Does innovation always have to be expensive? Can affordability and innovation go hand in hand? Can we ecologically sustain affordable innovation?
These and many related questions were answered at the DWIH Seminars on Frugal Innovations from 11th December, 2018 to 14th December, 2018. The seminars were conducted in Bengaluru and Pune by the German Centre for Research and Innovation (DWIH) New Delhi in association with the Indo German Chambers of Commerce, Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Bavarian-Indian Centre for Business and University Cooperation – BayIND. Experts from TUHH and FAU, together with local partners from India presented best-practice examples from German and Indian companies about implementing a successful frugal innovation strategy, facilitated also by Indo-German collaboration.
The list of attendees included people from a diverse mix of backgrounds, including professors, researchers, industrialists and startup founders, engineers, students and interns, keen to profit from a discourse on how excellence could be made both innovative and affordable at the same time.
The rich welcome addresses by Ms. Heike Mock, Director, German Centre for Research and Innovation, New Delhi; Ms. Amrita Gandikota, Manager, Indo- German Chamber of Commerce, Bangalore; Dr. Manjula Mundakana, Science Officer, Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bangalore; Dr. Matthias Kiesselbach, Chairperson- German Centre for Research and Innovation (DWIH New Delhi) & Director, German Research Foundation-India and Ms. Sophia Nebel, Manager, Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, Pune set the stage for the discussion by highlighting Frugal Innovations in an Indian context.
Dr. Stephan Buse and Dr. Rajnish Tiwari (Centre for Frugal Innovation- TUHH, Hamburg) presented a research perspective on 'Frugal Innovations and their relevance to the global competitiveness of companies.' Dr. Buse stressed on the problem of 'over-engineering' of products especially in developed markets like Germany, which ignore the potential of non- premium market segments and thus lose out to local competitors. Taking the discussion forward, Dr. Tiwari defined the term Frugal Innovation as rethinking resource consumption for both the producer and the consumer.
Prof. Dr. Alexander Brem, from the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, talked about Mapping company and customer requirements for frugal innovations. He also charted a shift in evolution of frugal innovation from just individualized frugal products to a comprehensive frugal ecosystem. An interesting case in point for such an ecosystem, he added, was the sharing economy, growing everywhere from India to Germany, from shared cab rentals to concepts like AirBnb.
Further, Mr. Gaurav Kataria, Vice President Digital Strategy & Solutions (Aerospace & Defense), Cyient introduced the inevitability of digitalization in Frugal Innovations. "A frugal innovation is a sustainable world class product or service which has a low lifecycle cost." He cited interesting real life applications of IOT including image analytics for detecting casting defects in aerospace engineering industry and 3D printing to build a $4,000 home in 24 hours, among others.
The seminar also saw Dr. Shyam Vasudevarao, Founder & Director Forus Health Pvt Ltd, among others, throw light on the uses of frugal innovations in ophthalmic care (through their device 3Netra) to dramatically reduce costs and increase access to timely and affordable health services even in distant parts of the country.
Ms. Vaishnavi Chandru, Signal Processing Engineer at Janitri Innovations, spoke about the struggles and challenges of developing low cost, sustainable yet robust solutions for risk assessment in pregnancies and elaborated through cases of two of her company's devices- Keyar (a wearable fetal monitor) and an app Daksh.
The issue of Frugal Innovations for Social Development was addressed by Dr. Santosh Noronha from the Tata Centre for Technology and Design, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai (IIT Bombay), whose Gynae Cam coupled with the technique of using acetic acid and iodine stains to detect cervical cancer in early stages, is helping women especially in rural and remote areas.
Elaborating the Indian dimension further, Prof. Dr. Aravind Chinchure, CEO, QLeap Academy and Chair Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Symbiosis, Pune presented interesting insights about Frugal Innovation Pathways. He was associated with DWIH as the local partner for the Frugal innovations seminar for industry in Pune.
The questions around the corporate perspective of Frugal Innovations were answered by Mr. Ravi Arora, Vice President, Innovation, Tata Sons, Pune, who touched upon the favourable and unfavourable factors for both product as well as service companies in the B2B and B2C segments. He also introduced the audience to the corporate culture at TATA Group that seeks to ignite innovation at all levels through their open innovation platform, TATA Innoverse.
Towards the end of the seminars, Dr. Rahul Chaudhari, Chief Technology Officer, Module Innovations, Pune described how Module, a young innovative startup in healthcare sought to provide affordable and functional diagnosis, especially microbial detection at the point of care, without needing sophisticated labs and trained manpower. Incidentally, Mr. Sachin Dubey, Co-Founder & CEO, Module Innovations, had won the third prize in DWIH's flagship event Falling Walls Lab India in 2017, for Breaking the Wall of Anti-Microbial Resistance(AMR).
The seminars concluded with an engaging panel discussion, where participants discussed a wide ranging variety of questions with the experts, including those about negative externalities of Frugal Innovations, the rebound effect of over consumption, the debate on machines replacing humans in times of digitalization etc. Thus, it can be concluded that the events encompassed a broad spectrum of dimensions related to Frugal Innovations and how they could turn into an engine of growth for industry.