Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Some Samples of Pathbreaking Innovation in India

The Economist highlights these items from India in its special report on "Innovation in Emerging Markets" (subscription needed):

GENERAL ELECTRIC’S health-care laboratory (has created).. hand-held electrocardiogram (ECG) called the Mac 400. The device is a masterpiece of simplification. The multiple buttons on conventional ECGs have been reduced to just four. The bulky printer has been replaced by one of those tiny gadgets used in portable ticket machines. The whole thing is small enough to fit into a small backpack and can run on batteries as well as on the mains. This miracle of compression sells for $800, instead of $2,000 for a conventional ECG, and has reduced the cost of an ECG test to just $1 per patient.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), is equally excited about an even lower-tech device: a water filter. It uses rice husks (which are among the country’s most common waste products) to purify water. It is not only robust and portable but also relatively cheap, giving a large family an abundant supply of bacteria-free water for an initial investment of about $24 and a recurring expense of about $4 for a new filter every few months. Tata Chemicals, which is making the devices, is planning to produce 1m over the next year and hopes for an eventual market of 100m.
Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing, one of India’s oldest industrial groups, has developed a $70 fridge that runs on batteries, known as “the little cool”.

First Energy, a start-up, has invented a wood-burning stove that consumes less energy and produces less smoke than regular stoves.

Anurag Gupta, a telecoms entrepreneur, has reduced a bank branch to a smart-phone and a fingerprint scanner that allow ATM machines to be taken to rural customers: local bank clerks now bicycle out to villages and set up shop under a tree, using the scanner to identify savers and taking in or handing out money. The transactions are recorded over the mobile phone and the banker-on-wheels returns to the local bank branch with the money.

Dr. Devi Shetty 's hospital Hrudayalaya Hospital has 1,000 beds (against an average of 160 beds in American heart hospitals), and Dr Shetty and his team of 40-odd cardiologists perform about 600 operations a week. Shetty has performed more than 15,000 heart operations and other members of his team more than 10,000. The hospital charges an average of $2,000 for open-heart surgery, compared with $20,000-100,000 in America, but its success rates are as good as in the best American hospitals. He has established video and internet links with hospitals in India, Africa and Malaysia so that his surgeons can give expert advice to less experienced colleagues. He also sends “clinics on wheels” to nearby rural hospitals to test for heart disease. He has created a health-insurance scheme, working with various local self-help groups, that covers 2.5m people for a premium of about 11 cents a month each. About a third of the hospital’s patients are now enrolled in the scheme. A sliding scale of fees is used for operations so that richer customers subsidise poorer ones. The entire enterprise is surprisingly profitable given how many poor people it treats. Dr Shetty’s family-owned hospital group reports a 7.7% profit after taxes, compared with an average of 6.9% in American private hospitals

The Future Group, India’s largest retailer, has introduced “organised chaos” into its shops to make consumers feel at home, breaking up long aisles with untidy-looking displays.

The India Tobacco Company, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, has created a network of more than 5,000 internet kiosks known as e-choupals to help farmers communicate with both the supply and the distribution chains. Farmers can bring their goods for sale and ITC will display their products.

Aravind, the world’s biggest eye-hospital chain, performs some 200,000 eye operations a year. It takes the assembly-line principle literally: four operating tables are laid side by side and two doctors operate on adjacent tables. When the first operation is done, the second patient is already in place.

Airbus hired Infosys to design part of the wing of its double-decker A380 and Boeing asked HCL Technologies to produce two vital bits of machinery, one that averts airborne collisions and another that allows planes to land in zero visibility.

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