Innovation for Emerging Markets Done Right

A recent Nugget considered some of the latest innovations that would be clearly useful in emerging markets, but were being priced, marketed or distributed almost exclusively in mature markets – often for less compelling use cases like gaming, back-up power, or delivering dog food to remote Australian farmers. Perhaps a bit of balance is in order. There are many examples of novel technologies and ideas that also have a clear utility to emerging-market users, and are being marketed and distributed specifically to those consumers.

Consider the following innovations:

  • Swiss scientists made a 1.3-ounce, foldable quadcopter that can deliver messages or take photos of inaccessible disaster areas.
  • What3words assigns a unique 3-word identifier (currently in 8 languages) to every 3 square meters on the planet. Companies pay to use the technology, which has been piloted in the favelas of Rio, where there are no street names or house numbers. If widely adopted, it could revolutionize navigation and delivery services throughout the developing world.
  • The “power bank phone,” with 3 SIM card slots, a brick-sized battery with connections to charge other phones, a light, and an FM radio, addresses all of the pain points of a typical Ghanaian – frequent blackouts, multiple promotions by different carriers, and increasingly power-hungry apps. It is flying off the shelves in Ghana.
  • Facebook Lite is a low-bandwidth variation of the popular site aimed squarely at EM users who have to deal with slow, spotty 2G networks and high data costs. The new offering carefully strips back the features to offer the Facebook experience with lower bandwidth (and cost to the end user).

These innovations, created to meet specific developing-country needs, are coming from a wide range of sources (academia, start-ups, hardware companies, Internet giants). Some of these groups are better equipped than others to navigate the varied go-to-market challenges of achieving scale in diverse emerging markets, but all have the advantage of a compelling use case and swelling, increasingly tech-savvy, consumer ranks. There are many examples of viable products that started with nothing more than these basic ingredients. The emerging-markets focus and ceaseless drive to mobile and cloud technologies make these innovations – and many others – promising opportunities. Localized, social-driven marketing, together with new funding and business models, lend these opportunities an encouraging timeliness.

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