Business Innovation Group (BIG)
College of Business Administration

Forwarding Fast the Future

Reading newspapers can still be somewhat depressing following the economic downturn and the number of articles that are written about what is going wrong.  These articles tend to capture, or some would say, perpetuate the gloom and cover everything from the ballooning budget deficits to the impending crises in energy and the environment.  It would be nice to look through this gloom occasionally and see the future in a positive light.  Recently I have read a few articles that have renewed my faith in the power of discovery and entrepreneurship and their scope to help us solve our most intractable problems.

The World Bank Group Entrepreneurship survey, for example, recently reported a record number of pro-entrepreneurship legal and regulatory reforms across the world, which are designed to help cultures form that embrace entrepreneurship.  From making things simple for entrepreneurs to get started to removing the stigma from business failure economies across the world appear to be developing a more pro-entrepreneurship stance.  These encouraging changes also include significant efforts to develop pro-entrepreneurship cultures via the expansion of entrepreneurship education.  The week of November 16 to 22nd was Global Entrepreneurship Week and it demonstrated the demand for entrepreneurial thinking amongst the young.  Over 75 countries (3 million participants in 2008) held events and engaged in activities to promote and support young people to think big, and to turn their ideas into reality.  The demand to become entrepreneurs continues to grow and can be seen as positive force for the future.

In addition, to these signs of cultural changes several magazines have published ‘best inventions’ of the year[i] and ‘most intriguing new businesses’[ii] lists showing how we may solve some of our most challenging problems today. Some inventions like the YikeBike (15) a bicycle design fashioned after the penny-farthing and the universal unicycle (27) may not have large impacts on society but others might.  Most notably Philips Electronics LED light bulb (3) which enhances energy efficiency gains from compact fluorescent bulbs; the smart thermostat (4) which communicates with domestic appliances wirelessly to save energy; the solar shingle (13) which doubles as a solar panel; vertical farming (16) which enables high intensity low water use farming; and, the electric microbe (20) that offers the potential for bacteria based fuel cells that could produce cheap, clean electricity.  When you add to this, inventions such as, computing modeled on the human brain[iii] and the micro RNA revolution[iv] that may have significant impacts on computing and medicine one realizes that perhaps some of the solutions to the challenges we face are actually nearer than we might think.  Likewise we should not give up on our entrepreneurs’ abilities to bring some of these discoveries to market.  In fact recessions like this one are often fertile ground for new start-ups.  Some of the most intriguing businesses are pioneering new approaches in new markets such as biotechnology, clean technology, health care and web computing.  They include companies: developing low cost irrigation systems for poor farmers (DripTech); coverting grease and fat from waste food into biodiesel (BioFuelBox); building electric charging stations for cars (Coulomb Technologies); harvesting oil from living algae (Phycal); and, revolutionizing the business model for residential solar systems (SolarCity).   With this amount of discovery and entrepreneurship going on, the future may be coming forward fast.                      

[i] Time Magazine, November 23rd page 58

[ii] Business Week, November 23rd page 46

[iii] Discover, October page 59

[iv] Discover, October page 46

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