What do a $2,500 Tata Nano, a $250 Acer Netbook, and a $1,000 General Electric handheld electrocardiogram device have in common? According to Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, all three are examples of "reverse innovation"—a concept that's becoming the next big driver of globalization. "Historically, American companies innovated in the U.S. and took those products abroad," says Govindarajan, who coauthored a Harvard Business Review article on the idea with Dartmouth colleague Chris Trimble and GE chairman Jeff Immelt in October. "Reverse innovation does the opposite: companies now innovate in poor countries and bring the products to the U.S."
Because they're designed for emerging markets, these products—like the Nano, a tiny automobile designed for India, or the GE EKG, priced far below a conventional unit—are dramatically less costly, making them appealing to frugal consumers in developed countries. Reverse innovation will also grow as multinationals devote more of their R&D budgets to creating products for faster-growing markets like China and India. Govindarajan, who's writing a book on the concept, sees many new examples of the strategy, including a $43 water purifier and a $70 portable refrigerator. "We believe reverse innovation will power the future—not just in poor countries, but everywhere," he says.