Frugal Innovation

frugal-innovation-1 (1)

Frugal Innovation

Create More Value with Less



Frugal innovation is required to create solutions that satisfy low cost requirements, have good enough functionality and can work in challenging local conditions. Frugal Innovation provides the knowledge and hands-on experience for being able to understand and design such solutions with a sustainable business model that fits the local setting.  

The objective is to devise solutions for specific pre-selected problems that focus on the Middle-of-the-Pyramid population globally. Students will work in teams to identify and adapt existing technologies or develop a corresponding solution that solves the needs of the population. Apart from the technical solution, a sustainable business plan must be developed and validated to enable value creation in the local setting. 

Students will learn how to approach solving problems in a frugal way. On the ground exposure to the problem statement will add realism and experiences that are vital – helping them to develop leadership skills that are required to best engineer a solution in a frugal setting or with a frugal objective. 

“The programme helped us a lot, especially in terms of how to work in the emerging markets. Mentors and advisors are like your part-time team. They bring the knowledge and experience that work.” Rishav Shrestha, Student, 2013 

Back to the top

Over a semester, students will meet once a week and learn how to identify a clear problem statement for a project in Singapore or one of the regional economies. Each week a new concept and elements of Frugal Innovation will be presented. Teams will then have to apply those concepts for their project and complete assignments which include talking to customers and stakeholders associated with their project. This includes visiting customer sites where possible. Teams will present their lessons learned every week. 

Each team will be required to keep documenting their progress through the module. The module will conclude with students presenting their project and value proposition to a committee of industry experts, seasoned professionals and university staff.

Plenary sessions will introduce Concepts and Methodologies for developing Frugal Innovations. Professor Ignatius Rasiah will lead the module, assisted by Adjunct Associate Professor Hugh Mason. There will also be guest speakers and seasoned professionals available for consultation.

The course is open to all post-graduate students at NUS. There are no other pre-requisites. 

The module does require students to actively engage with stakeholders and customers as well as have team meetings for their projects. These are usually in the form of interviews or meetings (in person, skype, phone) during the week. This may take up about an hour during the normal work week. Part-time students currently employed will need to take note of this requirement in the consideration. 

We do not allow students to audit the module due to the sensitivity of information regarding technologies being shared. 

This is a 4MCs module registered under MT5912 Frugal Innovation. As an experiential course, there are no exams but students will be assessed continuously based on their creativity, involvement, team collaboration, progress made in developing their project, peer reviews and overall participation. 

Back to the top


Sudden algae blooms in both fresh and sea waters are result of climate change and wastes created in the environment. Temperatures and pH changes due to weather fluctuations as well as presence of nutrients from farming wastes are major causes for easily thriving algae to bloom in solar-energy endowed tropics. Sudden toxic algae bloom affects aquacultures. At the same time, suitable n beneficial algae are critical as sources of feed to marine creatures, animals and food for human too. Some very beneficial algae species such as Spirulina are indeed super food for human.

There are numerous efforts to use fast growing algae to be synthesized into fuel as well as tapping on them as sources of nutrients in waste water. Algae absorb CO2 emissions thereby reducing pollutive discharges. Turning the pains present by sudden and adopting  cultivated algae propagations through enzyme-energy enriched algae would solve and overcome environmental problems into new sources of food feed fuel trilogy.

The challenge for this project is to understand these efforts in algal growth and figure out the best method to devise a way to grow and harvest algae that is frugal and cost efficient so that it can become a livelihood for the poor near large water sources such as the sea or river.

A number of pharmacies in India are run on funds donated by private donors. Those pharmacies enable access to drugs for parts of the Indian population who would not have the resources to access those needed drugs to the usual channels. Drugs distributed by those pharmacies are mainly generics produced in India. The operators of those pharmacies wish to conduct spot checks on the quality of the drugs and on the correct amount of the active ingredients in the drugs. There is currently no available solution that fits budget and local resources in terms of expertise and environment.

The aim of this project is to establish a simple quality control system that improves the quality of distributed drugs and safety concerns while keeping the costs low. The engineered solution needs to have a:

  • Portable handheld system to measure concentration of drugs in supplied pills and other formulations.
  • Easy to use system with clear results to decide on drug safety and specifications

People with autism are capable of performing specific tasks and they can outperform normal people in that specific task. For example, weaving is one of the types of repetitive activities which are useful for the people with autism. A person with autism is more precise and has the ability to focus when given a repetitive work to perform.  This ability to perform repetitive task well is common in some other human conditions as well.

There is a need to find suitable and viable activities that could help people with conditions like Autism become useful members of society. Currently portable weaving machines are costly, and they are imported from either Japan or Germany. The maintenance of the machine also requires liaison with the manufacturers.

There is a need to understand the various products/technologies that are available and use them in a frugal manner to find a cost efficient solution that would meet both the needs of people with conditions like Autism as well as being able to produce something that is useful and viable for society.

Type 1 Diabetes patients can sometimes have a sudden complication called Diabetic Ketoacidosis(DKA). This happens when the sugar level is high and can be life threatening. There are more than a million people with this condition in US alone, not to mention the tens of millions in Asia. There are a number of potential technologies that could help diagnose the condition. These include urine testing, blood glucose testing as well as a Breath Ketone Analysis.

Most of these do not meet the current constraints of the patient in developing countries. Thus, there is a need to find a suitable technology that can be customized and designed within the financial and situational constraints of the patient. Beyond identifying the solution, the team needs to find the right model to make it a sustainable business.

Back to the top

Aquafrugal-waste management and potential uses for sludge from aquaculture farm

The amount of aqua wastes at the bottom of fish ponds is considerable and diverse. The waste tampers the efficiency of the ponds and hence needs to be removed. A common method is to simply drain off the water and take in new clean water. The waste water (sludges) however have high pathogenic, toxic constituents and bacteria that need to be removed and treated before disposal. The types, timings, constituents and characteristics of waste, including algal biomass from different species of aquacultures within a confine, may vary. Such aqua wastes biomass could be collected and treated and possible new uses could be explored through frugal innovation and management for sustainability. This project aims to identify the types of wastes and propose alternative higher value end products from the waste that will help to avoid stockpiling/disposal and pollution on downstream water courses in places such as Sabah and Indonesia.

Aquaculture – Increasing fish yield by ensuring uniform growth

Tilapia fish are an aggressive feeder. The amount of feed consumed by the Tilapia has a direct impact on its growth and development, in other words, bigger or more energetic fish will grow faster than smaller and less energetic ones. This has resulted in current yields of about 60% for small fish farmers in Malaysia. It is essential to find an engineering solution to ensure that the growth and development of juvenile fish introduced into the pond is uniform regardless of size and energy level. This will allow farmers to increase yield to beyond 90%.

Urban farming – Scale up for production

Comcrop produces vegetables using urban farming methods in Singapore. It engages members of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) to produce sprouts from seeds that can then be transplanted into its urban farm. The project started 3 years ago, and the yield has been rising to 70%. This success has prompted the company to increase production by ten-fold. This is great for the company but poses a problem for the rate at which sprouts are created from seeds. Your challenge, if you accept it, would be to engineer a method to help the intellectually disabled to produce sprouts from seeds quickly and have them transported to Comcrop’s farm.

System for diabetics with neuropathy to prevent foot injury or ulcers

85% of diabetics requiring amputation have foot ulcers that precede their amputation. One of the main causes of diabetic foot complications is peripheral neuropathy (numbness) as patients are unable to feel if they have sustained any injuries to their feet. This can result in unnecessary wounds for patients, which can get infected and in turn result in an amputation. Most patients with poorly controlled diabetes come from the lower socioeconomic strata in our societies. This project aims to develop an affordable and practical device to allow patients to feel again, and/or to detect pre-ulcers so as to prevent the formation of ulcers.

Soil water management – IIT Bombay project

The management of water particularly in rural areas has become the single biggest issue for farmers. Smart Irrigation systems that combines sensing of water is needed. IIT Bombay has developed an IoT based Smart irrigation system for Indian Agriculture. It is an indigenously developed affordable soil sensor system to optimize irrigation. It has all the elements needed to address a need and a market potential of several billion dollars in the next five to seven years. This project which is in partnership with IIT Bombay and Soilsens looks into the business viability of this solution for not just the rural farmers in India but the potential to use this technology elsewhere, including in urban communities like Singapore where water management is also an issue.

Back to the top