It doesn't always have to be high-tech. India is very successful in adapting Western products to local market requirements. Especially in Egypt, with its high creative potential, there are many opportunities to develop products for African markets, for example.
Products from Western countries are often complex, expensive and difficult to repair. Successful product developments from developing countries show that there is another way.
A new trend - originally intended for poorer countries - is increasingly catching on in this country as well. So-called frugal innovations seem unbeatable: easy to use, robust, environmentally friendly and inexpensive.
Frugal products and solutions aim for simple and reliable use instead of an excessive scope of services that often misses the needs of the users. They are affordable, focus on essential functions, save resources, are low-maintenance and robust.
A filter that purifies water at a ridiculous price. Ultrasonic devices that work with a notebook. Houses that are assembled from hollow concrete blocks as if with Legos without mortar. Experts call such innovations frugal, derived from the Latin frugalis, which means simple, economical, usable. Simple products have long been developed primarily for poor countries where most people cannot afford expensive goods.
It takes unconventional, creative thinking to do business profitably but more gently and better with simple solutions," writes Navi Radjou, co-author of the book "Frugal Innovation - How to Do More With Less".
Inexpensive water filters even without electricity
There is, for example, a water filter that is produced in India. It consists of nano-silver, which kills germs. It is affordable because little expensive precious metal is used in the filter. Moreover, the filter works without electricity. This is particularly important for the population in poorer countries with poor electrical connections.
Two refrigerators were designed in India for people without electricity. The Chotukool (chotu means small in Hindi) is just such a light device, which is operated with a battery-powered thermoelectric chip. In the Mitticool (mitti means clay or earth), a suitcase-sized container with clay walls, food stays fresh for around five days - thanks to water evaporation. The Chotukool costs just under 90 dollars, the Mitticool 100 dollars. This means that both are priced about 40 per cent lower than a conventional refrigerator in India.
Selling solar devices at petrol stations
The solar lamp Kiran is charged during the day when the sun shines and then provides up to eight hours of light. It costs ten dollars and inventor Sam Goldman gives a two-year guarantee. His company D-Light Design in Delhi has already sold 25 million products. Besides Kiran, solar systems for houses without electricity, solar televisions, radios and smartphones. The business relationship with the French mineral oil company Total proved to be clever: it sells Kiran solar lamps at petrol stations in various countries - not least to profit from the image of the environmentally friendly products.
Simplifying medical devices
According to the consulting firm Roland Berger, emerging markets will account for about 70 percent of global economic growth by 2030. In the future, more and more so-called reverse innovations will be brought to market in these markets, writes Vijay Govindarajan, professor at the Tuck School of Business in Hanover, USA, in his book of the same name. By such innovations, he means products from the global South that conquer the North.
General Electric (GE) encountered a great need for low-cost ECG devices among doctors and clinics during field studies in rural India. The first portable version developed as a result became a global hit.
In the Chinese hinterland, GE also encountered interest in portable, low-cost ultrasound machines as an alternative to stationary technology in clinics. The Logiq Book, an ultrasound machine based on notebook computers, has far fewer functions than conventional machines, but at around 8,000 euros it costs only a fraction. The small device weighs only five kilograms and ensures that people do not have to travel to distant cities for diagnosis.
Siemens also landed such a hit - with the Fetal Heart Monitor, which listens to the heartbeat of unborn babies. The device uses an inexpensive microphone instead of expensive ultrasound technology. Indian and German engineers developed the monitor together. Thanks to the simple technology, the device can be used without special training and can make expensive examinations unnecessary anywhere in the world.
Sewage plant with rice husks
Engineers from the Indian company Tata discovered a simple principle to purify water without much effort. With the help of rice husks combined with silver nanoparticles, polluted water can be purified even without electricity. Based on this, they developed Tata Swach Smart, a device that can purify up to 1500 litres of water without changing the filter. In 2018, the company switched to an even more efficient technology: Ultrafiltration Hollow Fibres (UHF). They work similarly to coffee filters, only much finer. The filter pores of the membranes made of cellulose nitrate are tiny at 0.00001 millimetres and rid the water of 90 per cent of all pathogenic bacteria. So far, about two million water purifiers have been sold.
Houses made of Lego bricks
In 2020, the company Start Somewhere built a 350-metre-long, two-storey school building with twelve classrooms made of hollow concrete blocks - which can be joined together without mortar - in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. They are manufactured in a local factory and cost one euro each. With this construction system, a single-family house can be built for around 2,000 euros. The walls of the 50-centimetre-long hollow bricks measure only two to four centimetres. The hollow space can be filled with earth. This saves concrete and the earth serves as a natural air conditioner: the heavier the wall, the longer it takes to warm up.
Harvester for 35000 instead of 200000 euros
Combine harvesters are often too expensive for farmers. In India, the agricultural machinery manufacturer Claas developed a harvesting machine that is reduced to the essentials and yet variable, without electronics. Thanks to its caterpillar track, the so-called Crop Tiger is suitable for harvesting rice on muddy terrain, but can also be converted for harvesting grain or maize on dry soils in just a few steps. The threshing and separating mechanism ensures that the grain does not break and provides excellent grain quality with minimal losses of only one percent. The machine is robust and easy to repair. With a price of around 35000 euros, the Harvest Tiger is affordable; comparable combines in Europe cost just under 200000 euros.
Economical cash dispenser
In rural India, ATMs often fail to spit out notes because power failures paralyse the machines, heavily used notes clog the dispensing chutes or people are overwhelmed with the operation. The machines, manufactured by Vortex Engineering from the city of Chennai in southern India, are powered by solar energy and consume only about ten percent of the energy of a conventional ATM. The Vortex ATM also does not require an air-conditioned environment, as it still functions at 50 degrees Celsius. The integrated fingerprint scanner eliminates the need to enter a personal identification number. More than 10000 vending machines have been sold worldwide since 2008.
In Chennai, simple trucks and buses of the Bharat-Benz brand are produced: no elaborate electronics, no expensive extras. Instead, the vehicles are robust, have good brakes and bright headlights, which is practical on the often bumpy and poorly lit roads in the huge country. The trucks and buses are also affordable because 90 percent of the components come from 350 Indian suppliers.