Turning Innovative Ideas into a Successful Business
By Mary Davis
While there is a great debate around the actual success rate of innovation projects, there is one thing everyone can agree on – it is difficult. It is especially hard when you’re an individual or a small group of individuals with a big idea and a concept that can really drive change.
In my 20+ years in telecoms and now in the Silicon Valley as part of a technology foundation that supports innovations, I’ve seen how people with brilliant ideas can fall victim to the countless roadblocks that pop up on the journey to market.
One of the most frustrating things about innovative solutions is that, in the mind of the innovator, the potential of their idea should be clear to everyone else. Yet, usually the challenges in front of entrepreneurs result in projects being left behind instead of concepts built into true solutions.
In my role, I work with countless projects that have the potential to drive social change and really transform the lives of people in need. While these innovations can ultimately better the world we live in, each innovation still needs to overcome the barriers that can stunt the growth or execution of the any idea.
Here are a few examples of challenges that many innovators face while trying to bring their idea to life:
• A Lack of Holistic Understanding: While it would be great if each idea was self-explanatory and its potential was clear as day, this is rarely the case. Frequently, I see passionate innovators who have a brilliant idea, but lack the business sense or experience to truly convince others that their solution is worth a second look. In order to bring a solution to market, entrepreneurs need to attract potential investors by outlining the business itself beyond just how a product may work. Entrepreneurs should look for mentors who have business expertise as well as seek out opportunities to get more training in business situations to move their great ideas and products into true concepts.
• Realizing the Broader Opportunity: It’s extremely easy for an innovator to get so caught up in solving one specific problem with their solution that they fail to recognize other opportunities. When you’re working on a project day and night to make sure it works correctly, it can be hard to take a step back and really uncover what it could mean for use cases beyond just the one that’s been identified. Innovators should look to outside validation beyond just venture capitalists – such as nonprofit foundations, fellow innovators, or incubator communities – to gain an outside perspective on where an idea may be able to play. Doing so may help build a larger roadmap for the product and ultimately showoff it’s unique potential.
• Scalability Is A Scary Word: One of the first words many innovators will hear from a potential investor is scalability. How will your idea hold up when brought to a larger scale? Is it even possible to scale your product? It’s important that entrepreneurs understand potential scalability issues, as well as the opportunities, that their idea may face. They should work with a partner who can help outline protocols and understand the policies in various markets where their product may exist in order to bring their product to scale. With the right resources and the right connections, a big idea can turn into a scalable, successful project.
“Innovation starts with an idea and succeeds with the right knowledge, expertise, and opportunity.”
Those entrepreneurs who can connect with the right mentors and the right partners to gain access to proper resources are set up to succeed. For example, Soko, a marketplace that connects consumers to artisans and handcrafted ethical jewelry from the developing world, received $200,000 last year through the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project. Empowered by mobile technology, Soko connects artisans from countries like Kenya – the majority of whom are women in underserved communities – directly to brands, retailers, and online customers around the world to sell their art, jewelry and other crafts. Soko’s innovative supply chain doesn’t require access to the internet, a computer, or a bank account – just a mobile phone.
By working with the right partners to get access to important business resources and understanding how their idea can affect various markets, Soko has been able to:
• Quadruple its artisan network, grow its consumer base, and sell at retailers including Nordstrom and Anthropologie.
• Invest in the development of its artisan technology, which now manages a network of over 1,000 independent artisans through a “virtual factory”—a mobile-driven supply chain that coordinates opportunity, production and fulfillment with no centralized point of production or overhead.
• Develop the model to be so efficient and affordable that artisans retain an unprecedented 25 to 35 percent of revenue.
Soko is just one successful example, however it shows that innovation starts with an idea and succeeds with the right knowledge, expertise, and opportunity. If innovators can seek out the right opportunity, acquire the appropriate business knowledge, and identify how their idea can truly drive change, then those roadblocks can become just a little bit smaller.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with the Social Innovation Summit 2016, the premier social impact event of the year representing a meticulously curated gathering of corporate executives, global philanthropists, technologists, grantmakers, innovators, and social entrepreneurs converging from around the world during this exclusive two-day event in Washington, DC. You may learn more at www.socinnovation.com.