economies will increasingly ask for such solutions.

    In the case of EU:

    • Brexit.
    • Banking crises.
    • The largest influx of refugees since World War II.
    • In April 2016, EU GDP finally became larger than it did at its peak before the financial crisis in 2008. So, it has taken eight years to recover. But the bloc also slipped back into deflation in April.
    • Also most EU countries are showing a bit of growth but this growth is mainly coming from domestic consumption. The issue here is that domestic consumption helps but doesn’t really solve the big elephant in the room, ie. Exports! Without exports gaining a proportionate share, the economic growth will always be slow.


    The UK-based study by the Resolution Foundation found that people under 35 earned £8,000 less in their twenties than the previous generation. Part of the launch of a new Intergenerational Commission, the report warns of the “growing divide between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation.”



    Even though US growth has done well compared to every other developed economy, economy expanded by just 1.2 percent in the second quarter of 2016 while the first-quarter expansion was revised down to 0.8 percent from an initial 1.1 percent estimate. And this happening when the labor market is at more or less full employment.

    Public and private sector organisations, businesses and startups cannot anymore keep wishing that things will be back to “normal”. This is the “new normal”. They have to really start offering quality, accessible, affordable and sustainable solutions as part of their product portfolio.

    Design Thinking & Prototyping Are Helping Generate Affordable Products For Small Farm Owners In Myanmar

    Proximity Designs, established in 2004, is a nonprofit social enterprise based in Yangon.

    Under the title “Impact Within Reach” @CameronConaway,showcases how Proximity Designs uses design thinking and prototyping to create quality, accessible, affordable and sustainable solutions for small-plot farmers in Myanmar.

    Here is an example of how a 63 year old farmer, Thein Than, has benefited from such solutions:

    Than is able to make a living as a smallplot farmer in part because the tools of his trade have improved a great deal in recent years. “Here’s how I used to do it,” he explains. With a grimace, he squats down under a bamboo stalk that has a rusted watering bucket on either end of it. When he stands up, his wiry muscles tremble under the weight of the contraption. But he manages to walk up and down rows of turnip and cilantro plants, tilting his body from side to side to give each plant just enough water. He used to fill the buckets and walk these rows 20 times every morning and 20 times every evening. “Not anymore,” he says.

    In 2011, Than began using a device called Sin Pauk (“Baby Elephant”), a footpowered water pump made entirely of plastic that costs 15,500 Kyat (about $15). He pairs it with Pyit Taing Taung (“Sturdy Boy”), a 250-gallon tank ($33) that inflates as it fills with water. The pump uses a ropeand- pulley system that makes it easy for Than and his family to operate. Similarly, the tank has a lightweight design—it’s made of PVC-treated canvas and plastic—that allows Than to move it as he irrigates his land.

    Together, these items have done more than decrease Than’s workload. They have enabled him to invest time in maximizing the use of his land and in taking his crops to market. As a result, he has been able to double his family’s income over the past five years. “My wife and I have used this extra money to make improvements to our house, but mostly it’s allowed us to cover education expenses for our four children,” he says.

    And Thien Than also says something that is in essence what everyone of us want to have.

    My sense of self is based on place. Because I can now make a living here, I feel I can be who I am.


    When the Proximity team wants to create a solutions, the first step for them is design thinking. The start by selecting a target group of farmers and works iteratively with that group to develop a prototype design. But they encounter challenges to move further in this process because Myanmar lacks a reliable infrastructure for product development.

    “There are times when we know our next step, but we have to put production on hold for months because a part is not available in Myanmar and nobody in the country has the tools to make it”

    Go read the whole article on Stanford Social Innovation Review, now!