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Frugal innovation comes to SCU

Frugal Innovation

The School of Engineering and SCU’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) are pairing up on a frugal innovation initiative, Radha Basu, CSTS former managing director, announced. “This could be a real differentiator for the University, providing us with a tremendous opportunity to innovate for social impact,” she said.

Frugal innovation addresses the need for products and services in emerging, underdeveloped countries. Ruggedization, simplification, sparing use of low-cost raw materials, an emphasis on earth-friendly practices, and a philosophy that favors “good enough” over “perfection” in creating compassionate, use-centric design are features of frugal innovation.

“What’s exciting about this field is that engineering or technology innovation for social benefit might seem like it’s something someone does for charity work,” said Basu, “but that is not case anymore. In the next few years, emerging markets such as China, Africa, Brazil, and India are expected to account for 70% of the world’s economic growth. For the United States to remain competitive, we must provide products and services to the growing masses, and we have to innovate to the needs of the billions of potential consumers at the bottom or middle of the income pyramid. Santa Clara, with its focus on educating for a just world, is the perfect place to locate these efforts.”

Serving emerging markets also entails a radical change in business models, distribution and supply chain partnerships and applying mass-production techniques to service industries. Therefore, the initiative includes collaboration with SCU’s Leavey School of Business to address these critical needs for emerging markets through what is increasingly known as “lean entrepreneurship.”

Basu sees tremendous potential for Silicon Valley growth as companies become target-market focused. This summer, she taught a graduate-level course for the School of Engineering entitled, “Engineering for the Developing World” that was met with great success. “There is a hunger in this Valley for this kind of information,” she said.

“The frugal innovation initiative provides a mechanism for faculty and students to apply their intellectual rigor while working on meaningful projects that not only serve the world, but also contribute to the success of our economy here at home,” said School of Engineering dean Godfrey Mungal. “In Santa Clara President Michael Engh’s inaugural address, he said “SCU is uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution to achieving a more just and sustainable future.’ This initiative is a major step in that direction.”