When we speak about disruption, we often default to unicorn companies like Uber and Airbnb, which shook up the global taxi and hotel industries, respectively. But with the democratisation of software and hardware, the reality is that anyone can start a business these days and the biggest disruptors and innovators can come from emerging markets and not just the US and Silicon Valley.
Innovations South Africa’s Giraffe and MyQ from Nigeria have set out to solve real and local challenges, such as unemployment and transportation industry management, respectively. Developers and makers in these and other emerging markets have shown that the game-changers don’t have to be the Ubers of the world but can be the two-man startup that’s making a tangible difference in the lives of thousands.
Innovation moves into hardware space
Until now, global innovation has primarily been in the software space. The adage ‘there’s an app for that’ is testament to the fact that, whatever problem you have, there’s likely an app that attempts to solve it. This is only possible because the democratisation and accessibility of software development tools has enabled anyone with a computer, an Internet connection and some knowledge of coding to do pretty much anything.
But with 1,300 apps being added to app stores every day, we’re seeing an evolution in disruption away from only software to how applications can be linked to hardware, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and analytics to leapfrog infrastructure gaps and to understand and even pre-empt what people want.
It’s now easier than ever to innovate in this space. The democratisation of hardware and compute platforms like Intel’s Edison, Joule and RealSense platforms, as well as its software and cloud analytics platforms, coupled with easier access to funding through crowdsourcing options like Kickstarter, has created a low barrier to entry and has opened up the market to anyone with an idea, to build a business with lower barriers to entry.
Cloud services have also been democratised and, in the future, technologies like artificial intelligence will be, too.
Developers and makers will innovate and build on computer platforms and link any device to data in order to address societal problems that many thought were unsolvable. Think smart cities that can communicate to authorities exactly where water leaks are; health systems that can predict an epidemic long before it becomes a threat; and connected buildings that, when on fire, can help emergency personnel save more lives.
The startups of today will enable the next-generation governments of the future who will harness modern technology for societal transformation that will change the way we live and work to deliver new experiences that fuel GDP growth and create jobs.
Creating a sustainable ecosystem
But with a failure rate of 50% within the first four years, startups need to be enabled through partnerships, incubator hubs, technology and business support to help the public and private sectors reach this level of digital transformation.
Governments in emerging markets have modelled local startup hubs on those seen in Silicon Valley and other developed markets after realising the potential they have for innovation and job creation.
But we need to do more to help these small businesses succeed.
At the public sector level, startups are already benefiting from tax incentives, which allow them to invest more money into their businesses during the crucial first few years. Partnerships with universities will give startups access to a pool of people who are educated in science and technology and can help them to scale their ideas.
The private sector also has a role to play in terms of creating opportunities for startups to showcase their ideas, connect with other startups, and network with investors. Events like Seedstars World and Demo Africa not only help to discover the best startups but through challenges like the Intel Solutions Challenge, startups in the cloud, IoT and analytics space also gain exposure to potential financiers as well as mentors in all areas of business support to give them a better chance of success. Winners of the challenge also get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a wider support ecosystem of potential investors and partners to ensure their business is not only successful but also sustainable.
Now that everything is democratised, the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world don’t need to come out of the US – there certainly isn’t a monopoly on great ideas in developed markets. World-changing innovation is taking place at the grassroots level in emerging markets and I believe that the next big global company will come from one of these regions. But we need to make it easier for startups to survive, to access funding and to create an environment and culture that is conducive to sustainability. It starts with getting them the exposure they need and cutting the red tape that is contributing to the high failure rate.
By Hitendra Naik