Frugal Innovation

frugal-innovation-1 (1)

Frugal Innovation

Create More Value with Less



Slide3 Frugal Innovation is all about creating more value with less. If you are a hands-on postgraduate engineering or science student who likes to work with others to develop a real practical solution with a societal impact or a business student who is interested in impacting the world in a big way, this module is for you.

Corporations, big and small as well as start-ups and social enterprises are under some form of constraint, whether they be financial, social, environmental or the physical circumstances of the situation. They all need to develop Frugal solutions for their needs and problems.

Emerging markets are often the source of Frugal Innovations. People in these markets are forced to create more value with less in order to overcome significant local constraints. In recent times, however, resources are becoming increasingly limited even in developed economies as well. Consequently, firms in developed economies are also faced with a similar mantra —to “do more with less”. Thus, Frugal Innovation have also become relevant to Multinationals and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as they continue to become more efficient and ingenious by adopting Frugal principles with ways of doing more with less.

Back to the top


Developing a solution is not only about the engineering or the business model. The engineering leader needs to understand the circumstances of the need, the cultural, social and environment of the end-user as well as the job to be done. Ultimately, the solution needs to be Feasible, Viable and Desirable.

Frugal Innovations provides a chance for students to take on a team project and become immersed in an environment that receives consideration for all these concerns. It provides an experiential learning through:

  1. Tracking real life ongoing projects in both the developing and developed world
  2. Innovating engineering solutions, processes and ecosystem
  3. Testing business model and adoption strategy
  4. Working in a team to develop a frugal innovation business proposal
  5. Pitching your ideas and solutions to the real world

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


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.

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%.

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.

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.

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