The future of entrepreneurship is about finding unfortunate opportunities, well that’s according to Daniel Epstein. Epstein runs a business incubator called the Unreasonable Group, the private holding company of for-profit Unreasonable organisations. In this TEDx talk, he uses a real-life example of how a friend found an ‘unfortunate opportunity’ and leveraged business to solve the problem. To the point where the concept has been ranked as one of the top six innovations in our lifetime by the World Health Organisation. This is a must watch. – Stuart Lowman.
I have a simple, yet fundamental belief that entrepreneurship is the answer to almost every issue we face today. Why? It’s because when entrepreneurs look at issues, they choose to see opportunities. Over the next six minutes, I want to walk you through and into the crazy way that I view the world. Some call it unreasonable because when I look at the world – I see it surrounded and engulfed by an unbounded sweep of opportunities.
Now, like you, I know the statistics. There are over a billion people living in absolute poverty, on less than a Dollar a day. There are another billion people, who don’t have access to clean drinking water. Today, there are preventable diseases, like diarrhoea that killed two-point-three million children annually. The circumstances we find ourselves in, they are unfortunate, but when I look at those statistics, I don’t see issues. I see unfortunate opportunities.
Now, I don’t believe that I have a responsibility or anybody in this room has a responsibility to solve those issues. Instead, I think we have an opportunity. There is nothing that gets me more excited or more invigorated than to realise that if we innovate, to meet the needs of society and the planet, to meet the real needs. That we have the chance, (for the first time ever) to see larger human, and financial returns than we have ever seen in the history of humankind.
I believe that the next generation of entrepreneurs, they won’t focus on opportunities. Instead, they’re going to focus on unfortunate opportunities. They’re going to leverage business to solve issues, like malnutrition, like inadequate education, like poverty and I think this is best told though, through a story that I would love to walk you through.
This past summer I had the incredible fortunate opportunity of living with and becoming friends with a young man named Myshkin. Myshkin, four years ago, he was incredibly successful. He had a six figure paying salary, out of a consulting organisation. He was travelling around the world with McKinsey. He was working at something he was incredibly skilled at, and he was passionate about what he was doing. Everything seemed to be aligned, but in 2008, he went on a road trip.
He decided to get on a motorcycle and go across India, with one of his really, good friends. His friend happened to be a doctor. The plan was to meet two hours north of Mumbai, in a small, rural village, so Myshkin, when he arrived in the village. He talked to the villagers and they said that his friend was actually performing a birth, so Myshkin went to the hut, where the birth was being performed and he waited outside. He waited 30 minutes – he waited an hour – he waited two hours, and as the evening rolled in and the afternoon sun began to sink into the horizon. Myshkin had a feeling in his stomach. His friend walked out of the hut, and Myshkin knew that something terrible had happened.
He connected eyes with his friend. He looked at his friend’s face and watched it go ghost white. The mother had died during the birth and her baby daughter had died as well, and they died because of excessive bleeding, due to anaemia. This is unfortunate, because anaemia is so easy to treat. All you need are iron tablets and that’s it. Why this was outrageous though is, right before this, half a mile away from where they were at that hut, Myshkin had motorcycled by a clinic. In that clinic, they were handing out free iron tablets, subsidised by the government.
You had a mother and her child, now dead, and half a mile away – you had the treatment that would have solved the problem. Today, anaemia is responsible for killing one mother and her child every single minute, so by the end of this talk, 12 people would have died from a preventable disease.
The issue though, isn’t treatment (you just take iron tablets). The issue is diagnosis and in emerging markets, diagnosing anaemia is incredibly complicated. You have a health worker, who has to go out this rural village. They have to convince the women in that village to draw their blood, and they have to prick their finger. They take that blood back to a lab, and then process it and then go back to the village and they relay the results.
This never happens. It’s too timely, too expensive, it requires a specialist and they don’t have specialists in these areas, and the women in these villages – they’re not comfortable enough to let you take their blood.
Myshkin was pulled in by the gravitas of this unfortunate issue, and he used entrepreneurship to wheel it, into an unfortunate opportunity.
He quit his job. He teamed up with a couple of friends and they created a device. It took them a couple of years but they created a device that fits into the palm of your hand, and it has a little arm on it that clamps onto your finger. That clamp then shines a light on your finger. It reflects and refracts the amount of haemoglobin in your blood and it, instantly, detects if you’re anaemic or not. It’s non-invasive. It doesn’t require a specialist and it doesn’t require you to go back to the lab.
The World Health Organisation just ranked this one of the top six innovations of our lifetimes. His current competitor on the marketplace just got acquired for $300m and their device was still invasive. For Myshkin, most importantly, he has the real potential to save the lives of millions of people around the world.
Now, I know Myshkin’s story is unique and the circumstances are unusual but I think there’s an underpin with his story that we can all relate too, and that starts with this diagram. This diagram, which was created by local Boulderite, Jim Collins, is what he calls the Hedgehog Concept, and the idea is that with this you can seek out your calling. You can seek out that one opportunity that’s really going to change your life but Myshkin, when he was working at McKinsey he fit into all three of these circles.
He was doing something he was passionate about, he was doing something he was highly skilled in, and who was making a great living. He was missing something. He didn’t know what it was. He didn’t even know he was missing it, and it took that trip to India for him to accidentally trip upon it. What he was missing was meaning and this, at the intersection of these four circles, is what I like to call unfortunate opportunity. That’s where you combine what you’re talented at, with what you love to do, with making a living with one of the world’s greatest needs, and if you stumble upon this intersection. Like Myshkin, your life will be radically changed, but radically changed for the better.
So in the spirit of entrepreneurship, I’d love to run an experiment with you, and I’d love for you to join me, as I take you somewhere. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes, so please. Everybody here, can you close your eyes. Now, I want you to think – I want you to think about something in this world that is one of the biggest issues that you can imagine. It’s an issue or a need. You feel it in your gut. When you focus on it, it makes your blood boil.
I want you to open your eyes. That issue or that need stands at the foundation of an unfortunate opportunity. I challenge you to go and do it. Thank you.