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Frugal Innovation Hub


Frugal Innovation Hub

The Frugal Innovation Hub's (FIH) mission is to engage students and faculty in technological and humanitarian projects through partnerships and programs.

The FIH acts as a liaison and as a facilitator.  We act as a liaison between engineering students, faculty members and organizations (our clients) to solve together humanitarian problems. We also act as a facilitator between the students and their clients to ensure the consolidating of projects and the appropriate technology for the deliverables.

These are the kinds of wonderful things our students and faculty are doing in humanitarian technology:



Breastmilk Sensor: Samantha O’Connor, Callie Weber, and Nina Morrison

Humanitarian Award 2017

For their capstone work, bioengineering seniors Nina Morrison, Samantha O’Connor, and Callie Weber wanted to tackle a brand-new project, from the ground up. Advised by Unyoung (Ashley) Kim, the team designed a low-cost paper-based sensor to detect the presence of E. coli in human breast milk donated to breast milk banks. Their aim is to ensure post-pasteurization safety in developing countries, where traditional lab culturing methods are unavailable. The team was selected to present their Social Enterprise Pitch at the Global Health Conference at Yale University. In June, Callie and Karen traveled to Mumbai, India, to share their device with LTMGH (Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital). For now, they are working to validate their results locally with Mothers’ Milk Bank

More on the project:

India Map

When SCU Business major Ty Van Herweg went to Uganda to work with a social enterprise, he noticed there was a problem connecting people in rural areas with the boda drivers that provide transportation on motorcycles. He came back to the US determined to return following graduation to start an UBER-style SMS-based service for rural Ugandans. After hearing that story, Computer Science and Engineering majors Michael Brew and Bryant Larsen offered to build an SMS-based system to connect drivers and riders as their senior project. And they did it! They donated the code, and Ty went back to Uganda with a Fulbright scholarship to start the Wakabi social enterprise.

Uganda Map

Senior students Alejandra Huitron and Nicholas Supan designed an educational lantern with a solar charging system. The project included lesson plans along with assembly of the lanterns. The kits are intended to be used by the Lightyear Foundation with high school students in Ghana, Africa. See video.

Ghana Map

It turns out that many homeless people own cellular phones, which surprisingly help them out of poverty. After all, how do you get a job if you do not have a phone? How do employers get in touch with you? Based on this information, Computer Science and Engineering students have been developing apps to enable phones to help homeless people. Simply is an app that was developed to make it easier for older people to use smartphones. StreetConnect is an announcement tool that enables organizations working with homeless people to send them announcements via SMS. Youth StreetConnect, a Yelp-like mobile social network, was developed  to help young homeless women find resources and support.

Santa Clara County Map

"The Engineer requires the imagination to visualize the needs of a society and to appreciate what is possible as well as the technological and broad social age understanding to bring his vision to reality” – Sir. Eric Ashby

When a client approaches us with a need, we engage students and faculty to address their pain-point. Once a student adopts a “need”, the FIH facilitates the process of translating that “need” into an engineering problem through the design innovation process. We do that by:

  •      Encouraging the student in developing a deeper understanding of the need
  •      Guiding the student in defining and redefining the engineering problem to solve
  •      Providing resources and feedback on the potential solutions
  •      Supporting the process of prototyping and testing

FIH develops projects focused on five key technical verticals based upon the expertise of specialized faculty members. See our faculty labs. The program also supports projects in peripheral verticals that have a high social impact for humanitarian organizations, such as solar energy and web design.

Moreover, we promote a frugal and entrepreneurial approach to projects through our signature programs. To learn more about the structure of our program, check out our hub chart.

We have developed humanitarian projects in many latitudes around the world: Ghana, Gambia, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania, Nepal, Indonesia, Philippines, Afghanistan, Mexico, Honduras, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and India. This also includes our communities here in the Silicon Valley: San Jose, Santa Clara, Oakland and San Francisco. This region claims one of the largest homeless populations in the United States, with 88% of their homeless youth living on the streets or in their cars.

All innovative ideas started the same way everywhere... with a talk... Let’s talk.

We work “hand-in-hand” with nonprofit  organizations, NGO and social enterprises on technology projects aimed to support organizations’ efforts to better serve their target population. If you are working to improve lives and your organization has a need that can be solved through engineering ingenuity, contact us!


Santa Clara University
School of Engineering
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053

Guadalupe Hall, Bldg. 455, 3rd Floor

(408) 554-2334

Opportunities increase when you help others win. A little win for a partner is a little win for us.

Whether you're a student interested in accumulating professional experience while changing lives, a faculty member interested in supporting students and developing humanitarian projects around the globe, a social entrepreneur in need for technical support, or a community organization struggling to create innovation, we are excited to engage with you!

Get Involved!