intelligent innovation

At our recent and very exciting Athgothon 2015, we worked together with young people from over 40 countries generating new startup business ideas that focused on addressing a real need, designing them smart, and building them efficiently. All this while having a ton of fun! It really was special.

The thread during our intensive speaker series and startup development sessions was “intelligent innovation.”

Innovation itself can range from bad to good to exceptional; however, even questionable innovations can almost always compel a better solution and quicker. Why it was asked? Well, because even if the debatable innovation isn’t addressing an existing problem well, it highlights that problem for many who haven’t recognized it, thus enabling a new set of talent to jump into creating new solutions. Or, alternatively, it clarifies that there probably wasn’t a problem to solve in the first place.

On the other end of this wide spectrum, we looked at revolutionary innovations — new solutions that impact every sector and every industry and help our society to leap forward. And, we also analyzed transformational innovations that revolutionize specific industries like the smartphone (Apple’s iPhone), search engines (Google), online shopping (, and on-demand transportation (Uber).

People should not be afraid or feel overwhelmed with “intelligent innovation,” you don’t have to build another Apple or Google to be considered a very innovative entrepreneur, although, you could! But more realistically, to give yourself the best opportunity, you have to approach your business innovation, well, intelligently.

So what are the keys to doing exactly this?

First, at its foundation, your innovation must address an actual and in-demand need. We as humans are innately curious, but we have a limited capability to recall all the info we store in our brains and we have limited access to all information out there, so we need a supplementary power to help us recall or obtain new information — hence the success of Google’s super helpful search engine. It’s the closest thing to how human sub-consciousness responds to our conscious queries. It responds to simple or complex questions we ask ourselves in the simplest possible way. How long will I need to get to work? It responds, “Twenty-five minutes with current traffic!” The difference?! We actually don’t have the right answer since we lack full information — well Google lacks that too, but not as much as we do — but Google comes through, hence its success.

Second, we need to bring efficiency and effectiveness to our innovation processes. Think of how Ford established a large-scale, moving assembly line to produce the Model T — the car itself was great, yet that wasn’t the genius, the process of manufacturing it absolutely was.

Third, we must design solutions that free up a customer or user from something that is mundane — we certainly want to simplify tasks/chores and their experiences.

Additionally, as we continually look to the future, successful solutions will require us – innovators – to preemptively dream and think on behalf of our customers before they are aware that they need something. Your innovative solution brings that something to them. Think of a scenario where you are flying out the next morning. When you arrive home, your clock device (your watch, phone, whatever), which is connected to most if not all of your information flows, already knows your flight schedule and a lot more about you. It has already calculated and scheduled to wake you at a time that gives you opportunity to: 1) snooze a few extra moments; 2) wash your hair three times (because you must); 3) stop for your morning takeout beverage; 4) drive in the carpool lane (since you have an electric car); and, 5) park at the nearest parking slot available (since it’s connected to all parking sensors at your local airport). How awesome is that?

Reviewing those three keys: if your innovation does address an actual need, then yes, you have a business; if you can make your processes efficient and effective — including during the initial brainstorming, designing, development, all the way to operations and growth — then you have a competitive business; and, if you can make your innovation smart enough to help customers in a way not expected by them — overcoming something mundane for them, thereby having them fall in love with your product — then you are a market leader. Pat yourself on your back and see if we can invest in your business.

When you apply “intelligence” to all these areas of innovation, you give yourself a good chance to change your and our world — happy dreaming and intelligently innovating!!!