Innovation should be less about social media apps and more about necessity

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By Jason Williamson

It’s not about hating apps like Clubhouse – they’ve earned their chops – but innovation has to come from real needs. Think about sustainability, food security, extending life and promoting diversity. This idea has been floating around in my head for a while now, especially during the pandemic, but Steve Case’s latest article in The Wall Street Journal underscored my passion.

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Case has been supporting American entrepreneurs outside of traditional tech hotspots since launching its bus tour and “Rise of the Rest” fund in 2014. The main point: Innovation happens everywhere, and we need to support it. This has been our philosophy at Oracle for Startups since its launch in 2017, so I really agree with his thinking. Not just for America, but globally.

In his article, Case explains how the pandemic has seen entrepreneurs leave Silicon Valley, Boston and New York for places like Denver, Minneapolis and Austin. He explains, “The nation’s tech workers are unlikely to be working on the same types of projects that dominated their era when settled in their hubs. Entrepreneurs who previously worked in tech bubbles — places that have churned out far too many photo-sharing apps — will suddenly be exposed to a wider range of real-world challenges than they likely would ever have had it not been for the pandemic. .

Spot on. Necessity is the mother of invention.

While big consumer apps get a lot of media time, many amazing innovators have quietly created solutions to meet big global needs. Elon Musk understands, saying during a podcast that fewer people should start careers in finance and law and instead focus on innovation.

Hopefully the trend away from tech bubbles will produce more entrepreneurs like Nils Helset. As a 15th generation farmer, Nils saw firsthand the need for technology that could help farmers increase crop yields, reduce costs and do it more sustainably. So he founded DigiFarm, which develops deep neural network models to automatically detect field boundaries using super-resolution satellite images. With this field analysis technology, farmers can make data-driven decisions for precision farming.

Or consider the founders of Aindra Systems, who saw the high death rate from cervical cancer in their home country of India and decided to apply their entrepreneurial skills to the solve. Aindra Systems has developed AI-based computational pathology tools to read imaging tests right after they are taken, enabling screening and treatment to be performed from anywhere. Thousands of women have been screened since clinics rolled out the platform, with thousands more to come as the startup pushes to reduce death rates.

One suggestion in Case’s article that I’ll dwell on a bit is that a move to Central America — away from the coast — is what opens entrepreneurs’ eyes to real-world necessities.

The beach was an important part of Rob Ianelli’s childhood, especially Norton Point on Martha’s Vineyard. And the beach is still a huge part of his life now that he lives in Santa Monica, California.

It was spending much of his life on the coast that inspired Ianelli to found Oceanworks, a startup that aims to banish plastic from the ocean. The online marketplace for recycled plastic materials and products has over 100 customers and a capacity to source over 190,000 tonnes of ocean plastic per year from collection sites across six continents. Oceanworks runs a track and trace application to certify that the plastic manufacturers source is indeed recycled ocean plastic so their customer base, which includes Fortune 500 companies, can prove their green credentials.

And just to stay on the West Coast a little longer, Frontlines of Justice reimagines education through the prism of high-fidelity cinema, technology, and storytelling. Think Netflix meets MasterClass. This startup was founded by a group of justice-focused entrepreneurs, who also happen to be influential filmmakers and storytellers. They saw the need for a new kind of online learning platform that could help tackle racial and social justice challenges head-on.

Jason Williamson of Oracle for Startups and Oracle for Research.

I’m fortunate to get a front-row seat to the work these entrepreneurs are doing through their participation in Oracle for Startups and Oracle for Research.1 And I’m glad to see innovation happening by so many other startups in important sectors of the economy, powered by revolutionary new technologies such as AI, cloud, blockchain and advanced analytics.

The advent of smart cities is a particularly exciting area of ​​progress. Startups develop technologies that make urban centers cleaner, safer, more sustainable and less vulnerable to natural disasters. The wave of innovators moving away from tech hubs are seeing the unique problems facing different metropolitan areas, and they understand first-hand what it takes to create solutions, which often involves working closely with and close to , local governments.

But these companies will all face challenges: around 90% of startups fail.

According to CBInsights, 42% of these failures are due to misinterpretation of market demand. But the second main reason for failure, attributable to 29% of cases, is the lack of funding, which is often only personal money.

This tells me that many of these companies could have succeeded and done so much good for the world if they had only had more financial support during those difficult early phases that all startups go through. So, as the pandemic shifts the focus of entrepreneurs toward solving bigger challenges than photo sharing, established tech companies should look to help them achieve long-term profitability and success.


Jason Williamson is the Global Director and Vice President of Oracle for Startups and Oracle for Research.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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