College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Madhu Viswanathan, Director
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Champaign, IL, 61820
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College » Subsistence » Teaching » SPMD

Sustainable Product and Market Development for Subsistence Marketplaces

Featured photo.

One of the 10 Best Entrepreneurship Courses of 2011 - Inc. Magazine

Student Group won Gold Award at Spark Concept Design Awards, 2011, for design of Disaster Shelter - Design can be found here

What the Students Say: Sustainable Product and Market Development for Subsistence Marketplaces

Download application form(PDF) - Download Instructions


We have offered a year-long graduate-level course on subsistence marketplaces for almost a decade that is a direct outcome of our research and social initiatives; Sustainable Product and Market Development for Subsistence Marketplaces.  New product development lab courses are not new; however, what is new here is the pioneering attempt to design a course that focuses on developing products and services to serve the needs of those living in subsistence marketplaces.  We teach a year-long course including an international field trip, where students identify technologies, and develop products for subsistence marketplaces.  The course spans business to design and engineering in terms of content.  It covers, at one end, the bottom-up understanding of buyers, sellers, and marketplaces beyond literacy and resource barriers. At the other end, it covers the technologies that could be used to develop innovative products.  In between, the course covers issues in product and market development as well as the nature of research methods to employ. 

Students in business, engineering, and industrial design spend the Fall semester understanding subsistence marketplaces through immersion in this context and through emersion of business principles. Five weeks of virtual immersion in subsistence contexts in Fall include a poverty simulation, analysis of interviews of subsistence individuals, analysis of life circumstances in subsistence, development of conceptual models of poverty, low-literacy, and consequences, and development of conceptual models of needs, products, and market interactions of subsistence individuals.  The next six weeks are spent in emersion of principles using a rich set of cases, and guest speakers ranging from social workers to technologists and entrepreneurs.  In parallel, student groups are formed in the first five weeks of the course to balance technical and business skills and match interests with our company sponsors.  During the next six weeks, student groups generate and evaluate a long list of possible ideas, and narrow them down to a smaller set.  The final weeks of the semester are spent on designing market research to be conducted during a field trip.  

The class travels for immersion in the context and to conduct market research during part of the winter break.  The field trip has been conducted in India, Tanzania, and Argentina.  Students observe households in urban and rural subsistence contexts, as well as retail and wholesale outlets.  Students interview low-literate, low-income individuals in urban and rural settings regarding product ideas for group projects.  Students also visit educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and corporations engaged in the development of innovative programs and technologies for subsistence contexts.  The field trip geared to visiting the environment of the urban and rural poor requires considerable planning and rehearsal, and has been a transformative learning experience for the students.  Spring semester is spent converting concepts to workable prototypes, and developing manufacturing, marketing and business plans.

Course Overview

Download the Course Overview.


Download a course application (PDF).

Course Syllabus

Download the course syllabus (PDF, 83KB), which includes:

Examples of Prototypes from Course


Introduction to Course and Immersion Experience

The Immersion Experience

Cultural Issues in Immersione

Interviews of Participants in 2009

Medical Group Video 2009

Solar Group Video 2009

Soy Group Video 2009

Distinguished Faculty Profile: Madhu Viswanathan


Student Videos

Video created by Melissa Chua, Class of 2011 - 12

Video created by Ehsan Noursalehi, Class of 2011 - 12

Video created by Ehsan Noursalehi, Class of 2011 - 12

Image diary created by Sid Verma, Class of 2010-11

Image diary created by Jennifer Heinhorst-Busby, Class of 2009-10



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