Posts Tagged ‘innovation’
Invented by Professor Josh Silver, the Adspecs are the first (and currently only) available self-adjustable glasses that allow the user to tune their glasses to their eyes. To change the power of the lens, the user turns the wheels on the syringes on the arms to pump more or less silicone oil into the lenses (which are simply two flexible membranes, protected by a hard plastic layer), changing their shape. When done, the user simply tightens the screws on each side of the frame and cuts off the syringes and tubing – transforming the Adspecs into a normal pair of glasses in a few minutes! This is great for countries with not enough optometrists. Prof Silver’s goal is for Adspecs to reach a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2020.
Found this through our horizon scanning colleagues, a book by ANU on China’s new place in a world lurching from crisis to crisis. Makes me think of the unfinished conversations we are having on a China-centered Asia (ChiAsia) and the different flows and how the hell Singapore should be placed on these new flows. Anyway, here’s a brief grab on what the book is about:
The world and China’s place in it have been transformed over the past year. The pressures for change have come from the most severe global financial crisis ever. The crisis has accelerated China’s emergence as a great power. But China and its global partners have yet to think or work through the consequences of its new position for the governance of world affairs. China’s New Place in a World in Crisis discusses and provides in-depth analysis of the following questions. How have China’s growth prospects been affected by the global crisis? How will the crisis and China’s response to it impact China’s major domestic issues, such as industrialisation, urbanisation and the reform of the state-owned sector of the economy? How will the crisis and the international community’s response to it affect the rapidly emerging new international order? What will be China’s, and other major developing countries’, new role? Can China and the world find a way of breaking the nexus between economic growth and environmental sustainability — especially on the issue of climate change?
You can download the entire book here.
James Fallows of Atlantic Monthly at the Aspen Ideas Conference right now, from his blog a snippet on the US not leading at any of the green technology fields.
On energy, a disturbing factlet. (And obviously not the only disturbing observation on the energy-and-climate front.) I heard three people separately observe that when it comes to future sources of “clean” energy, there is not a single field in which U.S. companies are the technical or market leaders. One person gave an informal ranking of the leaders this way:
Solar-powered electricity (ie, photo-voltaic systems): Norway, Japan, China
Solar-thermal systems (for heating water or buildings) Spain the leader in getting systems deployed
Wind power: Holland, Denmark, China
Geothermal power: nobody
Nuclear power (“clean” in the carbon-footprint sense): France, Japan
CCS, “Carbon capture and sequestration” (stripping out CO2 and burying it): Norway, Australia, Canada.
This person said that his list was rough and ready, and that US firms were in a close second place in some fields. But the main point, he said, is that “American firms are acting as if there is not going to be a vital, profitable, globalized clean-tech industry a decade from now, and as if they don’t care about competing in it.” He had some other more hopeful things to say about how sustained investment could help close the gap. But the list itself was news to me.
And from their latest piece here, excellent read on the elusive green economy. Clean energy, like other utilities, will be succeed or fall with consistent government support/inaction. China is now one of the largest players in clean technology because of government support. So is Germany’s solar play. Unlike Internet start-ups with lower funding costs, energy plays require much larger funds to starup that most VCs cannot afford. Government grants are needed, but that would mean choosing winners. Technology, policy and finance will intertwine, who knows when the breakthrough green tech will emerge from this interplay?
From a recent Economist article on Chinese P2P lending models for student loans. We know that the Chinese are quick to copy anything that works or sells. However, due credit to them for their speed in discarding non-profitable models, or twisting them into something that makes dollars and sense.
From The Economist print edition
An internet start-up applies local twists to an existing model
DOTCOMS in China have long been known for shamelessly stealing the business models—and sometimes the visual appearance—of popular American websites and simply recreating them in Chinese (known as the “copy to China” model). This approach has spawned copies of Facebook, YouTube, eBay and other well-known sites. But many Chinese sites do more than just copy, tweaking existing models to adapt them to local customs or values.
Consider Qifang, for example, a website that provides student loans by connecting borrowers and lenders. Such “peer to peer” (P2P) lending was pioneered in other markets, notably Britain and America, though its growth has been hampered by higher-than-expected default rates (blamed on the financial crisis) and regulatory uncertainty. Zopa, a British P2P lending site, pulled out of America last year, and Prosper.com, the leading American site, had to suspend its activities while it registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but has just relaunched.
Qifang takes this formula and adds a couple of twists. It is focused on student loans, for which there is particular demand in China, where the authorities are keen to encourage people to go to universities and colleges. In China such loans are usually provided by community group-lending schemes, so Qifang is, in a sense, merely an online version of an existing practice. As with other P2P lending sites, borrowers are required to provide personal information about themselves to reassure lenders. In Qifang’s case, borrowers also provide family details, which increases the social pressure not to default, since that would cause the family to lose face. Money is paid directly to educational establishments, further reducing risk for lenders.
In the six months since its launch Qifang has arranged 2,500 loans worth an average of $400 each, with terms of between one and three years. Qifang offers lenders an interest rate of 5-15%, depending on the perceived trustworthiness of the borrower. There have been no defaults so far, says the company’s founder, Calvin Chin. The company also plans to raise money from charitable foundations to lend out, with the interest being reinvested to fund further loans.
There are many other examples of Chinese dotcoms that have added new features to models borrowed from abroad. Chinese social-networking sites, for example, commonly make money by selling applications, games and other add-ons to users and adding virtual currencies and payment systems. In other words, they actually have plausible business models—which is more than can be said for some of the Western sites from which they took their inspiration.
There are hundreds of such farmer-innovators who have not gotten their due. Khobragade is now getting an Innovation Fellowship from India’s National Innovation Foundation (NIF), but thanks to the limited resources at the disposal of the NIF, his story is too common.
For the last nine years, the resources of the NIF remained frozen at about $350,000 USD per annum, a fraction of total funds required. SRISTI, an Indian NGO that helps grassroots inventors, has managed without any external support for the last three years. No major breakthrough is expected until policy makers realize that these innovators deserve better. It’s not just about moving them into houses with functioning toilets — these budgetary restrictions mean hundreds, maybe thousands, of other innovations will go unheralded.
The NIF has scouted over 100,000 ideas, both innovations and traditional knowledge, through the voluntary Honey Bee Network. HBN is a voluntary network set up more than twenty years ago which essentially mimics the behavior of honey bees as a metaphor in innovation. All the knowledge and new ideas collected are “cross-pollinated” with other communities and individuals a thousand miles away. HBN believes in protecting the knowledge rights of every knowledge-producer; nobody involved with HBN can earn personal income based on community knowledge unless that income is shared with the community in an explicit, transparent way as explained in our guidelines. Any third party wealth, say by a company which uses knowledge or innovations in HBN, also has to be shared in a fair and just manner. Although the NIF has been able to support only a few of the 100,000 ideas they have uncovered through the network, HBN’s size shows just how much grassroots genius is being left on the table.
The traditional private sector has also fallen short when it comes to supporting these entrepreneurs. In this “decade of derivatives” it became harder for small start-ups to attract investment capital. In India, most venture capital firms were investing in the equity of listed companies. Angel fund networks would wait till an innovator had developed a business plan, put together a team, and demonstrated results. Why would that innovator then need an angel fund?
And yet, in the meantime, technologists, entrepreneurs, and innovators are finding ways to work around the institutional barriers. For instance, a web portal (techpedia.sristi.org) being set up by SRISTI with the help of the Computer Society of India and TEPP of DSIR should improve the situation (see sristi.org/anilg for details) by pooling 600,000 projects done by technology students in India every year. If even one percent of these become legitimate new products, we will get 6,000 new products every year.
But we could be doing so much more. I wish 10 percent of the stimulus funds for reviving our economies were being spent on the ideas and innovations of young people to generate innovation-based enterprises. We have to find more ways to link innovation with investment with enterprise — that’s the golden triangle for grassroots creativity.
Grassroots innovations can provide a new ray of hope, provided we help them grow. Outside of India’s major cities, unsung heroes of the country are solving, or trying to solve, local problems in spite of the structures that have bypassed them so far. Creativity, compassion and collaboration are the key characteristics of these voices from grassroots. Let us listen to them and resonate with them.
Remember: minds on the margins are not marginal minds.
Anil Gupta is Executive Vice Chair, National Innovation Foundation and Professor, Indian Institute of Management.
A quick update on the Innovation Conference in Helsinki. Day 1 was an Innovation Framework 101 session where many countries shared their experiences on research councils, incentives, org charts etc. Day 2 (where I presented) was about turning knowledge into strategy.
TEM (Finn Ministry of Employment & The Economy) and TEKES (Finn Funding Agency for Technology & Innovation) opened the conference with an update of key innovation issues in Europe. In Finland, one new focus was on demand-pull innovation. Then Brazil, USA, and the European Commission shared their views on innovation policy and research.
Next was a panel session about evaluating national innovation systems – Finnish, Flemish and Austrian. The panel was interesting, in particular the on-going project by the ETLA (Research Institute of Finnish Economy). It worked with a team of foreign and local experts to review the Finnish National Innovation System.
An unintended message that came across was how to innovate for the growing mass of 4bil consumers out there. Four speakers (incl myself) alluded to the idea of No-Frills or BOP innovation. Innovation policies have thus far been looking at high-end consumers. Is it time to think about the other half of the world, and innovating for them – for their needs or to help move them out of poverty?
“In times of economic turbulence, innovation remains the most important differentiator separating economic winners from also-rans”
This is one of the better innovation maps I’ve seen. I suppose the rise to becoming a innovation cluster is a well-known one. Base level of infrastructure, some sort of “seed” (great university, company, research institute, government initiative), the ability to attract and retain talent. But it seems to me that Singapore is no longer at that early stage. We are an innovation nation. The real question seems to be “what next”?.
The research shows that innovation clusters evolve and mature into one of the following 3 models:
“Dynamic oceans: large and vibrant innovation ecosystems with continuous creation and destruction of new businesses. Leading innovators and primary sectors change organically as the hub frequently reinvents itself through significant breakthrough innovations.
Silent lakes: slow-growing innovation ecosystems backed by a narrow range of very large established companies that operate in a handful of sectors. These clusters are frequently the source of a steady stream of “evolutionary” innovations and step-wise improvements.
Shrinking pools: innovation hubs that are unable to broaden their areas of activity or increase their lists of innovators and so find themselves slowly migrating down the value chain, as their narrow sector becomes less innovation driven and increasingly commoditized.”
I wonder where Singapore is now and where we are heading.