Jeffrey R. Immelt, Vijay Govindarajan, and Chris Trimble have written a paper on what they call “glocalization“: http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/10/how-ge-is-disrupting-itself/ar/1
GE has developed low cost products for emerging markets and then found they could sell them at home. (If you do not subscribe to HBR you can purchase the full article, otherwise just the abstract is available.)
This same “reverse innovation” was covered by Business Week at:
“The qualities that make a product good for the developing world—sturdy, cheap, adaptable, modular, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, computer platform-neutral, and bandwidth-savvy—make it a good product, period. Suddenly “less is more” goes from abstract design ideal to the only viable option. This is why some of the most innovative ideas today are coming from efforts to address the needs of those most in need.” (BusinessWeek)
The article describes a number of innovations, from hardware to software, from a wind-up flashlight to storm-tracing software, that were developed to address the needs of developing countries but have found markets in the West.
This is an encouraging trend; it suggests that more R&D funding may be available to support the development of products and processes that will find their initial markets in developing and emerging economies.
Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP