What idea should we have?

lightbulbI got asked this question by a group of students in one of my entrepreneurship classes a few years ago.  And because ideation was part of the process I was trying to teach, I lobbed that question right back to them along with some frameworks for discovery.

One of the misconceptions I come across most often in entrepreneurship is that in order to do a start-up you have to be the one with the idea. But often the idea people have trouble bringing their innovations to life. They need builders to work with them.

So if you’re a builder, which ideas are worth exploration? Often, my answer for this is more of a diligence framework. But as I’m looking for new opportunities myself, I thought I would spend some time working through the areas that I think are ripe for disruption or interruption.  These are in no particular order.

I’m just going to put some high level thoughts here, and if I have time in the coming weeks, I may try to do an expanded post on each. I’m also interested in exploring more about how they connect to each other.

1. Internet of Things – I think people toss this around a lot, without really understanding the options. In reality this bucket is ridiculously broad, but we don’t know enough to break the pieces into cohorts that make sense. One thing I’ve been thinking about is consumer uses of IoT. Specifically in terms of inventory management and shopping local.

2. Big Data Applications – I’m riffing off some of Andreessen Horowitz’s thoughts on pairing big data with machine learning here, but when I hear talk of Big Data, I think we’re leaving more than half the dinner on the table. It seems to me that most of the activity is around gathering massive amounts of data and then ways to explore that data. But I’ve seen very little going on in helping people figure out what to do with that information. Is there a way we can take our analytics and then provide a framework for decision making? That’s where I think the real power is.

3. Alternative Currency – There’s real opportunity to disrupt banking and real difficulty in making it happen. Bit Coin is interesting. And the block chain is interesting in terms of its ability use a distributed ledger to verify transactions. But there may be some other forms of “community” banking and peer to peer trust that may win in the end. Definitely an area worth watching.

4. Higher Education – I’ve been faculty, staff and student. And in not too many years, I’m facing the looming prospect of being parent and payer. It’s about $250K per kid for a private education these days if you pay list prices. And I’ve got two of them. That’s quite a load for parent or child or some combination of the two. And are we teaching the right stuff? Do our kids come out with the skills they need to be successful in today’s workplace? Is the return worth the investment? The system is broken in so many areas… tenure, teaching pedagogy, high stakes testing, assessment criteria, focus on athletics, admissions, graduation requirements, subject matter, research focus….. The problem is messy. The solution needs to be systemic, strategic and scaleable. And if we screw it up, we’re damning our own future.

5. Heatlhcare/Wellness – This one is linked to Big Data and also to IoT. There’s no question our healthcare system is a mess. And that if we could get people to focus more on wellness and preventative care, there are billions to be saved in downstream care from the manifestation of dis-ease. But since most people don’t go to a doctor until there’s a problem….and since we train our doctors to treat the problem…. well, you do the math. Huge opportunities here, but most require behavior change on the part of the patients. Behavior change is hard.