Amidst all of the future-gazing that engulfed London Tech Week this year, one bold statement seemed to define succinctly the zeitgeist of today. Naveen Jain, the controversial entrepreneur who is now chairman of Moon Express, silenced 2037: Tech Foresight with a proclamation that soon business visionaries, not countries, will hold sway.
“I believe the superpowers of tomorrow [are] not going to be the nation states, [they] are going to be the entrepreneurs, he said. ”Entrepreneurs are now solving the problems that used to be the domain of nation states.”
And there’s some truth to it. Moon Express, whatever you might think of it, epitomises Jain’s message. A privately-funded mission to the moon, in search of off-world resources. Initial cost projections for the trip were $100 million but it now says it’s fully-funded.
The opportunities coming within our reach are multiplying every day, in number and in scope – now’s the time to think macroscopic. The best endorsement you can have is the public’s, meaning there should be a tangible humanitarian benefit to every business’s pursuits. Consumers of today are more empowered than ever and companies can be held to account in a way governments will never be – social media moves much faster than an election cycle, after all.
Data is changing economic potential. Whether it be finance, commerce, cars, cities, business – there’s a new model for selling yourself. In the past, we could estimate what consumers want and extrapolate indicators from focus groups. Now we hear what they want, at all hours and without the need for interpretation. To broaden their reach, companies today must decisively set out to tackle the biggest issues facing our planet.
With the constant drive to streamline processes and focus on core business, not everyone will look to set up an off-world trading branch in-house. But that isn’t the point. What is imperative to shaping a brand’s success is to make yourself relatable – believe in the same things your customers do. Enterprise has evolved over the last decade, and consumers have grown to hold in high esteem those corporations that support initiatives of equality and ecology. No matter the sector, there’s a way to make life better.
It’s easy to assume that the wide-spread celebration of the entrepreneur is driving millennials to set up businesses of their own. In reality, it seems that the ‘we’ generation is in fact the least entrepreneurial in recent history. As evidenced in last year’s Economic Innovation Group (EIG) report, debt and fear of risk, compounded with anxiety over the future, has made millennials less inclined than ever to start their own companies.
We don’t need entrepreneurs as idols, we need them to push forward the simple, wide-reaching ideas. Optimisation is the trend of today – existing services, improved. Not every role will be in the spotlight, but even those that act in the shadows can fundamentally change our world. Satoshi Nakamoto would be the most prominent example of that.
And then there’s blockchain. Was it the first contemporary example of a worldwide revolution spawning from anonymity? Seven major European banks met last month to discuss harnessing the process behind Bitcoin and IBM was selected to build a new system, to bring transparency to transactions. It will be one of the major disruptors to finance, acting on a macroscopic scale.
The term ‘blockchain’ is still met with disproportionate confusion for what amounts to a text file. We have no Elon Musk or Naveen Jain to helm the technology – or attribute bylines to – and yet it is uprooting not only finance, but politics too.
Last year the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, DiEM25, pledged to bring transparency to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with blockchain at the centre of discussions. It took only one entrepreneurial spirit to disrupt the economic landscape. While fame was clearly not on his agenda, Nakamoto has made world headlines with his ideas, and his supposed bitcoins amount to a very tidy £2bn. Entrepreneurs already have more potential for change than nation states, with deceptively simple ideas that can have an impact on a worldwide scale.
The global narrative is changing, moving away from procedure and becoming more unpredictable than ever. Yet as Silicon Valley isolates itself from the troubles of the world outside, we need to sustain an environment conducive to start-ups.
With the political undercurrents of today, it is unlikely many Brits would feel compelled to try and secure finance for an ambitious, i.e. risky, project. The biggest deterrent to those who do hope to set up their own business is funding, and prolonged austerity has only amplified the problem.
This is of course at odds with the course we need to chart to maintain our progressive outlook. Institutions are not the well of innovation they ought to be; it is those on the start-up fringe that are driving novel solutions.
Each of them needs a voice, and it must be a human one. It’s no longer enough to sell a product; consumers today expect businesses to contribute to the wider world. Perhaps given all this, the rise of entrepreneurs as a new form of superpower in our lives isn’t so far-fetched after all.