In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Mary Fiers, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, Tessie Hartjes, and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. All six contributors – sometimes accompanied by guest bloggers – are working on solving the problems of our time. Everything to make Tomorrow Good. This Sunday, it‘s Tessie Hartjes’ turn. Here are all the previously published columns.
The last few years, you couldn’t open your Facebook or LinkedIn feed without seeing one or two articles about startups. Honestly, sometimes I also get tired of seeing many startups pursuing the development of a very expensive juice-making machine or AI for X startup. Some are even predicting the end of the startup era, stressing that new innovations rely more on large capital and huge datasets than 10 years ago.
But I do not share that pessimism. And even though it might be harder to become the new Google or Facebook, startups have incredible power to change the world for the better. Billions of people are still waiting for change to come. Just to name a few: privacy disasters, societal challenges, climate change, political tension, and inequality.
So how do startups make a difference if their chances are slim? It all goes back to how change happens within society. Truth is that change within the world of big companies, governments and institutions, is hard. There is a huge amount of stakeholders that have a say in the direction of an industry, a country or a technology. Even though people in leadership positions within these companies might be incredibly motivated and skilled to make a difference, it is very hard to do so in a large corporation. So effectively, if you use the metaphor of a tanker, there is not one captain that can really change the course of a big company if it is doing well. The key is: one of the few ways to change the course of a company is to be a threat to its future.
Big businesses are scared as hell that a small startup will come up with something more clever, more attractive or more useful than their products. And just a few entrepreneurs with an idea can bring a whole industry to its knees.
Startups don’t have the responsibility to keep an old industry afloat, they do not yet have strong ties with governments, investors. They don’t have a customer base that will be complaining if the company changes course or eliminates a product line. So decision making is a lot easier because you have less stakeholders. Startups will often be ran by a small group of individuals that stay very close to their values and purpose. Of course, not all startups are ran by people that are genuinely interested in improving the world, but that does not really matter. Because there are thousands of them who do. They are adding value to society in a very clean and straightforward way. They can start with a clean slate, fresh and with a touch of idealism. They can build new cultures that promote these values, build products that adhere to high societal and environmental standards and bring in a new generation of young leaders that can promote change.
And even though your startup might not make it to the masses, your ideas probably will because you probably showed there is a demand for something different. A demand for an honest, clean and social impact product that big business will try to serve as well. So in the end, you have managed to change big business for the better.
Therefore, I am very grateful for all the entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, students, researchers and media that put in long hours to pursue their dreams and make sure the world is evolving in the right direction.