By Abhi Tiwari, Tuck Class of 2011, writing about the Tuck India Business Conference
Douglas Adams, in his book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (one of my favorites), compared the Earth to a massive computer programmed to come up with the ultimate question about life, the universe and everything. This year’s Tuck India Business Conference (back after a recession hiatus) in many ways borrows a little from Mr. Adams in thinking about emerging economies as think tanks, ripe for innovation and revolutionary leap frogging.
When I was told about the theme for the conference, I was excited with the unique question it posed. “Ideas from India: Innovating with limited resources.” Does the fact that there are indeed less resources for Indian entrepreneurs and businesses and certainly even fewer resources for the Indian consumer bring about something new that wouldn’t have existed had there been an abundance of riches? Even more broadly are the innovations that are designed specifically for consumers who can’t afford basic necessities going to bring about significant social change (Tuck Prof. Vijay Govindarajan seems to think so)?
As I started to put together a panel about innovation in India, I began to look for an innovation that helped answer this question (also an innovation that wasn’t the Tata Nano). I found the perfect example in the Godrej ChotuKool. Hari Nair, Partner at Innosight Ventures, along with a couple of colleagues at Innosight recently wrote a Harvard Business Review article entitled “New Business Models in Emerging Markets” focusing on the immense opportunity for firms in emerging economies but more critically the significantly different business model they need to adopt to be successful. The ChotuKool is the cornerstone of this article highlighting Godrej’s innovation team’s unique approach in designing a product for a market that according to Mr. Nair is essentially under-consuming. The ChotuKool is a $69 refrigerator that looks more like an ice box than a home appliance but it helps provide basic necessities previously unimaginable for poorer families in India. The following quote from his HBR article sums up the impact this product is going have:
“What this group needed to do was to stretch one meal into two by preserving leftovers and to keep drinks cooler than room temperature — a job markedly different from the one higher-end refrigerators do, which is to keep a large supply of perishables on hand, cold or frozen.”
I reached out to Mr. Nair and invited him to come speak on the innovation panel at the conference. He is now here in Hanover, I am excited to listen to him talk about this idea of innovating with limited resources and look forward to hearing more about Godrej’s cool little product.