Bangalore India has often been referred to as India’s Silicon Valley due to the large number of technology companies located there. One of the places where a number of technology companies are located in Bangalore is called Whitefield, an area which once was a quiet retirement town but now is a bustling suburb. The journey from Bangalore’s modern and sleek airport located at a distance from the city and Whitefield can be a fascinating study in contrasts.

There are two main routes from Whitefield to the airport. If you travel in the first, you will drive initially along the elevated expressway, which starts near the airport and then along the Outer Ring Road which runs outside the city. If you gaze out of your car, you will see shopping malls, high rises, modern hospitals and probably a lot of traffic, in many ways representing the India built in the last few decades after the economy liberalized. Alternately, you could take a more scenic route through the backroads through a town called Budigere. Along this road you will see little traffic, lots of greenery, a few small towns on the way, some shops and a few clinics and pharmacies.

These two journeys, which are only a few miles apart in many ways encapsulate both the challenges and opportunities of the Indian market. In the modern tertiary care hospitals in India, the equipment is as high end as any in developed markets, with many CT scanners, MRI machines and ultrasound equipment besides modern operating theaters. Developing solutions for this segment may be similar to developed markets, but unique challenges remain. Given the relatively high cost of infrastructure and lower cost of labor, often the importance is placed on reliability over automation. Many scanners operate 24x7 to address demand but also to quickly amortize equipment cost, with some centers offering discounts for late night scans. Routine maintenance, minimal downtime and quick response are key.

At the other end of the spectrum there are many medical clinics in small towns that lack even minimal diagnostic equipment. These represent a clear opportunity for telemedicine as well as portable equipment. In these markets, simplicity of use is often also a key criterion since the equipment may be operated by someone with minimal training. It is also critical that these equipment are very robust and capable of handling rough roads, erratic power and extremes in heat. They should be the equivalent of the buses that transport people across small towns and not like the air-conditioned buses one sees in cities.

Innovation is key to achieving these goals, and the term frugal innovation has been coined to express these goals and means of achieving them. However, frugal innovation is not about cost alone, it is often a matter of changing the market dynamic and perception. Mobile phones are an example of this non-linear disruption and they have enabled information to be shared widely, such as the price commanded by vegetables in a central market enabling growers to optimize their sale. These types of innovations are also under development in the biotech market where unique solutions such as dissolvable microneedle patches for polio immunization are being designed. The future is bright with a number of startups in this space as well as established companies developing a new generation of products. 

Frugal innovation

August 16, 2015 

By Innovative BioSolutions 

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