Innovation Vanguard: Technology and Frugal Innovation

The tech sector is always innovating. Always giving us something newer, better, faster than the previous version. The sector spans everything from cell phones to industrial power convertors. We have better medical imaging equipment, smarter cars, and adaptive prosthetics. And the technology industry has been one of the first to adopt frugal innovation practices. 

Tech products are some of the most expensive items in our homes and pockets. Think about the technology you have around you, computers, televisions, cell phones, games consoles, tablets, cable boxes, and the list can go on and on. However, savvy consumers have started looking for less expensive alternatives to high price tag tech. And some companies are delivering, from industry giants to start-ups. 

Frugal Innovation in the Consumer Marketplace 

Earlier this year, Google announced a pared-down cell phone offering. The Verge stated, they “stripped the phone to just essentials, but gets them right”. The consumer gets a good camera and a decent battery life but loses out on wireless charging. For the €340 compared to other phones currently on the market, it doesn’t seem like giving up a feature we are not quite used to yet will have much impact on our daily lives. Google also did things like reduce colour options to only black and reduce the size options to make the mobile phone more cost efficient.

Thanks to frugal innovation, which enabled better understanding of the features users want, Google was able to offer an affordable product which enabled more people in the cash strapped post-covid economy to access the technology which has quickly become vital to our daily lives. 

Medical Technology and Frugal Innovation 

Medical Technology changes as quickly as research allows. This market segment is constantly pivoting to meet the evolving needs of consumers around the world, from state-of-the-art medical imaging and interventions in cancer care to the basics of medical imaging for maternal fetal medicine in rural areas of developing economies. Each is equally important for this industry. 

GE Healthcare has worked to provide diagnostic imaging solutions across the spectrum of clinical needs, everything from complex cancer care imaging to basic sonographs. GE’s handheld ultrasound scanner “was specifically designed to enable earlier identification of at-risk pregnancies so that they can be addressed to reduce the mortality rates”. GE developed a product which “addresses key challenges in maternal care faced by emerging economies around the world” because of its thorough consultation with stakeholders and users. A competitive advantage, according to the Global Information Exchange. Their goal was to address the lack of medical care during pregnancy in developing economies. Women do not have the option of early care or, sometimes, any care “due to lack of access, shortage of physicians in high mortality, low resource areas, lack of tools to detect complications and make referrals, as well as high cost and fragility of typical medical devices.” According to Global Information Exchange, “Vscan Access overcomes these challenges via its simple and durable design, which provides excellent clinical utility at an affordable price.”

Vienna is no stranger to medical innovation, in fact it has a long history of it, from the first steps to improve maternal survival rates in the 1800s through hand washing to some of the first surgical quality improvement programs. A local company is changing the way we think about diabetic care. MySugr, wants to “make diabetes suck less”. They aim to “improve the lives of people with diabetes by providing our users with a quick and easy solution to collect all relevant therapy data in one place.” They offer personalized coaching packages and interfacing and data collection from glucose monitors which empowers patients to make healthier choices over time. Rather than rely on expensive in person clinics with high overheads to offer their services, they went with the much less expensive service of offering care through video chat technologies. They took advantage of new less expensive technologies to create a better, more accessible patient-centered model of care. 

The side benefit to this is improving the care of diabetes in rural areas across the world, where care is not always accessible. This unique service and web-based technology is providing better access to coaching and education. Diabetes is on the rise, the world over, and developing economies are seeing steep increases. MySugr, and other services like this, make it easy to access high quality and evidence-based medical care. The app and the coaches behind it provide support to patients struggling with drastic lifestyle changes and education to make better choices; improving clinical outcomes for patients across the world

Frugal innovation in technology is helping health care providers the world over better care for patients and populations. 

Commercial Technology and Frugal Innovation 

The commercial technology sector is constantly evolving to meet the needs of consumers all over the world, whether someone is in Vienna or rural India. Siemens is perhaps the best example of providing technology to a specific market. They have used their own “SMART” approach, Simple, Maintenance-friendly, Affordable, Reliable, and timely to market. Felix Scheffler says, in an interview with The Guardian, “[i]n the past, perceived quality was more or less attached to the technological sophistication of a product, the highest number of features, [now] less is more. And this definitely calls for a huge change in mindset.” 

A great example is the power converters imported from Germany to China. They were deemed too costly and broke down frequently. This led to a perception amongst Chinese consumers that Siemens products were of a lower quality. An investigation conducted by Siemens found that the high level of dust pollution in the area was adversely affecting the products. They went back to the literal drawing board and created a simpler converter which malfunctioned less; because it had fewer features it also cost less. The decreased cost and increased reliability made the consumers happier, enabling a greater market share in China.

Frugal Innovation, Impact Hub and The Innovation for a Better World Project

These are stories of mega tech giants. They and their products are known all over the world. Many of us even have them in our homes. These companies have massive impacts on our daily lives. 

However, local companies are now able to access new funding opportunities. The “Innovation for a Better World: Advanced Solutions for Sustainable Development” project is here to help organizations navigate these dynamic markets through funding. The project is a pilot funding scheme on frugal innovation jointly developed by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency to help organizations from Austria, the Western Balkans and beyond to make meaningful contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals.

The funding packages are substantial for companies in Austria with working partners in emerging markets in the Western Balkans and Africa. The details for the funding packages and eligibility requirements are on our partner websites. But we have a quick summary here: for projects using innovation processes with significant involvement from emerging economy stakeholders and with a maximum cost of €150,000 euros the FFG is offering €75,000 euros for eligible projects through the impact innovation funding scheme. ADA has a generous funding package for eligible projects, ranging from €20,000 for feasibility studies to €500,000 for multi-stakeholder strategic alliances.

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Jennifer Cornick - Impact Hub Vienna
Jennifer Cornick Freelance journalist and blogger for various publications in Vienna. When I am not writing, I can generally be found with a book (or anything with words on it - even […]