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Big problems, small solutions
There’s a new group of world-changers and they’re not well funded government institutions or policy makers. These startups aren’t shying…
There’s a new group of world-changers and they’re not well funded government institutions or policy makers. These startups aren’t shying away from the big issues — they’re aiming to fix the world.
By Putri McVicker, Partner, Wilson Fletcher
We are seeing the emergence of a new group of world-changers and they’re not well funded government institutions or policy makers. Startups — many straight from The Valley — are focusing their energies on solving planet-scale problems. And they’re coming up with some very clever solutions. These startups, and the entrepreneurs behind them, are choosing to look beyond what might be considered solvable, or even valuable problems, and are focusing on a the goal of a better world.
With such lofty ambitions, you can’t help but feel rather insignificant when you find yourself in the same room as these entrepreneurs. I had the pleasure of seeing Emiliano Kargieman talk at the WIRED conference in London a few weeks ago, where he introduced us to his Argentinian space start up, Satellogic. Over the last year Satellogic has made huge advances in space technology and has managed to launch multiple low orbit satellites into space at a thousandth of the cost of traditional launches. With such low costs, Emiliano’s aim is to launch a network of hundreds of satellites into orbit to enable us to get ‘an image of any place on Earth in high resolution and in real time’. It’s an ambitious vision, but with the potential to have far-reaching implications.
If we support this new generation of entrepreneur, no matter where they are, we allow them to deliver on their potential to make a planet-sized difference.
Emiliano’s passion for all things space started in his childhood after a game of Space Invaders. His obsession with satellites these days is much more grown up: “If we want a sustainable society we need to base the decisions on actual data, not hand waving. And how do we get this data? Through satellites.”
Emiliano is a great example of an entrepreneur tackling global issues with a fresh perspective. And he’s not the only one. The last few years have seen a rising trend of entrepreneurial minds eclipsing the legacy efforts of bureaucrats and policy makers — and surprising many of them along the way. Perhaps it’s the true entrepreneur’s fearless nature that makes them comfortable tackling problems that many of us would consider insurmountable. The entrepreneur’s confidence, not just in themselves but in the technology that they work with doesn’t hurt either. Emiliano’s satellites developed from his earlier experiment: sending video recorders attached to helium balloons into the Earth’s atmosphere. Space hacking was born.
Another entrepreneur tackling a global-scale challenge is Jennifer Broutin and her start up SproutsIO. Jennifer saw exponential growth in urban areas as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink food production and distribution.
Our current food system involves an army of middle men, is labour intensive and results in a lot of waste — we generally lose about 50% of our produce through this process alone. Jennifer and her team decided to grow the food exactly where the people are and have developed a soil-free micro farming system which allows you to grow anything from bok choy to tomatoes in your own home, controlled by your smartphone. This personal produce not only has more flavour, as crops can be left to grow until perfectly ripe for picking, but the system only uses 2% of the water used in typical agriculture. If urban populations all over the world were to adopt such a system, as has been the case with recycling, the impact on our environment would be monumental.
These startups, and the entrepreneurs behind them, are choosing to look beyond what might be considered solvable, or even valuable problems, and are focusing on a the goal of a better world.
SproutsIO but it’s the most credible to date and leverages the power of the network. It’s still in beta but Jennifer and her team have spent the last 5 years labouring away on R&D and hope that SproutsIO will be rolled out in homes shortly.
Perhaps it’s the entrepreneur’s ability to innovate quietly — away from the pressures of the spotlight — that gives them the advantage over others who may be trying to tackle global issues, especially those working in a highly visible government funded group or global policy team. Entrepreneurs like Jennifer have anonymity on their side, giving them the freedom to experiment and leverage technologies without having to answer for their decisions — or be on the receiving end of preconceived judgements.
With the global population expected to reach a staggering 11 Billion by 2050 it’s clear that we will only achieve sustainability through intense innovation and radical change. We need more entrepreneurs to take on the insoluble problems that really matter and must also ensure we provide the funding to support them — no matter where the efforts are being made.
Earlier this year the US Agency for International Development invested $1M into a scheme developed in India by two young entrepreneurs who aim to bring power to the 2.6 Billion people worldwide who live off of the electricity grid. This may be a relatively small sum of money for such a large problem, but it’s a positive sign that if we support this new generation of entrepreneur, no matter where they are, we allow them to deliver on their potential to make a planet-sized difference.