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No Unicorns Need Apply

A new approach to innovation can level the playing field for emerging businesses – and leave Silicon Valley in the dust.

 

By Ken Tencer, Spyder works

 

Silicon Valley has brought us many dreams that have turned sour: social media that is anything but; billion-dollar platforms fuelled by minimum-wage labour;  but the Valley’s most tarnished dream may be the “unicorn” – which in venture-capital parlance refers to a precocious startup that grows to be worth a lofty $1 billion. 

 

Around the world, millions of entrepreneurs are working seven days a week to create the next Uber, Airbnb, DoorDash or Instacart. Fuelled by big ideas and too much coffee, they follow the ultra-competitive Valley model – fail fast, then pivot – in their quest to win successive rounds of venture funding. Their ownership in their own companies may be diluted down to fractions of 1%, but all will even out when these entrepreneurs achieve their billion-dollar dream.

 

But of course, most will never get there. Just a few hundred companies in the world have become unicorns, and that includes many innovative firms that got there through decades of hard work and incremental success. Silicon Valley’s winner-take-all model developed not to promote innovation, but to help the VCs spot potential unicorns as early as possible. The rest “run out of runway” or fall victim to their “burn rate,” whichever graphic metaphor you prefer.

 

That’s not the only problem. Startup culture often relies on untried young people because only they have the energy to work for free (i.e., equity) at the pace the Valley demands. More experienced business leaders might be better equipped to lead innovation initiatives, but their organizations rarely have a culture that embraces uncertainty and risk.

 

In these turbulent times, innovation deserves much better.

 

As the CEO of a consulting firm that helps businesses unlock their full potential, and the author of two books on innovation, I’ve spent years developing a better model. So, with the help of my partners, a brilliant team and a few brave clients, we’ve developed our own formula for generating innovation. We’ve taken new-product development back from the VCs, and put it in the hands of established businesses with the resources and customer relationships to make successful innovation an everyday core competency.

 

“Innovation, after all, isn’t about products; it’s about meeting customers’ needs. Not just the needs they can explain clearly, but the deeper, fundamental needs that only reveal themselves when you work side-by-side.”

 

In mythology, there is a beast rarer than the unicorn. It’s the alicorn, a winged unicorn. The alicorn not only flies circles around unicorns; it’s said to possess other magical abilities, too.

While money can provide you a sudden jolt, the tools of entrepreneurship can give you wings. Spotting opportunities, testing your assumptions, assessing the market size, scoping out the competition and learning to commercialize, these will transform your ideas into market-changing products and services.

 

“Where Silicon Valley sees innovation as a continuum of risky “moonshots”, Intraprise° helps create stronger, sustainable businesses built to soar.”



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