2 Successful industrial innovation

Following on from Taylor, Roy Rothwell (1992), provides us with a series of successful innovation characteristics which he says were as relevant when they were first identified in the 1970s as they where when he was writing in the 1990s. You will shortly conduct an activity where you can consider the degree to which these success factors are still important today.

These eight characteristics are:

  1. Knowing how to get and where to get knowledge from or an appreciation of the importance of communication. This includes both within a firm and networking between firms
  2. Acknowledging that innovation is a task for all departments and individuals within a company
  3. The importance of project management; effective planning and resource allocation as per objectives
  4. Efficient and high quality production systems
  5. An emphasis on the market and user needs
  6. A good ‘after sales service’ such as the ability to provide spares or customer service support
  7. The importance of key individuals such as product champions or ‘technological gatekeepers’. These are individuals who keep an idea in the spotlight (they ‘champion’ it) until someone else in the company takes an interest in it or those that act as access points for key knowledge and technology needed to develop a new product or process
  8. High quality management and an emphasis on the importance of developing human capital or skilled and energised staff.

We now seek to look at the practice of innovation today within a particular regional context by turning to the first of a number of East African case studies. This case study focuses on agricultural innovation rather than industrial innovation but many of the ideas you have been introduced to are still applicable.

Activity 3

Read the following East African case study which is an example of successful agricultural innovation. Using your notes on the characteristics of success from the Rothwell reading, suggest why this technology innovation was successful.

Micro-irrigation technologies in Africa

KickStart is a not-for-profit international social enterprise that was founded in Kenya in 1991. In the year 2000 KickStart started their Tanzanian programme, while the Mali programme started operation in 2004. Since 1996, KickStart have promoted the Money maker series of treadle pumps through social marketing programmes within Kenya, Tanzania and Mali, but KickStart technologies, especially the Money Maker pumps are sold commercially to 16 African countries. KickStart’s mission is to eradicate poverty by fostering sustainable economic growth and employment in developing countries. It operates more like a business than a not-for-profit organization. It accomplishes its mission by designing, manufacturing and marketing equipment for poor farmers to enable them to establish profitable small-scale enterprises.

The most successful product line is a series of foot-operated manual irrigation pumps. The pumps were initially designed in India but have been adapted for sub-Saharan Africa where farming is the main source of income. Thus, an initial investment of between US$33 to US$95 to purchase a KickStart pump can enable farmers to improve irrigation which can improve yield and increase income. The irrigation pumps illustrate that economic and social sustainability are achieved when people have the means to provide for themselves.

In designing and manufacturing the innovation products aimed at development and poverty eradication, KickStart applies specific principles:

  • “Self-motivated entrepreneurs are the most effective agents of change in economies in Transition
  • Such entrepreneurs are able to raise small amounts of capital ($50-$1000) required to start new micro-enterprises
  • These entrepreneurs have the capacity and skills to manage the day to day affairs of a small business” (Kinanga, n.d.)

In spite of the variety of innovative products, Kickstart like any organization faces challenges when developing and marketing products. These challenges according to Kinanga (n.d.) include:

  • Difficulties in identifying viable new enterprise opportunities (Business choice)
  • Challenges in accessing or developing technologies that are needed for the sorts of enterprises (technology access).

If you want to find out more about Kickstart the following urls have been provided:


It is evident from the case study that some of the characteristics of successful innovation discussed by Rothwell are present. For example, the planning process has been carefully managed, with steady roll out of the technology to different African countries. Thus, while the organisation was founded in Kenya in 1991, the Tanzanian programme did not start until 2000, the Mali programme until 2004. The pumps are now sold in 16 African countries. This suggests that the organisation wanted to learn from the implementation of the technology before transferring the technology to a different context.

Thus, the first pump was able to siphon water from a well or pond to an irrigation furrow. But farmers wanted more targeted delivery of water, and so the technology was further adapted to be channelled through a hosepipe. Similarly, to meet the demands of smaller farmers, a smaller capacity pump was designed which was cheaper to produce and therefore buy. This shows a strong market push orientation, seeking to satisfy user needs. It also demonstrates user segmentation by designing products to meet different user requirements.

The product delivers economic benefits for the farmer, as in an increasingly monetised economy in Kenya, the increased harvest the pump can produce provides a significant boost to family incomes. There is also evidence of technical and production synergies between the different product offerings which suggests cumulative knowledge generation and adaptation to particular contexts e.g. hill farming. Thus, Rothwell’s characteristics are helpful in analysing why this technology innovation was a success. Moreover, many more characteristics may have been present, but the case study is short on detail.

Although this technology innovation was carried out by a not-for-profit organization, KickStart operated like a business, producing a product that was sold rather than gifted. KickStart designed, manufactured and marketed the pump. However, while the pumps were the output, it was expected that their adoption would improve the livelihoods of poor farmers, and thus the technology had specific social outcomes too.

1 The innovation process

3 Managing design and innovation