Necessity Is the Mother of Invention
April 1, 2020
By Austin Walters, Managing Partner of SpringTide
After graduating from high school in 2002, I spent two years living in Eastern Ukraine as a missionary. During my time there, I discovered that the ways Ukrainians did certain things were better than what I had known growing up.
“Better” and “worse” are, of course, blunt instruments when evaluating cultural behaviors. While an average loaf of Ukrainian street bread scores better than the average loaf of pre-sliced American bread on dimensions of taste, nutrition, and texture, it also scores worse on dimensions of shelf life, tidiness (crumbs would fly upon slicing), and cost when adjusting for purchasing power parity. Suddenly living in a markedly different cultural environment, I began to learn that societies develop comparative strengths and weaknesses over time in response to conditions on the ground.
These cultural traits can manifest as products or services; some of the most famous examples of large-scale disruptive innovations had their roots in resource-constrained environments and economizing zeitgeists. After WWII, Japan began exporting economical innovations to the rest of the world–such as the Honda Super Cub motorcycle, Sony’s hand-held transistor radios, and Japanese consumer vehicles–with great success.
A remarkable book by Vijay Govindarajan called “Reverse Innovation” argues that innovations developed for consumers at the bottom of the global economic pyramid, i.e. the roughly 2 billion people living on less than $2 per day, share similar qualities of affordability and accessibility with the post-WWII Japanese disruptive innovations.
Examples in healthcare abound, such as the handheld GE Vscan ultrasound device, first developed for India in 2009; $2-5K open-heart CABG surgeries pioneered by Narayana Health starting in 2000; and advanced telemedicine hub-and-spoke care delivery models beginning in the late 1990s in rural-majority societies around the world.
Improving the accessibility, quality, and affordability of care by investing in such technologies is our mission and purpose at SpringTide. And though we’re based in Boston, Massachusetts, we know that often the most impactful innovations come from places traditionally overlooked by venture capital. So if you’re an entrepreneur solving big problems in medicine, please get in touch, especially if your company has a foot in a large market of underserved patients.