The Telegraph recently published a piece on a survey they did with 1000 entrepreneurs, and pulled out the 27 they consider are disruptive innovators.
Disruption is a big word for a startup or entrepreneur. Taking it back to its originator Clayton Christensen, a disruption is where a new idea displaces exiting businesses or creates new markets, or new value networks. Any startup that starts here engages a hazardous path, where most incubation support cannot see what they need, where audiences can be challenged to understand what they mean, or how it might work. Most critically, funding is highly unlikely, because risk averse investors won’t want to touch them until they have completely proved the viability, feasibility and desirability of the ideas. With a disruptive idea, this is so much harder than doing something slightly different in a proven market.
So looking at the list, it’s a mixture of real disruption – Zoopa, D30, Concrete Canvas, Cambridge Nanosystems – and then a list of really good new businesses. You can’t really call them disruptive, as they don’t do disruption, but they are great new businesses, and deserve massive praise for their achievements. They are people doing great things in the software, food industry, in fake tanning, coffee bars, microbrewery, or cycling wear.
We have worked with more disrupters than conventional companies, and we know what they go through. Their leap of faith needs to be both resolute and resilient. Startups like Digestomat who need to create whole new markets around them, or Aura, who developed a lighting language to alert cars to cyclists movements as well as protecting cyclists with light, or Madlab.cc who will make us think so differently about the role of code. Many give up, as they are told repeatedly by investors to come back when they have done all of the work to prove a market. They have to create a vision for people who can’t yet get it, or feel it is too much of a change in their thinking.
They deserve the special mention when they work through these barriers, and get things to happen. In conversations with them, where they go through the usual and unusual bumps in the road, their passion and conviction is distinctively powerful. It’s a real pleasure to work with them.
Our perspective is that we need more of these kinds of disrupters. Where are the new businesses coming from that will tackle the use of new materials, and the new products and services we can then create? Where will the social businesses come from that fill in gaps left by services that are no longer provided, or new needs we identify? Where are the startups that work on ways of repairing, or products fro repair, so that we lessen our need for new fresh materials? Who will bring about new housing financial products so that younger people can find a way to be more secure about their housing.
Existing businesses won’t do this. That is, not until they are forced to.
In this hyped space of incubation, we should recognise that there are those who deliberately go for the harder path. We need to encourage startups to think bigger. We need to support people with these ideas and help them in the early stages to get a foothold in their development. They are the ones we’ll all be using and talking about in our future.