STORIES

Frugal Innovation

Frugal Innovation
A 2010 electrical engineering senior
explains his team's sustainable solution
to the global clean water crisis - a
solar-powered water purification system
utilizing renewable energy and low
pressure distillation. Photo by Chuck Barry

You may have heard that the School of Engineering is focusing a lot of its attention on frugal innovation. But what is frugal innovation, exactly?

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.

The School of Engineering and SCU’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS), are pairing up on a frugal innovation initiative. “This program provides us with a tremendous opportunity to innovate for social impact,” said Radha Basu, dean’s executive professor in the School of Engineering and CSTS former managing director.

“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 the 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. Her graduate-level course, “Engineering for the Developing World,” has 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.”

Read more about SCU's Frugal Innovation Program.

Read the 2012 Year-End Report