Barely a day goes by when we don’t hear about another startup being snapped up for a cool €100 million. While these investments are no doubt well-deserved, it’s often the case that the businesses originate somewhere other than Europe. Or if they do, they’ve had to decamp across the pond to get the money/customer base they need to scale.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our fair share of success stories over here – Spotify (SE), Hello Fresh (DE), TransferWise (EST), Adyen (NL), Booking.com (NL), Collibra (BE), among many others.
But do we have a culture of innovation here? Let’s consider the challenges.
Keeping Up With The US & China
It’s said that, when it comes to startups, America has the money and China has the speed and scale. Where does that leave the EU? What can we bring to the table?
In contrast to the US and China, European attitudes to innovation tend to be a lot more cautious. You only have to look at key documents on the changing landscape, such as the EU’s guidelines on ethics in AI to see how much scrutiny we’re giving it – compared to the US’ commercially-driven focus and China’s fixation on what’s coming next.
It’s completely understandable – the EU itself is a patchwork of 27 very different countries, languages, and cultures. While fairness and doing things ‘by the book’ prevail, the regulatory environment can be stifling at times.
However, what this admittedly thorough approach can offer is a moral compass on where technology and innovation should be heading.
Asking The Obvious Questions
To truly learn, we must understand. And to understand, we need to ask the right questions – such as: What are the ramifications of sharing our data? To what extent is internet usage impacting climate change? Does AI need to be regulated?
Questions like these need to be taken into consideration – not just at the start of any endeavour, but at every stage of a company’s evolution.
Businesses should therefore prioritise a continuous improvement process as part of their KPIs. But that doesn’t just mean looking at customer needs – it means innately understanding the broader challenges at work.
For example, consider how electric vehicles are seen as a panacea to tackling CO2 emissions. However, these are prohibitively expensive and out of the reach of most people – particularly those in developing countries.
Perhaps that’s why French ride-sharing platform BlaBlaCar has found success in places like India and Brazil – where distances and income gaps are great.
Limitations Equal Innovation
Ultimately, innovation is nimble by nature. It needs restrictions and limitations to thrive. Without those, it lacks focus. And without focus it won’t have any audience appeal. This is the reason that business objectives and processes need to be baked into a company’s IT strategy from the very start – for both large and small companies.
Bigger global companies may be able to mobilise themselves more quickly, but they often don’t have the creative thinkers – those searching for new markets and building new models. This something that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) excel at – and why they’re the backbone of the European economy.
Overall, to be effective, startups and SMEs need to think ahead of the curve and find ways to navigate innovation. This means keeping an open mind, asking what the real problems are, and exploring how they can be tackled.
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