Hidden Potential: The Untapped Gold Rush

Driven by Innovation and Entrepreneurship Bias.

Every innovation event I attended this year spoke of the importance of diversity in the innovation process, not only to bring divergent thinking to produce better solutions, but also to ensure innovators consider a broader range of consumers in building their solutions.

This idea of diversity can be shifted towards one of inclusiveness. For example, this New York Times article brought to light how certain demographic groups and areas of Pittsburgh are being left out of the new economy, while Pittsburgh as a whole has been held up as an example of a city that has successfully reinvented and reoriented itself towards 21st Century tech industries. To ensure there is inclusiveness as we further transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require awareness of the issue and real commitment to address it.

Having so much VC funding concentrated in Silicon Valley vs. other parts of the U.S. and the stats around how those dollars tend to get invested (i.e., behind young, male, white founders) should alone serve as a warning sign for the lack of diversity. We are not tapping into the full breadth of talent in the U.S. to generate powerful ideas and new innovation. According to research by Raj Chetty of Stanford, as reported by SPUR, if there was more equitable opportunity for all people across race, gender, and socioeconomic status to participate in entrepreneurship, the U.S. could have four times as many inventors than it does today. This is an untapped talent pool that could produce a more inclusive gold rush and better solutions for all.

TED Radio Hour has an episode on the concept of “Hidden Potential.” It’s too often that we overlook people with talent and capabilities that can add tremendous value. Luckily, there are some bright spots that demonstrate it’s possible to make better progress. For example, it’s encouraging to see developments in Alabama to boost new businesses, as reported on by VentureBeat, where the community has established services to encourage and support entrepreneurship.

I was heartened to see at a San Francisco Food Funded event this past spring several delicious, good-for-you food innovations from the East Oakland community, a traditionally unnoticed urban food center, including Kubé Nice Cream (raw coconut ice cream), Something Better Healthy Gourmet Food (alternative meat), and Soul (soulful, deep greens in the form of beverages and sauces). Despite the quality of these worthy innovations, the businesses were often bootstrapped further highlighting the inequity.

It will take concerted effort to make innovation more inclusive beyond just bringing more diversity to innovation teams. The view needs to be broadened, and efforts need to reach deeper down into communities across government, non-profits, and businesses to ensure equal opportunity from early education to entrepreneurship training to investment dollars.

The Industry Forecast: We need to reverse the innovation and entrepreneurship bias that exists today. We are missing out on highly innovative opportunities and solutions and growth, because the innovation community is too homogenous. Only when we broaden the groups we engage in 21st Century technologies and business models and bring different races, genders, and socioeconomic levels into the innovation process will we unlock this hidden potential.


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