The paper aims to address two key gaps in the literature of frugal innovation. First, it disambiguates frugal innovations into its types, and into the various levels at which it happens. Second, it builds upon the theoretical foundations of resource-based view, new institutional economics, economics of location, and institutional theory to offer testable propositions on determinants of frugal innovations.
This is a conceptual paper. The authors first systematically reviewed the extant literature on frugal innovation and related domains and categorized the existing understanding on the domain into various typologies of frugal innovation. The authors then justified why certain key theoretical lenses are tenable to understand the determinants of frugal innovation and then examined the conditions that enable such innovations.
The paper has three key findings. First, frugal innovation comprises of a frugal mindset, a frugal process and a frugal outcome, which may be practiced distinctly. Second, frugal innovators are of three types: grassroots-level, domestic-enterprise level, and MNC-subsidiary level. Each has their distinctive incentives and styles of frugal innovation. Third, a frugal mindset is encouraged by a resource-scarce environments, weaker institutional intermediaries, and a higher tolerance for uncertainty. Frugal processes are espoused by poor property rights regime and a critical size of lead market; and frugal outcomes are influenced by the network-position of innovators, and the presence of critical lead-markets.
The propositions are though testable, but proxies need to be developed to measure the variables, such as a frugal mindset, and a frugal process. Further, the current view on various types and levels of frugal innovation is that of mutual exclusivity, whereas this may not always be the case. Hence, it might be useful to identify contingencies in which these distinctions fade away.
The paper is valuable in two key aspects. First, it offers a much-needed theoretical underpinning to the phenomenon of frugal innovation, such that the phenomenon could be better understood and influenced. Second, it nuances the phenomenon by identifying distinct types of frugal innovators in terms of their motivation, institutional influences, and styles of innovation.
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