Does The Idea Of Entrepreneurship Need Change Along With Climate Change?
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The last few weeks have seen a whole generation protest to ask the adults to take responsibility and do something substantial about some of the manmade causes and catalysts of changing the climate. The world cannot afford a business as a general approach if we truly intend to address this. What does this mean for entrepreneurship?
The Century of Healers
Since the start of the industrial revolution, we have invented and innovated at a furious pace for convenience and for gratification, often instant. Obviously, the economy got built around this, and the notion of value, moved to how much convenience or gratification we could add through our efforts. Entrepreneurs pushed hard in this direction.
In doing all this, we assumed infinite energy, a substrate of services nature provided, and a pool of commons that was indestructible and unchangeable. We externalized the costs of pollution and inefficient resource exploitation.
All of these assumptions are starting to be tested and proven incorrect, as climate change hits us. The definition of value will shift as this change happens. The quality of our ecosystems, the ability of our tech to not degrade the ecosystem it operates within, and much higher efficiency in our use and reuse of resources will become critical facets of this change.Many say the coming century will be the century of healing, and not exploitation and leverage.
Consumption Focus No More
Start-up ideas today are built around driving consumption—larger, faster and everywhere. The clothing industry is already starting to reconcile with consumer movements to buy less and more thoughtfully. Automobiles are seeing a slump everywhere. We are witnessing small movements that are growing across the planet to buy locally, seasonally and responsibly. These, at this moment, are individual actions and not systemic ones.
The push to reduce packaging will drive the systemic change as well, as will a hard push away from fossil fuels not accompanied by an equivalent increase in alternative energy sources. In a decade’s time, FMCG and retail will likely not be what it used to.
We cannot build our business plans around ever-growing consumption anymore. And we should not if we want to be participants in a better, saner economy.
Lots of Opportunities and Real, Genuine Problems to Solve
Such a large set of changes—all of them happening simultaneously and at a larger scale than our civilization has seldom recognized—will throw up a lot of challenges, need for innovative and creative thinking, and present opportunities we have not thought about. The derivative innovation we have been seeing so far in terms of aggregation, or financial jugglery, the throwing of huge amounts of money and resources at problem statements, these will start to vanish.
There will clearly be a huge need to drive efficiency in everything. Transportation and logistics, use of energy, water, land usage—each of these will see an order of magnitude improvement and entrepreneurs will drive a lot of those.
Sharing and reuse of resources is another huge area that will grow. We have already been talking about the sharing economy for a while now but not really scratched the surface. There is likely to be a huge focus on localization—of energy, produce, of knowledge and skills. This may well need completely new kinds of platforms that help local discovery, knowledge gathering and collaboration with similar efforts elsewhere.
It is almost impossible for us to imagine the changes and opportunities in the coming decades. But true innovation and agility will be more critical than ever, and those are the foundations of entrepreneurship.
Enablement, Not Gate-Keeping
In recent years, entrepreneurship has become focused on creating large monopolies and a unicorn-winner-takes-all. In the process, strange and unsustainable, even financially, business models have been birthed and justified and some of those chickens are coming home to roost. To enable these monopolies, a lot of the unicorns essentially played gatekeeper atop those delivering the actual service, the innovation largely being about funding, scaling and trading on information asymmetry. This is, in some sense, the opposite of what the promise of the Internet was.
As growth reduces, and more localized, diverse services and production becomes preferred, platforms that enable rather than play gatekeeper will likely become more important.
And Sensible Scale
Finally, entrepreneurship is not about one level of scale and size and exists across the spectrum. The venture capital-driven models have created a very narrow definition of what entrepreneurs shoot for in the last decade or so, and we will have to recalibrate our expectations. We will indeed see a lot of entrepreneurs solve issues and chase ideas they really care about, at whatever scale the idea makes sense at, rather than the scale becoming the primary motivation and passion.
We are looking at quite interesting times ahead for the species, indeed for the whole planet and of course for entrepreneurs. The UN is officially talking about solutions coming from entrepreneurs, and surely, we have a huge role to play in improving how we exist on and interact with the planet we call home.