Monday, October 24, 2011

How do Entrepreneurs find opportunity? They take a look in the trash can

This blogpost courtesy of Niklas Olsson, UNSW exchange student from Sweden and founder of The Entreprenuerial Chase - Sydney.

Passing security leaving all but pen, notepad and business card in security and finally taking a seat at the U.S. Consulate General felt like preparing for an Obama speech. America is known for high security and just moments after sitting down another notorious reputation was confirmed: they foster high-calibre entrepreneurs. The way I look at trash cans will never be the same after meeting Jim Poss, CTO and Founder at BigBelly Solar.

Jim describes innovators and entrepreneurs as people who connect two, for others, totally unrelated things. There are no new inventions, just new ways of combining the already existing. BigBelly Solar uses solar power to run a smart grid for waste and recycling. The grid is made up of trash cans with a five times greater capacity compared to today’s everyday collectors. But the compacting system isn’t the only innovation that underpins this game changer. The “BigBellies” communicate wirelessly with a command centre enabling the waste collectors to measure the exact level of each and every trash can in real time. The city of Philadelphia has for example utilized this information to get the number of weekly collections down to 2.5 as compared to 17 when it introduced the system.

Entrepreneurs are curious by nature and opportunities often spring from their own experiences. If Jim got his revelation when falling on banana peel remains a rumour, but when you are to see an opportunity, make sure to go for the lowest hanging fruit and one that benefits the most people by using your product/service. The reason is simple; as a far-from-complete start-up, you want to give early adopters a benefit big enough that they will stay with yout through the inevitable mistakes along the way. All are however not as forgiving. Prepare to have your idea struck down by a lot of people, as Jim puts it: “One must almost be a bit delusional to make it through.”

An entrepreneur is someone that challenges the status quo, someone who, unlike companies, are not there to protect their revenues. The difference is quite obvious to Jim. “While Toyota develops a hybrid car, the entrepreneur invents a ride sharing service. Frankly they wouldn’t launch it even if they could. It is against the profitable status quo.” But when they start to notice you, when you start turning things upside down, that is when you know you are on to something.

I have been struck by the same enthusiasm in every true entrepreneur I have met. They are game changers, they are in it for the vision and they all dare to take the risk. So how do they find opportunity? Take a look at something you don’t like, form a vision and answer the following question: “Are you afraid to look stupid?” Did people laugh at Jim Poss when he was to introduce a solar powered, digitalized, multi-compressing trash can? I am not sure, and Jim says he’s looked stupid many a time. But I am sure that it wouldn’t have stopped him from trying again. It is better to have a fair intellect that is well-used than a powerful one that is idle.

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