How to Innovate with a 3rd World Mindset

How to Innovate with a 3rd World Mindset

While it is a universal truism that mindset precedes innovation, the circumstances, resources and ecosystems on the ground determine how to turn an idea into a product into an innovation.

Technology push is how most entrepreneurs in the developed world think. All the rest rely on downmarket pull to create products and services for those that can't afford high prices.

Sick care entrepreneurs should learn from 3rd world innovators acting under these conditions:

1. Developing countries generally lack a solid technology base of trained scientists and world-class research universities.

2. Companies in developing countries must manage to eke out a profit while serving customers with low disposable income; per capita gross domestic product in the advanced economies is on average ten times that of developing nations.

3. Managers in these companies must often innovate on a shoestring budget, since the high cost and scarcity of capital preclude massive spending on R&D. As a result, they must innovate from other areas of their business's structure, including manufacturing, logistics, marketing, and customer service.

The US is the largest economy in the world. However, no one would disagree that there are many underserved people , some living in 3rd world conditions,who are just as interested in using affordable, high value products and services. Take a page from the 3rd world innovation playbook:

  1. Really, really know your customer and the jobs they want you to do, or, they are already doing but looking for a better way
  2. Innovate, not in product development, but in the other sources of innovation like manufacturing, logistics, distribution, and finance.
  3. Mercilessly steal ideas from other industries in other countries that can applied to your domain
  4. Support customer entrepreneurs and use them as a source of innovation or customer funded business models. Create and collaborate with patient entrepreneurs
  5. Learn how to bootstrap and microfinance stages of growth
  6. Develop cultural competence in marketing to select, low income people
  7. Relentlessly focus on specific benefits, not features
  8. Learn how the local grapevine works to get, keep and grow your customer base
  9. Take advantage of mobile technologies that have leapfrogged hard wired ones like pay by phone or mobile ordering
  10. Once you have traction, think about going upmarket

The alternative to expensive shiny new objects is to create a simple, affordable solution, like high value, low cost medical products and services or the $100 mobile phone. Thinking globally is in the mindset.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.

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  • Samantha Burgin

    One of the best articles I've comes across!!!

  • Patrick Nilsson

    Very important & wise advices

  • Martin Hartwig

    Incredible post !!!!

  • Namanja Simić

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

  • Alec Reineke

    This makes a lot of sense !

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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