Frugal Innovation: Definition and Practical Examples

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Frugal Innovation: Definition and Practical Examples

India invented the “Jugaad” or “Frugal Innovation”

Frugal Innovation: Meet Sam Pitroda

Jugaad was popularized by Sam Pitroda, founder of C-DOT, who has Sam Pitrodadeveloped and popularized telecommunications in India. Frugal innovation can be defined as “the commercialization, in the context of limited resources, of quality products and services that are affordable to the masses.” This has been the principle applied by Sam Pitroda when developing the famous network of tens of millions of token-phones in the country. Nowadays, as leader of the National Innovation Council, he dedicates himself to making India the country of innovation by 2030. Get to know him with this interview from Euronews.

Visionary? Maybe, but in any case his concept of frugal innovation had a great echo in developing countries as well as in developed countries facing a financial crisis.


An Indian ambition and worldwide opportunity

Sam Pitroda’s vision of frugal innovation is societal and it aims at reducing poverty, producing accessible innovations for the most impoverished and allowing the improvement their condition. He resumes it by  saying that “the great brains work too much on solving the problems of the rich” and at the same time on designing new products that feed the overconsumption of rich countries. He preaches the development of innovative frugal projects with social impact.

The opportunity perceived in developed countries is a little bit different. It’s generally accepted that the ever increasing investments that are necessary to innovate are no longer sustainable. This happens particularly in a period of economical stagnation.


To sum up, three complaints are made regarding the structure of the Western innovation:

Too expensive

Innovative companies spend colossal amounts (600 billions in 2011) in their R&D and innovation process, and those amounts increase mechanically as the processes become more complex and as the technologies are miniaturizing. And yet, the results are not always there, particularly when the need is badly understood or it’s overrun by an innovation cycle that takes too long.

Too “precluding”

innovation rests upon a limited population (engineers, researchers) and aims at a reduced audience (limited high range markets). Whereas innovation could be inspired by a much larger population: employees, clients, suppliers and it could also aim at the “non-clients” beyond the original target.

Too slow…

…because it relies on complex and restrictive processes.


Therefore, the innovation process has to develop in three directions:

  • the agility through interaction between users and designers. The practice is well-developed in the software industry (Agile) but it’s much less developed for the manufactured products.
  • the ”inclusiveness” or the opening towards the greatest sources of ideas, external competences and the largest target audiences.
  • the conception or the frugal innovation, or how to make more with little, which also requires to value ingenuity rather than only heavy engineering.

When setting up projects and teams that rely on these principles there is indeed a great challenge not to compromise with product’s quality. But the benefits can be considerable: do more, cheaper and for the largest markets is a promise that no company can neglect!

So what’s the role of Open Innovation in all of this? It brings the necessary opening towards external contributions, ideas, as well as technological solutions. This is a core component in frugal innovation as it offers means of being attentive, reactive and innovative with smaller budgets.


Examples of Frugal Innovation

The Indian Mangalyaan spacecraft

The spacecraft for Mars was developed 3 times faster and it involved spending that was 10 times lower than for the one designed by NASA, through the reuse of existing components. It reached the Martian orbit in September 2014!

Schneider Electric 

With its BiBop program aims to offer solutions for affordable  energy and for a new business model, like the low-cost LED lighting solution In-Diya.

Renault and Dacia

Frugal engineering is the term used by Carlos Ghosn rather than frugal innovation to resume the company’s orientation towards low-cost cars, allowing other markets to be reached. The success of Dacia cars in Europe is also demonstrative!

Tata Motors

Takes it even further with Nano, a $2,000 car developed by the Indian company.


And its 2.5 New Vision Generation pursue a strategy of economic inclusion with the main goal of offering access to visual correction for 2.5 billion people that are excluded at the moment.


In 2005, the MIT already suggested the conception of a 100 USD computer for developing countries through the project “One Laptop per Child” which would have been deployed in almost 1.5M units.


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