Brief case summaries
Innovation case 1: cotton stripper
I have seen the manual and tedious work. It was time consuming, it would take months and the rains would come and there would be huge losses for the farmers… Women and children had to do this backbreaking work and school going children were also employed in this job. I was also allocated this task. Studying or going to school was last priority. Father - mother said, ‘this much work has to be done and then study or go to school’. - Patel (translated from personal interviews)
Since then, he felt that he should do something to alleviate this drudgery. He dropped from school after 9th grade due to poverty and continued to work in his cotton field. He also did many odd jobs and picked up mechanical skills by working as an electrician and mechanic in cotton mills. In 1991 to 1992, he developed a machine that could mechanically strip cotton from its shell by borrowing money from his family and friends. He tested the machine in his farm and built many prototypes before it operated as per his satisfaction. Patel finally achieved a workable commercial solution with the seventh prototype and GIAN helped in mobilizing the technical support from premier education institutions like National Institute of Design (NID) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). He also obtained intellectual property rights protection for his product in India and in the USA with the help of NIF. Patel now owns five small firms with a turnover of over US$ 0.3 million.
Innovation case 2: mitticool (innovative clay products)
A photographer took pictures of my broken clay pots and published in the newspaper with a headline ‘Garib Ka Fridge Tut Gaya’ (Refrigerator of the Poor has Broken). I thought; he is calling my pot a fridge. We also want a fridge but do not have money to purchase one… so…why don’t I make a clay fridge for myself… and I started experimenting with clay to make a clay refrigerator that did not need electricity to cool.
In 2005, my wife wanted a nonstick pan for cooking and when I went to the market to buy one, I saw the cost was INR 450 (US$8). It was very expensive for me and I thought- can’t I do something to my clay hotplates to make them nonstick. I worked on it for 1.5 years… - Prajapati (translated from personal interviews)
Prajapati created many innovative clay products like the Mitticool clay refrigerator, the nonstick clay tawa (hot plate) and the clay pressure cooker. The name of the refrigerator ‘Mitticool’ comes from the Hindi word mitti, which in means ‘clay.’ The clay refrigerator can be used to store cold water, food, fruits, and vegetables without any electricity or any artificial form of energy. It works on the simple principal of cooling by evaporation. Water from the upper chambers drips down the sides and evaporates, which leaves the inner chamber cool. It can be good alternative for people living in rural areas where electricity is not available or for those who are poor and cannot afford the conventional refrigerator. Financially, Prajapati has been able to move out of poverty and he received 25 awards including one from the President of India.
Innovation case 3: Bullet Santi (motorcycle-driven ploughing machine)
With no money and bullocks, I had no choice but to think of an alternative way to plough our 20 bighas of land. I got this idea of developing a ‘Bullet Santi’ from ‘Chhakdas’, the common mode of three-wheeler transport in Saurashtra. - Jagani (translated from personal interview)
Jagani had also worked as a farm mechanic repairing diesel engines and farming equipment. He borrowed his friend's Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle and tried attaching a tiller to it. He created attachments using cheap and used components from foundries. The idea seemed to work and he further experimented with different ploughing attachments that could be fixed behind the motorcycle for farming. Jagani replaced the rear wheel with a set two smaller wheels and attached a metal plough behind the bike. He began using it for ploughing in his farm. It eliminated the need of bullocks or laborers for ploughing and Jagani named it ‘Bullet Santi,’ where Santi means ‘plough.’ The motorcycle had a 5.5 horsepower diesel engine and with the attachments it could be used as a multipurpose machine for ploughing, sowing, interculturing, spraying insecticides, or a small goods carrier. Other farmers also saw value in his invention and started approaching him for similar solutions.
The machine worked as a faster alternative to the traditional farming method that uses bullocks and as a cheaper alternative to modern farming methods that use tractors. In 1994, Jagani had developed the first prototype. Subsequently, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Lab in India helped Jagani improve the product design, and NIF and GIAN helped in its commercialization. His product got a patent in India and in the USA. Jagani has been able to move out of poverty and also received national level awards by NIF.
Innovation case 4: biomass gasifier
While other children went to school, Rai Singh Dahiya worked and helped his parents in their farm in rural India. He would weed and water the plants, look after the cattle, and do other jobs. They lived in a temporary or kutcha house made of mud and clay. Water would often come inside the house during rains and having a good meal was a luxury. Even though he could not attend school due to poverty, he had a keen desire to learn and was a regular listener of BBC radio for Science called Gyan-Vigyan. Dahiya had an inquisitive mind and he would often experiment with things. He would dismantle and again assemble anything that he could lay his hands on, for example, watches, clocks, radio, or farm machinery. He would often make models with mud and felt that he understood the language of machines.
LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) was becoming expensive, diesel was becoming expensive. I thought let me try to use the gas produced in my kiln to run the engine… this gas can also replace our cooking fuel and can be very cheap. - Dahiya (translated from personal interviews)
I faced lot of problems in the process. The engine would run for some time and then would stop. I had to open it, clean it, and then run again. I had no idea about filtration then… I thought about it and worked on it… Finally, in 2002, I made a fan filter and the engine ran successfully. - Dahiya (translated from personal interviews)
The unit consisted of a gasifier, which was conical in shape surrounded by a water jacket. The gasifier generated producer gas from biowaste and Dahiya used it to run diesel engines. Dahiya did not even know what to call his invention. In 2001, NIF scouted him and provided commercialization support. He has sold over 80 units of varied capacity and the latest version of the biomass gasifier is made of steel. It has the capacity to produce 1 kilowatt power to run an engine for 1 h from 1 kg of biowaste.
My eldest daughter is doing PhD. My younger daughter has completed MBA and my son is doing BBA. - Dahiya (translated from personal interviews)
Innovation case 5: multipurpose processing machine
Dharamveer Kamboj hails from a poor farmer family in the northern part of rural India. He studied in school until the 10th grade and then started assisting his father. Overburdened with loans, he decided to go to the nearby metropolitan city Delhi and work as a rickshaw puller to earn some money. He worked there for 2 years but had to return back to his village after meeting with an accident. He was bedridden for months and his family faced severe hardships. After recovering, he thought about growing medicinal herbs in his farm and visited the horticulture department in a small city called Ajmer in India. He had heard that there was a need for herbal plants during his stay in Delhi. Kamboj started with plants like aloe vera and stilia and built a small nursery.
Then came the problem of processing these herbal plants. He knew that there was a demand for aloe vera gel and he could make money by extracting and processing the aloe vera gel. But Kamboj did not have the money to buy the expensive machines existing in the market. Additionally, these machines could not carry out multiple functions that he wanted. Kamboj thought about building a processing machine something on the lines of a food processer which would not only extract pulp or juice from the plants that he was growing but also convert them into powder form. He borrowed money and struggled for 8 months in designing and building the machine. In 2005, he was able to build the first prototype. He took help of a local factory for fabrication and welding.
NIF scouted and helped commercialize his product. GIAN assisted Kamboj in product design improvement. Kamboj has made several changes in product design and the latest version is capable of extracting oil and juice from various herbs, fruits and vegetables. It can also work as pulp extractor, dry grinder, boiler, or sterilizer. It can be used to boil rice, make ketchup or puree from tomatoes, or make dry powder from spices or fruits. It can also be used to extract ripe mango pulp without breaking the seeds. Kamboj now earns a decent income per month that enables him to live comfortably and provide education to his children. He also provides employment to more than 25 people from the village in his manufacturing unit.
RQ1: why do rural users innovate?
The common aspect found in all the five case studies was that the user innovators were poor and professionally dissatisfied. They had experienced hardships due to poverty in their lives. In case studies of Patel, Jagani, and Kamboj, we find that they innovated to automate a manual process that was time-consuming and laborious. Four case studies also reveal that the users innovated to fulfill a necessity for a low-cost solution as compared to the existing products in the market. For instance, Dahiya innovated a biofuel because the diesel was expensive, Jagni innovated a motorcycle-driven plough because tractors were very expensive, Prajapati innovated a mitticool fridge because existing market refrigerator unaffordable, and Kamboj innovated the multipurpose machine because the existing machines were expensive and offered limited functionality. However, Patel's need to innovate was driven by desire to alleviate drudgery of the manual cotton stripping process.
RQ2: how did the rural users innovate?
In this question, we tried to study the process of rural user innovation. We find that the users were well aware of their local need and the constraints of their environment. This drives them to develop an idea of a product. For example, Patel got an idea to build a machine for stripping cotton, Prajapati got an idea to build a clay-based refrigerator, Jagni got an idea to attach ploughing implements to a motorcycle, Dahiya thought of using the gas produced in his kiln, and Kamboj got an idea to build a machine on the lines of a food processor. The next step in the innovation process was to seek financial help to build the product, as all of them were poor. They primarily relied on informal means of obtaining finance either from family members or friends. All of them had little or no educational backgrounds and were not conversant with the process of obtaining financial support from financial institutions. Additionally, they had no collateral to submit to banks. After acquiring financial support from informal sources, they built an initial working prototype.
RQ3: how did rural users commercialize their products and become entrepreneurs?
The rural user innovators initially developed the product to meet their individual need but also thought about its commercial viability mainly to earn some money. They start using their product and show its use to other people living in their rural community. The rural innovators also tried to sell their product but were not able to successfully participate in the market and experienced a chasm. They tried to pick up business skills while on-the-job primarily through experiential learning. External organizations like NIF helped these rural innovators and they received financial support, without collateral, from NIF's Micro Venture Fund. They also receive marketing, intellectual property rights (IPR), and business development support through NIF and its partner organizations like GIAN, SRISTI, and Honey Bee network. Four rural user innovators, namely, Patel, Jagani, Dahiya, and Kamboj, received product design and development support from premier educational institutions in India with the help of NIF. As a result, they are able to improve their products and build technologically better commercial prototypes. With support from external institutions, they are able to sell the final product to more number of customers from different geographic locations in India. Some user entrepreneurs also sell their products in international markets like Dahiya received queries for his biomass gasifier from Africa, Germany, Singapore, and Pakistan. Prajapati has exported his mitticool refrigerator to Nairobi in Africa. Kamboj has exported his multipurpose processing machine to Kenya and has queries from Ethiopia.
RQ4: what is the impact on the individual rural entrepreneur?
We find that the five rural user entrepreneurs not only experience economic but also social gains. All the five rural entrepreneurs are able to generate livelihood for themselves and earn money by selling their products. All of them report that by becoming an entrepreneur they have been able to move out of poverty. In four cases, we also see increased productivity and efficiency of work. For instance, Patel reported his cotton stripper brought down cotton stripping cost from US$ 0.02 per kg to US$ 0.02 per 20 kg. All the five user entrepreneurs state that their entrepreneurial career has impacted them at a personal level. It has helped build self-confidence and has instilled a sense of self-respect. They proudly report that their community also respects them now as they have received national level recognition through awards and media coverage. All of them report that their standard of living has improved and they are now able to provide school and college education to their children.
RQ5: what is the impact of rural entrepreneurship on society or local community?
Through this research question we tried to explore whether there was any spillover effect of their entrepreneurial career on the society at large. We find that the creation of entrepreneurs, in our case rural user entrepreneurs, offers economic, social, and environmental gains for the society. Specifically, we find that customers get access to low-cost products like the mitticool refrigerator or the motorcycle-driven plough or low-cost biofuel. Two user entrepreneurs, namely, Patel and Kamboj, report their customers have experienced economic gains as reduced cost of production after using their machines. After analyzing the interview data of user entrepreneurs and the NIF chairman, we find that there is also a society-level impact like employment generation, improving quality of life for the poor, health benefits, and building a sense of pride in the community of the user entrepreneur. For example, Kamboj provides employment to 25 rural villagers in his small factory. Further, many rural women who bought Kamboj's machine have generated employment for themselves by processing and selling herbal products from their homes. Mitticool refrigerators offer cold water and food storage options to the poor. The cotton stripper offers health benefits by eliminating the harmful manual procedure traditionally used for cotton stripping.
All the five user entrepreneurs state that there has been a development of social pride within their communities. In one case, we find that the user entrepreneur has brought about change in their community, for instance, Kamboj states that there has been a parivartan ki lahar meaning ‘a wave of change’ that has enabled self-employment in whichever village his machine has reached. Finally, two case studies also reveal environmental benefits in the form of ecofriendly products like biofuel and clay-based natural refrigerators.
Towards a framework of rural user innovation and entrepreneurship in India
In our case studies, we observed that these factors hold in the case of rural innovators in India. The innovators' need for a low-cost solution or alleviating drudgery of their lives was their key driver for innovation. In other words, necessity is indeed the mother of invention in the case of rural user innovators. These are proposed as antecedent conditions/factors for rural user innovation in our model of rural user innovation and entrepreneurship in India (see Figure 1).
Driven by these antecedent factors, the rural user innovates and develops a product. His understanding of the local environment and its constraints shapes the product development process. Most of the rural innovators did not have any formal education or training; yet, it is this familiarity with their environment that enabled them to develop local solutions. They understand the needs as well as the constraints of the communities and its environment. This is in concurrence with the finding of Lujthe et al. (2005) where they suggest that user innovators mostly use ‘local’ information both for determining the need for and for developing solutions for their innovations. Lujthe and von Hippel (2006) define local information as knowledge already in possession of the innovators or the innovators themselves have generated it.
Next, we find that some of these innovations are built on existing products that are meant for purposes other than what the original product was meant for, like Jagni modified a motorcycle for use as a farm ploughing machine. This transformation is not unique to rural user innovations as prior literature also reports transformations in other cases of user innovation. The shooting films in video games (Haefliger et al. 2010) and the transformation of a phonograph turntable from a playback device into a musical instrument (Faulkner and Runde 2009) in its own right are examples of similar innovations with technological transformations.
The antecedent factors drive the user to conceptualize the idea for an innovative solution and the user now initiates the process of developing the user innovation (Figure 1). The process of rural user innovation is an interplay of local knowledge and innovative transformations in order to seek solutions for local problems and alleviate drudgery. The rural user tries to overcome his constraints by seeking financial and moral support from family and friends. This is represented as enabling factors for rural user innovation in the model. It is import to note that at this stage, the rural user is dependent only on his informal network for support. His low educational background, poor financial conditions, and limited knowledge on how to seek finance from financial institutions limit him to reach out to only his informal network for innovation development support.
In our five cases, the innovators were lead users with respect to the important general trend - driven by ‘bottom of the pyramid’ demand - for extremely low-cost solutions. In each case we studied, expensive solutions existed in the marketplace for the needs each experienced - but in each case, the rural innovators were too poor to purchase these solutions. In addition, given their poverty, the solutions were not appropriately designed to suit their needs. Thus, commercial tractors did exist which could perform the same task as the Jagni-modified motorcycle, which he developed as a farm ploughing machine. Similarly, commercial gas and electric refrigerators do exist which could perform the same task as Prajapati's evaporative cooling clay refrigerator. The innovations that these five entrepreneurs developed performed the functions of existing products - but filled a leading-edge marketplace demand in the sense of being well ahead on the dimension of low cost.
Going forward, having a good and useful innovation does not necessarily translate into an entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship literature suggests that to be an entrepreneurial individual, one needs to possess certain core human attributes (Shane 2003) like willingness to bear uncertainty (Kihlstrom and Laffont 1979), tolerance for ambiguity (Schere 1982), or need for achievement (McClelland 1961). We find in our case studies that the rural user innovators kept on trying despite their difficult living and working conditions. They all wanted to alleviate drudgery of their lives by innovating. In other words, as an individual, they all were willing to take risk and face uncertainty. They kept on trying even after losing money or their personal belongings like their house as seen in the case of Prajapati.
Further, if we look at the traditional model of new product development, we find that it is a process that starts with the generation of ideas, which undergoes a number of iterations and finally lead to the commercial launch of new products (Cooper and Kleinschmidt 1993; Cooper 1996; Fox et al. 1998). This is in line with the findings from all our case studies. We find that the rural user develops an idea and initiates the process of user innovation by building a prototype or initial product, which undergoes a series of changes before it could be commercialized. The cotton stripper was modified seven times over a period of 10 years. The motorcycle-driven plough, biomass gasifier, mitticool refrigerator, and multicrop thresher were all modified multiple times during the commercialization process.
Our case studies also reveal that rural innovators had poor understanding of obtaining formal finance from financial institutions, little exposure to the world at large, and limited technical know-how to make advanced product design modifications. As a result, there existed a chasm, which they had to overcome in order to bring their product to market and achieve profitable sales. This chasm or void was filled by the external organizations who not only provide financial support but also other forms of support, which is required to commercialize a product. Our finding is contrary to the finding of Lettl et al. (2006) where they report that users of medical equipment technology are not only inventors but also codevelopers. These advanced users play an entrepreneurial role and themselves organize the required innovation networks to commercialize their products. In our case studies, we find that the rural users are able to organize only informal innovation networks for seeking finance and resources to build their initial product. Due to their educational and financial backgrounds, they are unable to organize formal innovation networks to grow and achieve sales in markets outside their immediate community/village. Thus, a void or a chasm impedes their market participation and some form of external institutional support is required to enable participation in larger markets.
The literature on institutional voids also suggests that in many developing economies, formal institutional arrangements that support markets are absent, weak, or fail to achieve stated goals (Mair and Marti 2009). The biggest challenge for developing economies like India is to enable participation of the poor in markets. Puffer et al. (2010) used institutional theory to study entrepreneurship in China and Russia. They report slow development of efficient and legitimate formal institutions in Russia and China resulting in institutional voids. These entrepreneurs mainly relied on informal institutional arrangements of their trusted networks to fill the void of formal institutions. In our case studies, we also find that the rural users sought help from their informal network of family and friends. This is clearly different from the case of entrepreneurs from developed economies who operate with relatively higher certainty under effective formal institutions.
We find that external actors played an enabling role in product commercialization in our case studies. All the five rural user innovators took help from external organizations such as NIF, GIAN, SRISTI, and educational institutions in India such as IIT and others. Specifically, they got financial support, marketing and business development support, and IPR-related services from these external organizations. Therefore, in our model, we posit that the support provided by external actors like the government, non-government organizations, educational institutions, and private sector organizations act as critical enabling factors that can help the rural user entrepreneur cross the chasm by acquiring the required resources and skills to commercialize their product. This is a two-way interaction wherein the rural user entrepreneur primarily seeks financial support, but these external actors like NIF scout the rural innovator and extend not only financial but also marketing, business development, and legal support. We also posit that the rural user innovator is able to commercialize his product and become a user entrepreneur only when he possesses some individual level entrepreneurial traits like bearing risk and trying to build product prototypes despite all constrains (Figure 1).
After the commercialization of an innovation, the economic benefits for the entrepreneur are well documented (Wennekers and Thurik 1999; Van Praag and Versloot 2008). We found this to be true in our cases as they all were able to move out of poverty. In addition to the economic benefits, we found that there was a positive social impact on the lives of these rural user entrepreneurs. The user entrepreneurs enjoyed social recognition and also experienced greater self-esteem, social respect, and acceptability. For example, Patel's social acceptability took a dramatic turn with the success of his entrepreneurial venture. He was initially critiqued as a failure but after his entrepreneurial pursuit he became the ‘pride of his community.’ Furthermore, coverage of such stories by television channels like Discovery or NDTV increased confidence and self-esteem in rural user entrepreneurs.
In addition to the impact at an individual level, rural user entrepreneurship is likely to make a significant impact at the society or community level. The products innovated and commercialized for the rural level improve the users' quality of life by having access to products that are usually considered as basic necessities in developed economies. In addition, the commercialization of innovated products may also provide health benefits in the form of reduced harmful impacts as seen in the case of cotton stripper machine and the nonstick clay tawa. The use of cotton stripper increased the production and improved the quality of cotton ready for ginning, which increased profitability. This suggests that the increased efficiency and productivity with the use of the product also leads to the economic prosperity of its users. Instances of such cross-pollination would be in line with the suggestions of World Bank's published research (Dutz 2007) on increasing India's innovation potential. The report suggests that supporting networks and institutions like NIF and others can promote grassroots level rural innovations, which are likely to assist in poverty alleviation and sustainable development (Utz and Dahlman 2007).
As seen in the case of Prajapati, individuals who may have been considered ordinary on becoming successful can be a ‘source of pride’ for their community. On the whole, this sense of social pride is likely to lead to a feeling of well-being in communities. Furthermore, the products of rural user entrepreneurs can also offer environmental benefits and can possibly offer sustainable solutions for future generations. The case study of Prajapati's mitticool clay products and Dahiya's biomass gasifier discussed earlier is an example of environmental friendly products.
To conclude, in our framework, we suggest that antecedent conditions motivate rural users to initiate the process of rural user innovation. This rural user innovator is likely to commercialize his products and become a rural user entrepreneur with the help of enabling factors. Moving forward, rural user entrepreneurship is likely to have an individual level as well as societal/community level impact.
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Innovation, ideas and solutions for a modern world
This Case Study investigates how 3M has developed a culture of innovation that drives new product development throughout its global operations. It examines the process of innovation at 3M and investigates how the company’s workplace culture and management strategies encourage and support staff to be active members of its entrepreneurial culture.
As a result of reading this Case Study students should be able to:
- Discuss the role and importance of innovation and product development at 3M
- Describe how 3M supports a culture of innovation.
- Evaluate the success of 3Ms entrepreneurial culture including the relationship between 3M Australia and DFAT
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What is innovation?
3M prides itself on being a customer-focused organisation.
Developing a culture of innovation
One of the most celebrated aspects of 3M’s entrepreneurial workplace culture is the 15 percent rule that encourages employees to explore and work together to generate ideas.
Creating innovative applications
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3M has emerged as a global leader in providing practical solutions and is home to some of the world’s most recognisable brands.
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